Yesterday evening, I took SillyBilly to a little holiday party at a friend’s house. This lovely woman invites people with young children from the local anthroposophical community to her home to sing carols, have a little potluck, and see her magnificent Christmas tree. She decorates her tree with the symbols Steiner described, real red roses and apples, and real candles, with a smattering of straw stars. It’s truly magical.
Unfortunately, Napoleona had a cold, so Anthropapa stayed home with her and it was just me and the boy. Also unfortunately, SillyBilly was really starving and we didn’t eat until after the tree lighting and carol singing were done. If I had known, we would have nibbled something on our way over.
Needless to say, he started to behave, shall we say, not so politely, until we could get some food into the growing boy’s cavernous, echoing stomach.
As we were walking home in the dark, looking up at the stars, I decided to tell SillyBilly how I felt about his behavior. Trying to do a little NVC, you see, sharing my feelings.
I said something like, “when you yell at me and act rudely in front of our friends, it’s embarrassing!” (This doesn’t quite pass NVC muster: I really should have said something more like “when you yell at me, I feel angry, because I want you to respect me.” But of course then he would have asked me what respect means, and then we’d be off on another conversation!)
He responded, “What does embarrassing mean, Mama?”
How do I explain that?
“All the other kids were sitting quietly while you were yelling.” Nope, don’t really want to go the lemming route.
“I’m worried that people will think I’m a bad parent because you act that way.” Strike two! No way this is going to make sense to him, and in any case it’s something I’m just making up in my own head. More likely people are thinking that he’s probably hungry, or going through a stage, or something similar to what they’ve experienced themselves. Or other thoughts that I could never guess. And let’s not even talk about why I would want him to start caring what other people might think, when he’s only five years old.
I let the conversation die out, mumbling something about please don’t yell at me, we use our kind words and voices, etc. etc.
Now, from the comfort of my computer desk, I wonder what embarrassment is really all about.
Merriam Webster tells me, among other things, that to embarrass is “to cause to experience a state of self-conscious distress: abash,” and for abash, “to destroy the self-possession of, confuse or put to shame (as by arousing suddenly a feeling of guilt or inferiority).”
So, I was feeling self-conscious, confused, ashamed, guilty, or inferior?
Well, let me see…
Self-conscious? Check. Everyone was looking at us.
Confused? Not so much. I knew he was hungry and perhaps a little overstimulated.
Ashamed? Ooh, that’s a tough one. MW says it’s “feeling shame: humiliated or disconcerted by feelings of guilt, disgrace, or impropriety about something discreditable or indecorous.” OK, humiliated–not that much; disconcerted by feelings of disgrace or impropriety–yes. Feeling he was being discreditable or indecorous–yes.
Guilty? I could say that I felt guilty for somehow allowing him to be “out of control” and disturbing the party. But that just makes me wonder why I think I have to control him in the first place.
Inferior? Definitely–in the face of all the other serene Waldorf parents and kids, I felt like a complete slacker anthro mother.
So, I’m seeing that I need to find another way to talk to him about how he acts in public that doesn’t throw all of my feelings of parental inferiority on his shoulders. I can see quite clearly (and did at the time) that he was simply unable to be much “better” given his physical needs at the time. I can also see quite clearly that the source of my embarrassment was completely internal.
From what I’ve been told and what I remember, I was always a “good girl.” I learned how to act in public at a young age, and I wasn’t a very outgoing person in any case. SillyBilly is extremely outgoing, and really does fine in public in general. (We spent several hours gallivanting around town today and he was an angel.) And I’m still fairly introverted in some respects (evidently I’m an ISTJ according to a recent online test I took), so it’s sometimes hard for me to relate to him on that level.
The other challenge is that with NVC, there’s a lot of talking. With Waldorf early childhood methods, there’s not so much talking. How to balance them? I could still do the self-observation and self-empathy, but not go into the whole dialogue with the kids. But then, how do I get my needs met? Do I just have to wait for my needs to be met when they’re older and not in the self-centered petty tyrant stage? How do I wait that long?