Something I struggle with, something I’m working on really hard right now, is being less oppressive to my children. It only happens about twice a week, and is hidden in the joy and brightness of our more customary family style, sort of swept under the happy family rug.
I am a very touch-oriented person. Hugs, kisses, hand holding – I’m a tactile junky. There is a downside; the tendency to intrude, move things along faster, and push the pace on my little ones is just as automatic. I blame the clock, our fast paced lives, and I blame myself. Despite my efforts, my loving nature, and my desire to be a warm and soft beacon of patience, I’m pushy. There is stuff to get done, and a lot of it.
With that vulnerability displayed, and my desire for a personal shift, it is not my place to clarify or elevate “one right way,” or a perfect parenting strategy; no such things exist. I can only speak to my own experience, and I know that in my heart, each time I employ my hands to remove their tender control of a toothbrush, zipper, shoe strap, or the like, the discomfort I feel later in the day has been stirring me toward change for some time now. And so far, relying on my conscious effort and “willpower” alone has been an exercise in defeat and punitive self-critique.
Recently, I started into my usual process when faced with such issues – talking with others and poking around in the documented history of how to care for children in this world. By world, I mean the broader, whole and wise world, not just our little North American world. I trust this process, and I believe in my ability to shift and grow. Something always sings out to me, and it’s a matter of time before sweet solutions are found.
Tonight, and unsurprisingly, via the words of Maria Montessori’s The Discovery of the Child, I found my starting point. Her words resonated, putting shape to my dilemma. She wrote of the adult’s job in upholding, and honoring the child’s innate and intense drive toward independence – via managing our own, external expectations over their little unskilled efforts. We know this behavior as the “my do it” moments; the things children want to do for themselves that take twice or four times as long, and make terrible messes. They are the things that make us late and sometimes, unfortunately, annoyed – unless we have the time – then, they feel sweet and natural, and more often, we can scrape up a little patience and understanding.
She wrote, “Seeing them toiling and wasting time in doing something which we could manage in a moment without any trouble, we substitute ourselves for the child and do it ourselves. Always animated by the same prejudice – that the object to strive for is the completion of an external act – we clothe and wash the child, take out of his hands the things which he loves to handle, pour the soup into his basin for him, feed him, set the table for him. And after rendering such services, we most unjustly judge him to be incapable, inept, as always happens when someone suppresses another whilst apparently benefiting him.”
I truly believe most parents do not intend to send this message to their children. These thoughts have never occurred to me, but every time I act on impulse and override their hands, this message is the risk I take. Usually, I justify my rigidity with verbal reminders that we “don’t have time for that right now.” I almost always wedge some “appropriate” strategy in, as an afterthought, to prevent being fired by my children. For example, I may promise, “we can do that later if you want to, but we cannot right now.” And later, when time allows, I follow through, and keep my hands clear of their process – unless there is gentle guidance I have been invited to provide.
But – I always want to go back and better manage that earlier moment – to avoid darting in, squashing their “my do it-ness,” and triggering a series of tiny-but-mighty battles that ends in tears. I’m tired of the clenched jaw and regret. I know better, and that it is my action that sets off the flurry of frustration – not some character flaw or behavioral defect in my child.
I don’t expect to become the master of a gentler strategy. I do know what I can work toward, though. I can absolutely take a tiny bit more time, most of the time. I can work to better anticipate where the clock, and my internal mommy-metronome will push on me, causing me to push on them. I can continue befriending, and hopefully disarming my incredibly normal adult impulses to oppress and suppress these smaller hands that are making me late for work.
I can use different strategies, because I am big and creative and it is my responsibility. I don’t know what the tangible solution will be, or if I will be successful, but I have my first foundation block now – a concise definition of why this is a problem, for me, and I am looking forward to what will come next.