Friday, September 9, 2011

The Battling of Wills.

There has been more than one morning this week where my daughter nearly drove me to drink.

Slugging back a cold one while still in one's pajamas is certainly not something I condone, but let's just say that I'm beginning to have a much better understanding of why some would succumb to such a notion.
To set aside fancier phrasing in order to get the point across, battling wills with a toddler can be really really really hard.

Here's an example.
(Mind you, it's just one. This last week, such instances have easily tallied to a half-dozen per day.)
Our two tasks for this paricular morning before heading out for a playdate with Krista and Zane were the following: to get Opal dressed (a change of diaper included) and to place lunch items into her lunch bag. To be clear, the PB&J was already assembled, the applesauce packet chilled and ready in the refrigerator, both requiring simply to be relocated to the purple bag.

Those two tasks took over an hour.

A whip-cracker, hardly, but I don't consider myself to be a mama who puts up with much child-induced grief. When Opal is uncooperative or contrary, she promptly gets a consequence. When she kicks or hits mommy, she gets a time-out, no discussion. When she uses a tone that is commanding or one that is whiney, she is instructed to use a gentler voice in order to get the attention or outcome she is craving or she is simply ignored until the volume chills out naturally.

Most times in the past, something has shifted after a consequence is given. Lately, not so much.

Recently, most actions that are not initiated by Opal's sharp little brain trigger a major meltdown. This morning it started with intense opposition to putting a diaper back on after sitting her little naked booty on the pink Dora potty seat. She ran around like a lobster avoiding the pot, screaming, squirming and wriggling with trained expertise. I tried to delay time-outs as long as possible, giving her choices as a first option.

Your choices are to change your diaper and get dressed on the floor or the diaper-table, which would you prefer? (Answer, of course, the floor, where she can zip and wriggle with no concern for falling.)

(A different angle.) When you cooperate with mommy you can help me pick our your shirt for the day! No response, just more jerking and flailing and orneriness for many minutes of stalling.

(Yet another different angle. More of a stern tone, not anger, just no-more-nonesense.) Ok, now it's time to cooperate with mommy. You can choose to cooperate now or go into time out. Same.

She was given a time out with a naked booty.

I did my best to not show my frustration and keep it light. One of the most recent books I've read stated very clearly that time-outs should not be a punishment, persay, as much as simply not offering your precious company to your child for a short period of time. That's the punishment. The book recommends to stay in a pleasant mood while remaining in eye-shot of your toddler. Being in the same space—reading a book, looking through the mail—while not engaging with them for the set amount of time.

After time-out #1, we traveled from diaper-opposition to straight-up hitting and kicking mommy, leading us post-haste into time-out #2, still with a naked booty.

I've had many chats with Jesse about this topic and I'd love to have dozens more with other parents. Opal is certainly just exercising her brawn and muscularity of being a two-year-old; she is obviously doing nothing wrong by pushing her limits. I recently read—in the book Parenting with Love and Logic— that if a toddler doesn't push back or throw tantrums, this doesn't mean he's being good, this means his spirit is broken. (Chew on that one.)

Yet having said that, there's still this strange expectation of cause-and-effect that I fumble with. If I give the proper consequence, she should respond, right? If I set the proper boundaries, she should shape up, correct? And when she suddenly stops responding, one can't help but to feel as if there may have been a better way of approaching the matter.

This line of thinking is a trap and more than just a bit self-agressive. During an evening chat with Jesse about feeling this way, we came to the conclusion together that it's our job to set limits that have her best intentions in mind, give appropriate consequences, remain consistent and let the rest go. But, ooh, not so easy in the moment!

So, back to the naked baby in time-out #2.
The opposition turned to a classic whining-fussing combo over the fact that she was not offered a Princess Band-Aid as a bribe, in spite of her passionately suggestions to do so.
Then, sadness. The tears. The MAMA PICK UP! Plunging her sobbing little face into my shirt, wriggling and still thoroughly clashing against being diapered. Lordy.

Luckily, finally, the excessive drama had left her tattered and limp and I was able to get her diapered and clothed. I paused for a moment in a just-off-the-worligig state of what the f— just happened? My toolbelt was totally empty—tools strewn about the floor in a state of disorder—and the thing that finally worked was pure and simple baby-exhaustion.

We resumed the present-tense mission to calm the crying, which was nebulous in whether its motivation was manipulation or real emotion. I carried her around the house in the Ergo backpack as she slowly settled and the sobs turned to sleepy tongue-clicks.

It was then that I wondered how long it had been since I last took a breath, considering how nice it would be to have some big, burly man smelling of Old Spice and peppermint to carry me around in one of these baby-backpacks. Weightless and snug, with legs dangling from each side like a synched marionette, having finally surrendered the collection of struggles and emotions that seemed so necessary just moments earlier. One arm curled around my blessed bunny, one holding a well-chilled gin and tonic.

(So now, I break out the discipline books to refine my game.
I shall report back with my findings...)

No comments:

Post a Comment