Thursday, 21 June 2012

Growing pains

This image was posted on Facebook by an acquaintance the other day and it cracked me up, for obvious reasons.
But it also added to a train of thought I've been following so I'll try and pull the random fragments together into something reasonably cohesive.

All of us who have kids have been here. Don't you hate the supermarket checkouts with all those brightly coloured goodies right at kid eye-level height? Don't you hate knowing that it's almost a given that when you've finally finished fighting your way around the supermarket - you had a list, didn't you? And there were more than a few 'discussions' about items not on that list, were there not? - that you will face the final battle that could be prolonged my any number of factors - the length of the queue, the efficiency of the checkout person, how many kids you have with you, how determined you are, and how - equally - determined the kids are, and how proof you are against the condemnation in the looks of those around you...

It's a particularly nasty form of warfare on their part. If you've caved before in public situations, they know that they have you over a barrel. Sooner or later, they know you'll give in just to shut them up. Because they don't think so far ahead, they'll look at that short term gain as having achieved something big. It's manipulation of a most primitive type. Trouble is, it teaches them that the way to get stuff is to make a fuss, and keep fussing until they get what they want - and that if it's a good, loud public fuss, they have a much better chance of coming out on top. It teaches them to be tyrants...

But... Let's go behind the scenes quietly for a moment to the grown up back stage area or this little drama... What's really going on in your head? What are the things you'd really like to say to your awful, screaming monster, and to the people who are being so sanctimonious in their condemnation - who, by sheer good fortune on this particular day might be shopping solo...? Have you ever contemplated just leaving the shopping and the screaming child and walking away? Have you screamed back? Have you - and you don't have to admit to this in a public comment if it's something you don't want to own up to - smacked them in public (earning even more condemnation, of course)? Do you then head home, with smug child, thinking murderous thoughts, knowing you have all the shopping to put away, meals to think about, washing you forgot to hang out earlier that will have to be washed again, only to face the next battle as soon as you walk in the door - whatever it might be?

Hold those thoughts.... I have a cross over here from my other blog - and if you're a reader I invite you to go look here - I just read Chocolat for the first time. Lovely, lovely book - but you can read more of my thoughts on it on the other blog. Early in, I found part of a paragraph that caught my attention,
... Children are born wild, I know. The best I can hope for is a little tenderness, a seeming docility. Beneath the surface the wildness remains, savage and alien.
We are conditioned to love our families, particularly that we must love our children. And we do. We do love them - it's deeply instinctive, and almost impossible not to love something that is so totally dependent, and that you are biologically programmed to care for. That doesn't always mean we like them.  It doesn't mean we don't sometimes look at them and wish, for an instant, that we could walk away sometimes and just not have to deal with whatever it is at any particularly nasty moment. 

That internal conflict between loving our children and sometimes disliking them intensely never really leaves us. For many of us, it's something we struggle with, especially if we've been conditioned to be 'nice' people and always look for explanations and justifications for other people's behaviour. 

One of my boys was a public tantrum thrower. The other was always rigidly in control - no one was going to see him lose it in public. There'd been enough of his  trantrums as he was growing up for me to learn the vital walk away tactic - but always safely at home. I just had to leave the room. There wasn't much profit for him in treating the empty room to his tantrum, so they usually stopped relatively quickly. The other one was a different beastie altogether and his supermarket dramas started early. I did walk away from him once - left him on the floor in the aisle, and kept going. I was in a complete state that someone would take him, or report me - but his shrieks continued as I made my way further through the aisles and I realised that no one in their right minds would want him like that and I was stuck. I actually abandoned the shopping that day. Went back and got him, left my trolley full of groceries, picked him up and tucked him under my arm and bolted, head down, so as not to have to face anyone, and headed home. I don't remember what I fed them - it was a big shop I was doing. But, give in and give him what he wanted and reward the tantrum - no way.

He was given to fighting for everything - never seemed to occur to him that there were alternative ways to achieve things. He'd come out of his corner fists flailing every time. My moment of clarity, and release, came one day when he was having another go, again in a supermarket, about something he wanted that he wasn't going to get. I looked at him, his face twisted in anger, frustration, and a certain amount of calculation and something in me suddenly shifted. He wasn't a toddler any more. He'd reached the messy middle primary school stage and was  tall and solid - too big to just pick up and exit with... But, he was also too big now for people to just blame me. They were looking at him, not me. He was too big not to know how to behave properly, and the looks I was getting were sympathetic. There was no point at the time trying to say anything to him, but I had that conversation with him later when he'd calmed down.

There was a period in my life, as an adult, when many of the things from my childhood came back to haunt me - it was time to do the work of dealing with my ghosts. It was a difficult time, particularly for my mother. After she died I found a letter she'd written to me during that time, but never posted. She wrote about her pain in not being able to reach me, not being able to talk to me, not knowing how to get past my anger. I wish she could have said all of it, but I knew at the time I'd put up huge walls round myself. I was angry. I was blaming her for many things. As parents, we're going to hit periods of time when we clash with our kids and they're going to be angry with us, and maybe shut us out. But, one of the biggest lessons we all have to learn, and one that is possibly the hardest to teach our kids, is that ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for ourselves. Other people aren't responsible for us. We can't blame other people our whole lives for the things that we don't like or don't have. At some point we have to stand up and go fix them and go get them ourselves. 

Saying no to our kids is the first step in teaching that lesson. Because it's not all about them. We hold our children in our hearts, but they're not ours to own, any more than we are theirs to be constantly at their beck and call. That wild thing - that's in all of us - is the essence of who we are as individual people. It needs to learn how to get along with the other wild things within its sphere - and then beyond. We shouldn't trample on it - and I don't believe saying no does that - but we do need to teach it not to trample all over everyone else.

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