The Guilt-free Parent

as published in Woman's Era, Dec 17, 2014It was a day, as usual as any other day. My two year old daughter was her usual self. I decided to give her a hair cut while she was watching TV. But each time I was almost cutting the hair over her ears, she moved away. I kept on telling her patiently, that ‘mama was going to make her look beautiful.’ But she kept moving away. She fidgeted around for almost an hour and I went on speaking to deaf ears all the while. My voice began to rise steadily with the passing of time, and before long, I was screaming at her. I tried to pin her down and cut her hair forcibly. But she wouldn’t let me do it. Besides, it was very dangerous when the scissors came close to her ear lobes and napes. And then I lost my temper. I screamed at her, and in a fit, threw away the comb and the scissors. For a moment, she watched me with her eyes swollen with tears. The next moment, she began wailing inconsolably and ran away from me yelling ‘papa, papa.’ After the moment passed, I regained control of myself. But by then, I was emotionally fatigued and sad beyond any measure. My daughter had gone in search of her ‘papa’ crying, and now had come back to her ‘mama’ since there was no ‘papa’ to be found (he had gone for work). I took her in my arms, and held on to her tightly.  I was feeling emotionally sucked out and guilty to the core of my heart. I cried the whole day feeling like the worst mother in the world.
It was a bit too late when sense and reasoning dawned in.  My daughter was behaving the way any two year old would behave. She was scared of the scissors. She was scared of the feeling of her hair getting cut and falling down. She was running away due to fear. I realized the truth that it was me who was throwing tantrums.
Why did I do that? What in the world was I thinking when I had decided to give my two year old a haircut without the help of my husband?  Didn’t I know that pinning her down and doing the job wasn’t going to be easy?  How frustrating it is for a toddler to be yelled at repeatedly and getting restricted from following her natural instinct, isn’t it?
This time I had gone over the top with my frustration that I had flung the scissors and comb in front of my child for her to see and learn…Ooops!!! Wouldn’t that scene get imprinted in her brain? Wouldn’t she imitate me by screaming and throwing things whenever she found herself in anger or frustration? Wouldn’t she do the same thing to her child or spouse whenever she gets angry? That realization came as a shock to me. My daughter was everything to me and I wanted to be the best mother to her.
So what if I had breastfed her till college. So what if I hugged and kissed her a 100 times daily. No amount of sleeplessness ‘because my baby was ill’, and no amount of ‘Oh I sacrificed so much for my daughter, so I have to get the Award for the Best Mother in the World’, would suffice, if my daughter forgets all the nurturing that I gave her, and instead, remembers me only as a screaming mother who lost “it” for the slightest of reasons.
On some not so idyllic days, my two year old, after waking from sleep, fidgets around not letting me brush her teeth. I try telling her that her mouth smells bad and if she doesn’t let ‘mama brush your teeth, “worms” will eat them’. She looks at me with disdain and moves away each time I go near her holding the toothbrush. After much coaxing and cajoling, I pin her down and try to brush her teeth forcibly. She goes on a screaming and kicking-fest. After brushing, it would be time to feed her breakfast. She is a fussy eater. I keep making her one thing after the other, but she throws it all, one by one. Moreover she hassles me to carry her in my arms all the time. I try telling her that she is a big girl now, and she should walk on her on and not trouble ‘mama’. If I don’t take her in my arms, she clings on to my legs and throws a fit. In spite of my lingering back and neck pain, I take her in my arms and try doing all the chores.

She has been like that always. She doesn’t let me cook. She doesn’t let me do anything at all. I like holding her in my arms and cuddling her most of the time. But I don’t like carrying her around, especially when I have a stiff neck or back. But nevertheless I keep calm almost all the time. My daughter clings on to me all the time because she is bored. We live in a remote area, and there is no playschool or day care around, where I can take her to keep herself engaged. That’s why she is clingy. But when I take her to any of my friends’ place, it is a totally different story altogether. She lets me go and likes being with them, especially if they have kids.  For my friends, she is a cute little darling with her sparkling eyes and angel looks. They have no idea, that she becomes ‘the little devil’, the minute she begins her tantrum-throwing for some stubborn purpose known only to her, or for no apparent reason at all. And since entering her “terrible twos,” her tantrum-throwing has increased manifold.
I remember my father telling us that, as children, he and his other siblings were constantly fed with a diet of shouting, spanking and various other crude methods of corporal punishment by my grandparents. It may have been there for generations in India. Shouting or hitting one’s own children is ‘not’ considered an offence in India till date and its a common thing in almost every household in this country.  And as for my father, often work pressure, financial constraints and bringing up two noisy small kids, ensured that he got angry, often.
I being the eldest of us two siblings, had to take the onus of getting yelled at, or getting a nice swat once in a while, while my little brother escaped since he was ‘little.’ (This is again, an unwritten rule, followed in almost every Indian household, that the eldest kid would sometimes be held responsible for the younger siblings’ indiscipline, or any sibling fight that occurs , whether or not he/she started it in the first place). I know that such flip out sessions were emotionally draining my father more than anybody else because he genuinely cared for me. But he was unknowingly using shouting as a verbal disciplining method, may be because he was so used to it as a child.
And now, I was doing the exact same thing to my daughter, which I had hated the most, as a child. Some people get angry at the drop of a hat.  But I don’t.  I don’t lose my temper that easy.  But when I really lose ‘it’ ,I am like a bull on a rampage! How frightening it would be for a two year old to witness her mother losing control like that! I was everything for my little girl. I was her world! And to imagine that when I freaked out, it was as if her whole world had crumbled and crashed down on her.  I couldn’t forgive myself.  How awful it was to end up using the same hurtful disciplining techniques to your child, which you yourself had resented as a child?
It is an irony that the word apoplexy or extreme anger also means stroke, a sudden loss of ability to feel or move parts of the body, due to poor blood flow to the brain.   When a person gets angry, it is easily detectable on his/her face. All that sudden adrenaline pumping causes flushing and redness on the face, not to mention, tensed muscles, sweating, teeth grinding etc. When anger gets to your nerves, rationality and good sense leave your mind. You do or say things that you may regret later. When you are overcome with rage, your body gets geared for a fight response ‘for the injustice that had been perpetrated against you’. I wonder to myself what possible injustice can your toddler perpetrate on you. How devastating it would be for a small child to become witness to your rage? Why don’t we show extreme anger or rage to our co-worker, neighbour or boss? Why do we vent our feelings on our kids? Parenting is no child’s play. Children’s behaviour can be really frustrating sometimes. Many parents end up using the same methods that their own parents used on them to discipline them, and that means, either shouting or spanking or a combination of both. The phrase ‘spare the rod and spoil the child,’ from Samuel Butler’s 17th century satirical poem “Hudibras”, was actually written for denouncing violence against children. Ironically, this phrase has been taken out of context to justify punishing children. While some kids resent violent disciplining and turn into rebels in their adolescence, some show superficial good behaviour based only on fear.
In his book “Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising your Kids by Keeping your Cool,” author Hal Edward Runkel insists that parenting is not about kids, rather it is about parents.  Instead of following a child-based approach, it urges parents to focus on themselves, keep themselves cool and grow themselves up.  It is because, we can only change ourselves. We cannot change others behaviour. The more we try to control other’s behaviour, not to mention a kid’s behaviour, the more out of control it becomes. Controlling parents are doomed to be unhappy. Why should we be controlling anybody’s behaviour? There is no need to be controlling, whatsoever relationship it is. As a parent my goal is not to instil fear in my child or to control her. Rather, my goal is to empower her to grow up as a mature, emotionally secure individual who respects herself as well as others.
Children treat others the way you treat them. According to psychologist Dr. Lawrence Steinberg, a parent’s relationship with her /his child is the foundation for the child’s relationship with others.  Steinberg, in his book “The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting writes that the best way and the only way to get respect from your child is to give her/him respect. He says that as parents, we should show our children the same courtesies that we expect of others. Speaking to the child in a kind and polite manner, paying attention when s/he speaks and respecting her/his opinion, go a long way in making her/him treat you with respect all her/his life. He urges parents to please their children whenever they can. By pleasing, he means, not by showering material gifts, rather by giving them care, attention and affection, without letting go off discipline and firmness in parenting.
How can I avoid emotional outbursts to my kid? How can I empower myself to become a patient parent, a gentle parent, whom my child will love and listen to? How can I be the cool mom who would keep her cool no matter what? I realized that the one and only answer to all these questions is “mindfulness.” Kids who are above two years old may not be as cute or cuddly as an infant. But whenever anger gets the better of you, try to visualize your kid as the cute little baby, you once used to cuddle, then maybe you can avoid a potential anger outburst and gain control of yourself.
I still get frustrated with my kid. There are many triggers that push my buttons. But now, after the hair cutting incident, I don’t scream at her anymore, as I used to do before. I now know that it only makes matters worse, since she would persist doing that very action that frustrated me in the first place. Instead, I distract myself from anger by being more mindful about the situation and my own state of mind. Like when she doesn’t let me brush her teeth first thing in the morning, I let herself fidget around, even have milk or a bite of breakfast, all the while teasing her gently about her bad breath, and that the kids at the park won’t play if she has a smelly mouth. Then slowly she comes to me on her own for brushing her teeth. Regarding her stubborn resistance to toilet training, I let her poop in her diaper itself, but after she has done it, I empty the contents of the diaper in the potty and show her that ‘her poop belongs to the potty’ and tell her that next time she should do it sitting in the potty chair.  And when she clings on to me while I am cooking, I simply let go off myself by taking time to cool off. I stop cooking and take her in my arms and distract her attention for a while. I go back to cooking only when she lets go off me. Luckily I have a very patient husband who doesn’t bother, even if lunch or dinner is a bit late. And to avoid her throwing a tantrum at the mall for opening and eating that piece of chocolate “now,” before even billing it, I tell her before leaving for shopping, or in the car, that we are going for shopping and she has be a ‘good girl’ at the mall and should eat the chocolate only after ‘uncle’ bills it. Sometimes she listens and sometimes she doesn’t. But either way, I now feel much calmer and less frustrated than before. I also celebrate each of her small accomplishments like when she listens to me and shares a toy with another kid even after initially objecting to sharing, or when she finishes drinking her cup of milk etc. Appreciating her small accomplishments will build the child’s self-confidence and encourage independence.
I may not be the best mother in the world but I can always be a guilt-free mother, at least in my heart. And I still cuddle her and kiss her, and hold her in my arms whenever she clings on to me, even if my back is sore, because, who knows, it may only be a matter of time before she grows up into a big girl, and may start shying away from displaying affection. I heard somewhere, “Enjoy the little things, because one day you will realize they were the biggest things in life.”

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