I find myself wrangling a thrashing four-year-old out of her chair, out of the kitchen, up the stairs, down the hall, and finally, barely, into her room. I’ve got her in a bear hug, her arms pinned to her sides but all the while she is screaming (deliberately turning toward my ear), kicking, and whipping her head backward trying to hit my face.
She’s in full-out meltdown over something like the order in which she received the ketchup or a cup that’s not pink. Prior to this wrestling match, she’s been warned, probably one time too many because she already knows she doesn’t get to ruin dinner for everyone else by screaming/crying/whining just because she’s upset/mad/temporarily psychotic, whatever.
But with this girl, it doesn’t matter. When she’s in this kind of mood she does not listen. She will ignore warnings and chances and rage on until discipline is enforced. In this case, she’s seized and removed from the table, as promised.
In her room, I stand her on her bed and back away quick because I know better. She drops immediately and kicks at me, hard, with both legs like a mule. I make for the door. She jumps up and runs after me, but I get out, pull it closed and monkey-grip the handle, leaning back with the full force of my weight while she screams and bangs and yanks and fights for all she’s worth on the other side.
As I stand there, sweaty and mad and wishing I could cover my ears, I think about an array of seemingly irrational things like the pros and cons of installing a dead bolt to hold her in (effective, but looks bad), the general use of sound proof ear muffs around the house (it would protect my hearing) and the length of the hose in the backyard (can it reach all the way up here?).
On the other side of the door, she is a tiny, hysterical, raging beast who is probably about to gnaw her way through the wood. I don’t really have a plan for that.
Eventually, I issue a threat. It’s time to calm down or there will be further consequences, something drastic, I can’t think of just yet, but something.
Around this time I realize I’m in a half squat, basically hanging from the doorknob with every muscle in my body on lock down and I wonder; what in the hell am I doing?
I’d rather be eating a warm dinner at the table like a human being but instead I’m repressing the urge to yell and bang against the door just as hysterically as she is while I try (try) to calmly remind her to settle down, to make a better choice, that she brought on the consequence.
At this moment, she needs parented, and that’s my job.
Parenting. That’s what this is. Yes. It comes in strange forms sometimes. It’s often irrational and emotional and it doesn’t happen on my schedule. Ever. But this is it. And I’ve been at it long enough to know parenting is a verb. One that requires more action and energy than I ever dreamed.
I’ve done some pretty strange things in the name of parenting, like leapfrogging an obese man through a doorway because I couldn’t get past him fast enough to catch my girl before she darted into the street. I’ve also dangled a helpless (but beloved) doll out the car window on the interstate as leverage to stop a lot of unnecessary screaming. Mildly sadistic? Maybe. But the girl wasn’t quite so defiant with the doll flapping frantically in the wind.
I’m not always right, but most of the time I’m at least doing something. I’m trying. I’m interacting, I’m showing, I’m correcting, guiding, explaining, explaining again, explaining again and again and again. I’m occasionally yelling and every once in a while, somehow, something gets through.
Sometimes I hear myself say something like, If you don’t brush your teeth right now I’m turning off that TV and you’re going straight to bed! And then I think, why did I say that? because now I’m going to have to get up and actually do it if they don’t listen and most of the time I don’t want to stop whatever I’m doing to discipline. I just want them to do what they’re told.
The first time I ask.
And then, maybe, thank me for the unique privileged that is having me for a mother.
But they don’t work that way and if I don’t follow through it will only get worse. Not parenting teaches kids a lot, too.
These little people are running around with still-developing brains trying to learn how to move about in the world. They don’t know how to reign in emotions. They aren’t rational. They often can’t be reasoned with, so to get through we have to get up, engage, and get their attention. And sometimes we have to get creative.
Some days are tough and by tough I mean roughly equivalent to running repeatedly into a brick wall. Sometimes we aren’t quite sure how we’ll make it through, but we do. It may not always be pretty, but we make it somehow.
As parents, even when we’re tired and frustrated and we’d rather be doing something (anything) else, we usually fight it out with our kids. We take action, we give our energy. We parent, because our kids are worth it.
My girl is worth the fight. That’s what I tell myself when I’m ready to bang my head against the door until I lose consciousness. She is worth it. And in small bits, I see it paying off. The fights are fewer and farther between. She often chooses to control herself in lieu of consequences. She’s starting to consider other people. To some degree, little by little, fight by fight, it is working. She’s a good girl (most of the time).
So, if you see me squirting my kids with the hose or making them do push ups or run into us and find they’re dressed in some mismatched-rag-tag outfit, do not be alarmed. I’m just trying to parent, and whatever you see is the best I could come up with at the moment.
Anyone have some creative / effective parenting moves you’re willing to share? If you do, please share and help us all!
Image Credit: Family pic taken by Susan Miller of Susan Miller Photography