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1.13.2011

Repost: Rising above one's baser nature and past experience.

This is a post I wrote a while ago, but it says a lot about parenting and human nature that I think bears repeating again.

Let me just start by saying I have been frustrated this week (if you couldn't tell by my last post). Not by anything in particular (well, until this morning, but I'll get to that in a minute), it's probably some hormonal flux I am unaware of. But events conspired this morning to just about push me over my frustrational threshold.

I was tired this morning when I woke up (don't you hate that?). Oliver got up too early. So we got up and ate breakfast (Oliver did, anyway). Izzy slept late... well, later than we did and that is just about the only thing that has gone well this morning (I can't imagine having a sleepy cranky 3 year old on top of the rest). I got busy doing other stuff and forgot to eat breakfast... I never thought I'd be that kind of mom, I have ALWAYS been a big breakfast eater. But I do it too often now. Moral of the story is my blood sugar was low. I had been sitting in the recliner and had my phone and laptop right there next to my water and coffee (now you may begin to see where this is going)when I realized it was time to get the meat in the crockpot for supper. So I got up and went and did my thing in the kitchen. I needed to check the recipe a few minutes later, so I returned to my laptop to find...

...Oliver dipping my iphone in my coffee.

Izzy once dumped an entire glass of water on our (old) laptop and I don't remember being nearly so angry. I was livid. I am a short fused person normally. But today I was already frustrated, tired, and my blood sugar was at rock bottom. Bad news. The good news is that despite these things I didn't completely loose my cool. My tone was probably far too harsh (he has never looked so repentant before) and I took him directly to time out (but despite his age this is, sadly, not his first).

The funny thing is (now, it wasn't really funny at the time) that when these things happen I automatically begin writing blog posts about them in my head. This one started out titled "16 month old for sale to highest bidder," but the anger quickly faded, as is the case with most short fused people. I realized that it is just a phone and he is my son. The strength of my reaction was probably due to the fact that it is still very new to me (the phone) and that I have so much information in it. But it's still just a phone. So I ate and I took a breather. And I put my phone in a bag of dry rice in the oven (not turned on- just with the light on, I read this usually works). As of the time I put it in the oven the water damage indicator hadn't triggered, so I'm hopeful that it stays that way (and the phone still worked, I am just taking precautions).

But as I was writing this blog post in my head I started thinking about my reactions, how they could have been very different depending on a lot of things, and about my own parents. I was spanked growing up. For the record I don't spank and I don't think it's an effective means of managing a child's behavior. But I also don't think it's going to ruin a child. That's exactly what I was thinking about, actually. I have the advantage of knowing quite a lot about child development, the research behind the field, what my other options are, and why and how they work better than physical punishment. But other parents don't have that advantage. And I possibly wouldn't have had that advantage- I didn't WANT to be an Child Development major when I went to college. I just happened to have a Composition class with this girl who said she got a job feeding babies (that's exactly how she put it, although it's not representative of what the job actually was), and what college girl doesn't love babies (and by babies I mean the cute, abstract idea of babies...)? So I walked over to the address she gave me and talked to the director, who had an opening for me. I worked in the baby room 5 hours a week that first semester. It was not totally stimulating, but playing with (and feeding and changing and soothing...) babies for 2.5 hours twice a week is far better than other jobs I could have had. Then during finals week I got bounced around a little more- I spent a good part of a day in the Koala room, which was the room for 3.5 to 4.5 year-olds. That was when I both fell in love and realized this was something I was GOOD at. Even before I had any training at all I had always been able to relate to kids and they have always reacted positively around me. During my time at that Child Care I had three awesome mentor teachers who began my learning process. And, of course, I've had other child care jobs and taken more classes, so my learning continues to this day, but had I not had that class with that girl and gotten that job who knows where I would have ended up or how much I would have known about child development when I had my own children. Then how would I differ as a parent today? I remember when we did orientation at the Child Care and they gave us the basics on speaking to children and dealing with behavior. Even that little bit of information (use postives instead of negatives, use time out and re-directions, etc) seemed overwhelming for me, like I had to rewire my brain. It's hard to retrain yourself if you grew up hearing "no" and being spanked. But after one semester my brain was reconditioned and I found myself telling my roommate to use her inside voice.

I also thought about my parents. I have my dad's temper- we don't react emotionally as some people with tempers do. When we get angry it is almost always due to either 1) a pre-existing bad mood or 2) frustration and annoyance with stupid/careless/wasteful/unfrugal/inconsiderate/etc behavior. We have practical short tempers:) My mom, however, is the opposite. She doesn't react strongly to ANYTHING. She is not at all ruled by her emotions and rarely looses her cool. Exasperated is about the worst I have ever seen her. Of course, I don't remember what she was like when we were 3 years and 16 months old, so maybe (probably!) she was just as frustrated as I am. The mothering I remember, though, was very patient and nonreactive. Even when I threw cake at my brother (out of frustration... and the story is much funnier if you know that I wasn't 3 when I did it, I was a junior in high school).

So my entire adult life, most particularly the portions of it I have spent with children (both my own and other people's) I have been actively merging the two. My temperament, the part that I'm born with and can't really totally change, tends towards easy anger and reacting without thinking (which is why I used to and still on very VERY rare occasion throw things when I'm upset... like cake). But I was lucky and had a calm, even tempered, patient woman to model my behavior after. This is why it makes me endlessly annoyed when I hear people say things like "that's just how I am, I can't help it." That's BS. We are all humans and while we can't help our initial emotional reactions or base urges, in most cases we can control our behavior (I do know there are extreme exceptions, but I exclude those for this point). I also think that the first step is owning your initial reaction and not feeling guilty or apologizing for it. Own it, then set it aside. Repressing and feeling guilty for something you can't control is counterproductive. FOR EXAMPLE: when Oliver was dipping my phone in my coffee I was angry. But I quickly recognized the emotion and controlled it before it caused me to do something I would regret. Then I set it aside. I didn't dwell on it and feel guilty for being angry at my child... similarly I didn't act on my anger and then later feel guilty for my actions (which is one of the myriad reasons I disapprove of spanking- parents aren't acting on logic, they're acting out of frustration, and they almost always feel guilty after).

I think my post has two purposes. First, all of this was banging around in my head and getting it all out is one way I help to relieve my own frustrations. But also I want to teach and inspire other parents (that is always my goal, so FYI if I ever sound preachy that isn't my intention, I am always driven to educate and inspire). Open yourself up to the positive influences around you. Look at what you don't like, be it about yourself, about your life, about your home, anything in your power (NOT things you can't change.... like your spouse) and figure out how to change it. Don't let yourself fall into the traps of "my parents did it and I turned out okay" and "it's just how I am, I can't change it." Know that you can change if you choose to do so. Know that you don't automatically have to do things the way your parents did them or the way your friends do them, especially if it isn't working or doesn't feel right. We all have an advantage over our parents- we live in the information age. All of us have access to the internet, be it in our homes, at school or at the public library. There is a wealth of information available to us, and most of it is free. Our parents only had books, their parents, and their pediatricians to rely on, so they were only able to learn what they were, usually by chance, exposed to. We can take it beyond what is chance exposure and make it intentional exposure.

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