Recently I’ve been feeling a little stressed out. I’m trying to fit in more work while still taking care of the kids, and I’ve not been getting enough sleep — I stay up too late doing “fun” stuff like reading blogs after a hard day.
So, I’m ashamed to say, my parenting skills have suffered. I’ve been frustrated and yelling a lot. Yelling quite loudly in fact. Here’s what’s been happening:
Naptime starts with me reading a story, usually SillyBilly on my lap and Napoleona in her bed. Then SillyBilly sits in the living room while I sing and rock Napoleona to sleep. Then in theory I would bring SillyBilly into the bedroom to rock him to sleep.
But lately SillyBilly has decided to thwart that last bit. He’ll act up, refuse to be quiet, wiggle around, etc. Sometimes he’ll take so long to settle down to sleep that it’s only half an hour until Napoleona gets up. Sometimes I get him into the bedroom, and then he’ll make enough noise to wake Napoleona up. And when that happens, she won’t go back to sleep. This all makes me very, very upset.
You see, naptime is a little haven of quiet and solitude during my day. Just me and the cats. I can do a little work, do a little blogging, read, sleep, whatever, and be all alone.
When SillyBilly interferes with that, I get angry. Angry that he’s not listening to me, angry that he’s not obeying me, angry that I’m not getting what I want. But, I don’t want to be a yelling, spanking, angry Mama. I definitely don’t want them yelling or hitting either. (Recently I heard SillyBilly saying “Goddammit!” quietly under his breath, as if to practice what he’d heard. Wonderful.)
So I went looking for help. I reread our copy of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg. I’ve been struggling recently over how to incorporate NVC principles in my interactions with my kids. The structure of stating our observations, feelings, needs, and requests seems overly wordy and analytical when working with small children. This time I noticed that I could work with empathy more than the words, empathy for both myself and the kids.
I realized I need to look at the situation in an entirely new way:
At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled. Thus anger can be valuable if we use it as an alarm clock to wake us up—to realize we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely to be met.
I need quiet time alone, and when I don’t get it I feel angry and frustrated. But yelling and spanking are not going to result in a quiet, peaceful afternoon. So I have to find ways to get what I need. This may mean paying for more day care so that I don’t feel compelled to work during naptime; this probably means I need to go to bed much earlier so that I’m not so tired when I’m with the kids.
The first step to fully expressing anger in NVC is to divorce the other person from any responsibility for our anger…. We are never angry because of what someone else did. We can identify the other person’s behavior as the stimulus, but it is important to establish a clear separation between stimulus and cause…. Whenever we are angry, we are finding fault—we choose to play God by judging or blaming the other person for being wrong or deserving of punishment.
I was blaming SillyBilly for his actions, when really he was just being a normal 4 year old being tired but not wanting to sleep. I wasn’t getting angry because of his actions, I was getting angry because I was not getting what I wanted. I can still express my frustration and anger to him, but if I stay conscious of the fact that he’s not to blame, then I can keep my cool and just use calm words instead of yelling.
Now, normally in NVC we would use conversation to work through the conflict, expressing our needs and making concrete requests. But that would not work for me in the situation of trying to get SillyBilly to quiet down while trying not to wake up Napoleona! So I read about the concept of protective force:
The assumption behind the protective use of force is that people behave in ways injurious to themselves and others due to some form of ignorance. The corrective process is therefore one of education, not punishment.
If SillyBilly is being noisy while Napoleona is sleeping, I have to be prepared to take him out of the room. But the key is that I can’t blame him, I just have to help him understand why I need him to be quiet.
What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing what I’m asking? We soon realize that punishment and reward interfere with people’s ability to do things motivated by the reasons we’d like them to have.
This is the trickiest part for me. Part of me just wants the little bugger to comply with my requests, because I’m the Mama dammit! And I think to a certain extent that’s valid. I think parents need to have a sense of authority over their children — not authoritarian, but authority. I am the adult, I am the parent, therefore I have the responsibility and the authority to direct the children in their behavior. But ultimately I would like them to learn to act out of love and kindness, out of empathy for other people’s needs.
This last bit is the hardest because it’s a long-term proposition. Three and four year olds can’t really empathize — they don’t have that kind of consciousness yet. So we face a long road of repeating instructions and modeling the behavior we want them to exhibit.
So far things have been improving bit by bit. I’ve been trying to head SillyBilly off at the pass by expressing my need for him to take a nap right before naptime, so that it might be in his awareness a little more. The weather has been beautiful, allowing us to spend more time outdoors in the mornings so that the kids are more tired at naptime. We’re making a plan to ensure we have enough money to cover sufficient day care so that I can work during “normal” working hours and get enough rest.