I believe in the authority of parents — the need for parents to be parents and not buddies, not fairy godmother vending machines catering to each whim. But I’m often uncomfortable in the role.
Mark and I are increasingly exasperated by the fusses — when it’s time to clean up, when we have to remind her to do what we just asked her to do five seconds ago, because she’s already distracted, when it’s time for bed, and so on.
We need to act faster — to do something concrete before the fuss gets out of hand, whether a time out, taking away a treasured possession, physically taking her where we need her to be, or whatever.
It’s hard because she seems either unwilling or unable to change direction quickly once a fuss begins. She digs in her heels, makes things worse for herself, piling up the consequences. And there’s no change the next time, despite bright promises to the contrary.
I do think she wants to please — she hates when we are angry with her. And other factors make me quite sure she’s the dreamer type, not merely strong-willed but driven by inner impulses, with a focus not on power but on purpose and understanding. This kind of kid needs to be opposed carefully — blunt, direct opposition is not going to change her behavior unless or until it breaks her spirit. She needs to be engaged as a partner in change — she needs to understand, on some level, why change is desired and necessary and possible. She needs to know that our disciplinary efforts are part of our love for her.
(Sometimes I suspect that’s true for all kids.)
(Oh, and I understand that there should also be some separation between the explanation / lecture / conversation / discussion and the immediate concrete consequence. It is sometimes (often?) counter-productive to try to talk it out in the midst of the problem — better to talk it out when both parties are moderately calm.)
So the unwilling / unable question does matter. If she is unable to change direction mid-fuss, we need to think of ways to head off the fuss before it begins, or else to contain the fuss with minimal damage to all concerned — and the latter is especially difficult when time matters, like at bedtime or when we need to be somewhere. As for the former, we shouldn’t walk on eggshells trying to prevent her from ever being upset, either.
So much interpretation is required! And I don’t have absolute confidence in my interpretive powers. I can read too much of myself into her, for good or ill.
There are times when she is able to change — she does better given just a little space, like when Mark was trying to talk to her mid-fuss tonight (after time-out, loss of dress-up box, loss of blanket, AND loss of bedtime story), and I advised him to wait until later because she was crying too hard to listen — as he got ready to leave she soon quieted and said she was ready to listen. A little space, and responsibility. Not in a threatening way, but an empowering way — not a hovering, in-your-face demand, but a putting the ball back in her court.
Of course, when she’s ready, she usually listens very brightly and agreeably — and we feel like she’s acting and not listening at all.
Is she being defensively cheerful, in an anxious effort to win back our approval?
During these conversations, in which I try to explain why she got in trouble, and / or why we were angry, or about how discipline is part of love, I get uncomfortable. Oppression that masquerades as loving support and guidance is the worst kind. I don’t want to parent that way — I don’t want her to feel (however subconsciously) a wrenching disconnect between my words and my parenting behavior, or between her self-understanding and my faulty interpretations. I’m bound to make mistakes, and the power differential will make it nearly impossible for her to correct me or even to put her finger on the mistake. She can stand up to me just fine when I’m angry — but not when I’m calm and serious.