It’s been almost 3 months since my last blog post. Some of the last things I posted seemed like regular blog posts, but they were really reminders for myself. I had been struggling with my son’s new shift in behavior, and I was hoping that if I wrote something I knew to be true about parenting, I would have The Answer I was looking for and things would miraculously change with my son. But things didn’t change, and I stopped writing. I think I felt a little lost, like “positive parenting” wasn’t working…or that I had created these challenges in his behavior by not using stricter discipline all along. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to write about because what I was doing clearly wasn’t working.
My son, who is 8, has always been outspoken and spirited, but over the summer, he seemed to be even more. Outspoken…with an attitude. Spirited…and now belligerent. Our days were spent battling over seemingly everything and always ended in tears and anger–his tears, my anger.
So I stopped writing to focus on my family and to figure things out. I knew deep down that getting our relationship back on track was key, but I had no idea how to do that when everyday was such a challenge to endure. How do you express unconditional acceptance to a child when his behavior repeatedly pushes you away?
This was my a-ha! moment (a whole a-ha! summer) when I realized where the inclination to use harsh discipline comes from…how easy it is to respond in retaliation…
“Fine, be that way. I don’t care!” (walk away/ ignore)
“You can’t talk to me like that!” (do/ say something to show who’s boss)
“How dare you do that to me? (“Now here’s what I’ll do to you…”)
Feeling hurt and finding a way to turn that emotion into a hurtful action against a child (punish)
I experienced every one of these thoughts. What it took from me was the realization that I am the grown up here. If one of us is more capable than the other of regulating emotion and communicating effectively, guess who it is? Not the 8-year-old. As much as I thought he *should* be able to control himself and act appropriately, for whatever reason, he just wasn’t. No, sorry, not for “whatever” reason…the reason is immaturity. At 8 years old, my child still has about 20 more years to go before his brain reaches full maturity. That means the neural pathways between the structures of his brain that process emotion and the parts of his brain that handle logic, reasoning, and self control are far from formed and far from efficient.
My own brain has been at full maturity for a while now. Though it can be hard (and some days/ weeks/ months harder than ever), I have the ability to access my logical brain.
I can be the one to disengage from power struggles.
I can be the one to set limits and hold them without letting my emotions get the best of me.
I can be the one to reach out lovingly when it seems like my child is least deserving of connection and attention.
I can be the one to receive strong emotions and not take them personally.
I can be the one to be consistently firm.
I can be the one to be consistently kind.
I can be the one to understand that we are in a tough phase and my child is not “bad.”
This summer called for more firmness in our parenting. Some phases are like that. It didn’t mean hurtful words or punishments, but higher expectations, new boundaries, added responsibilities–all held consistently with firmness and kindness. It meant understanding that our son wasn’t necessarily going to like our expectations and he would have his feelings about them. My husband and I were prepared for this and distanced ourselves a bit so we wouldn’t be drawn into his emotional turmoil. Eventually, we experienced a huge turning point and saw a shift. More cooperation from our 8-year-old. Less outbursts. We especially found those needed moments of connection and spent time re-getting-to-know our son; It wasn’t such an effort to reach out anymore.
This summer was a phase; I’m realizing that now. It was much harder to see when we were in the thick of it. But what I couldn’t see then that I’m able to now, is that not only were the past few months a growth spurt for my son, but they were a growth spurt for me too. It was time for both of us to grow and change. Not only do I see the maturity he’s gained after this time of struggle, I also feel my own transformation from lost and floundering as a parent to feeling more capable than ever.
It gets better. Times are hard, we struggle, we work, we persevere, we change…and things get better. Little by little, we move forward; we grow together.