I am head strong, stubborn and determined. I am flaky, fickle and easily influenced. I am a perfectionist and control makes me feel safe. I am untidy, lazy and easy going. I am a stickler for rules. I don’t like reading guide books.
These are just a few of the many contradictions that afflict my personality.
Sometimes, these cacophony of traits have worked in my favour. In motherhood? Not so much.
When my daughter was born, I knew that I wanted her to be happy and healthy. Then as she grew, she started to develop freewill.
That’s when I panicked. It quickly developed into wanting her to be happy, healthy and not the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents.
Freewill started to really kick in around the age of eighteen months. “Ahhh,” I thought, “she’s starting to push the boundaries. Test my tenacity. Act out. It is now my job to show her the boundaries of acceptableness and I know exactly how. Time outs.”
Here are the reasons why I used time outs:
To show her who was boss.
To show her I was in control.
To show her acceptable behaviour in society.
To show her the consequences of not doing as she was told without resorting to capital punishment.
I was excellent at it. I never gave in no matter where we were. I had perfected the technique. My perfectionism, stubborn determination and stickler for rules were working solely in my favour.
There was a slight niggling feeling in the back of my head though, that something wasn’t sitting quite right with me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Just before Christmas, I was getting my daughter ready for a Christmas event being held in town. I was struggling to motivate her but I’d arranged to meet friends and I really wanted to go. I managed to get her all trussed up in a Christmas outfit so we could take part in the Santa Dash. All she needed now was a scarf. I found one of mine – a silver one – perfect for her Christmas outfit. She didn’t want to wear it. It wasn’t her scarf. Her scarf was the pink one. “But the pink one clashes with her red Christmas outfit. It’ll look shit,” I thought. So I asked her sternly to just put the scarf on whilst wrapping it around her against her will. Needless to say, WW3 broke out. She was screaming. I was screaming. I was furious that SHE was making us late by not wearing the scarf that I wanted her to wear. She wasn’t listening. The only thing for it was a time out for not being compliant and not listening. So I gave her a warning. She stuck a big middle finger up to my warning so I put her on time out.
Whilst she was there – red-faced, angry, distressed, crying – I went and cried outside in the garden. I counted to ten, composed myself and went back to her. I wasn’t sorry. I was angry SHE had let it get this far.
Needless to say, my controlling, head strong determination and stubbornness meant we made it to the Santa Dash, but nobody was happy. She refused to take part and I had lost the Christmas spirit so I waved goodbye to my friends and weeped all the way home wondering why it had all gone so wrong.
I don’t think it really takes a psychologist to see how everything about that scenario was about me and nothing about my daughter. My perfectionism, stubbornness, determination and stickler for the rules had started to work against me. It had started to control me and my daughter. I had forgotten it’s purpose which was supposedly to help her become a better person.
Actually, let’s look at that again. “Not be the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents” was in fact what I think I had said.
Nope, that wasn’t thinking about her. That was thinking about everybody else. This wasn’t working.
There were a few events that started to make me doubt myself. I got into an online spat with two very dear friends about my justification for the use of time outs. They were both against it and I hated being made to feel like I was doing something wrong. But the seed had been sown. My flaky, fickle and easy persuaded side was starting to sprout and shortly after, I read a couple of chapters from an Alfie Kohn book which confirmed for me that all of my own justifications for using time outs were utter bollocks.
If I truly wanted her to be happy, then stifling her when she was just expressing herself was not the way to go about it.
The major turning point though was this; her little brother. He, turns out, to have autism. No amount of perfectionism and control is ever going to change that. He is just free to become the person he wants to be because he has no idea about societal etiquette. He can’t be moulded, shaped or controlled. He just is. And I’m so jealous of him.
His outbursts are extreme but he has no way of understanding them and I have no way of explaining to him.
His meltdowns make it almost obligatory for parents to stare and judge.
He is THAT kid that parents steer their kids away from fear of him being too boisterous or a bit trigger happy with the pushing.
So that is why I called time on time outs. Because it turns out being exactly what I feared the most, isn’t actually that scary after all.
Stopping has been hard. When you have a seemingly gold standard, fool-proof way of dealing with situations that you feel out of control of, it’s very tricky not to fall on old comfortable habits. I’ve had a few slip ups. I hated myself for them because they were as pathetic as Christmas-gate. But when the time outs don’t give you the result you want, where do you go next? Smacking? I’ve been tempted and that was also part of the problem.
But whilst I can’t help my son (yet) to understand his emotions, I can help my daughter to understand hers. By giving them names so they become easier to express. I’m desperately trying not to care what other people think when they’re clearly judging my parenting whilst my son flails on the floor screaming in a pitch only a spectrum child can reach – it’s heart breaking. I’ve managed to let go of a lot of control. I’ve had to. It was useless. I have managed to bring out my more easy going side and choose my battles wisely. Ergo, deciding that there are very few battles that are ever truly ‘won’ when the opponent is a child.
The house feels calmer. It feels happier. Of course freewill is as annoying as ever but I can live with it. Probably until she hits puberty. Then I’ll perhaps just hide under my bed.