I had an interesting moment or two with Grey today. She has discovered sticking out her tongue, and although it’s not entirely mean-spirited, it’s not something I want to see (sooner or later, she’ll get the attitude behind the action). The first time she did it, I asked where she learned it; she said the kitties on Grandma’s movie do it. One of Grey’s treats when she goes to Grandma’s house is to watch the Aristocats, one of my favorite old-school Disney movies. The kittens have a cute sibling rivalry that, at it’s worst, is displayed by tongue-sticking and tail-pulling. Grey and I had a talk (not our first) about loving actions and how sticking out her tongue is not an acceptable thing to do in our home because it does not reflect the love we have for each other. Then we went on with our talk about farm animals.
The second time Grey stuck her tongue out at me she totally threw it over her shoulder with a smug look and a hip thrust. I had asked her to go pick out some jammies while I finished vacuuming. She walked slowly and deliberately to her room, turned at the last second and BAM! the tongue came out. Man, when I saw that swagger and smirk, I reacted so fast I carried the vacuum into the hallway with me.
See, when you think about having a family, nobody tells you how crazy these small people can make you. You think about how sweet babies are how much fun you’ll have seeing them grow and how cool it will be to teach them all about the world. But no, nobody says that they can turn you into a monster, that you will have thoughts and feelings that are completely against your nature, that–although you will never act on those impulses–the impulses will tempt you to run far away from the best thing you have going for you. Nobody tells you how crazy you can truly be, that you will, for a split second, imagine swinging a vacuum cleaner at your 3 year old’s head because she dared defy you with something she learned from a cartoon.
About 3 steps down the hall I jerked to a stop. I saw myself doing the same thing, sneaking in a stuck-out-tongue just for spite. I was probably a pre-teen, and I thought Mama had turned away for good, but she spun around to catch my tongue hanging out of my mouth, evil thoughts in my mind. Let me tell you, that was the last time I ever stuck my tongue out at that lady (physically, anyway).
In real time, I put down the vacuum and took a breath. God help me. God help her! I walked calmly into Grey’s room and asked her to sit in the time-out chair. As soon as she saw me coming with that vacuum, she knew there’d be trouble, but now that I was addressing her calmly and rationally, she recognized she’d be in for it big. She crumbled about halfway to the chair.
Grey has always been quick to tears. She knows when she’s in trouble, when she’s done something wrong. Her little face goes red, her head falls to her chest and remorseful tears spill out of those big eyes as her hands go up to cover her sweet face. It’s so precious to watch her feel sorry, and I think that remorse is a good feeling to experience. I know she’s mostly upset about getting caught being rotten, but as long as we get to have that talk afterward, I think the tears show that her heart has been touched.
So she sat in the time-out chair, and I gave her a few moments to recover. When she was breathing steadily again, we talked. I asked her again where she learned to stick out her tongue. I told her that it hurt my feelings when she did that. I asked her if she wanted to hurt my feelings. I told her we want to have love and respect and honor in our family, and I told her that this action does not show any of those things. I wait as she said, “I’m sorry, Mama. Please forgive me.” I told her I forgave her, and I pointed out that this is an action we don’t want to see again in our home. And then I asked her to forgive me for being angry with her. I submitted to her, knowing we were both wrong in that instant. And I accepted her grace when she said, “I forgive you, Mama.” Then she got dressed for bed, and we went and read one of the Beatrix Potter stories she’s finally into.
Last spring Mama gave me a copy of Danny Silk’s parenting series Loving on Purpose. The premise of his teaching is that we need to cultivate a culture of honor and love in our homes. To do so, we must leave behind the fear-based, punishment-threatening, controlling parenting and teach our children to control themselves and manage their own freedom in a world of limitless options (because she’s a genius, and I know she can make good decisions if I only give her the chance). This may not seem like a big deal some, but to us, it has been revolutionary. The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that I can only hope to control myself. I cannot control my kids (and shouldn’t want to), and I should not let them control me (that immediate anger reaction is a sign that I’ve not yet mastered this). We have many, many things to learn still, but we’re working on creating a long-lasting heart connection with Grey, a connection that allows us to confront each other when we’re hurt, a connection that protects the nature of our relationship, a connection that will put us on the same team rather than opposing sides.
Remember the scene in “Back to the Future” when Marty is about to leave the dance to return to 1985? (Yes, I did just type that sentence.) His parents-to-be just hooked up on the dance floor, and everything is almost back to the way it should be. In the stairwell, Marty says in afterthought to his parents, “One other thing: If you guys ever have kids, and one of them, when he’s 8 years old, accidentally sets fire to the living room rug . . . go easy on him.” How many times could I say that to my parents? And how many times will my kids be able to say that to me? I’m trying to keep in mind that if I’m not perfect, why should I expect my kids to be? And I’m trying to parent out of love and grace rather than intimidation and control.