A Dark Night’s Wee Challenge

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?”

Oh. Well….um.

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?

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9 Comments

Filed under Deep Thoughts, Nonviolent Communication, Parenting, waldorf education

9 responses to “A Dark Night’s Wee Challenge

  1. LOL – We joke in our NVC parenting classes that you sometimes you can’t quite do “giraffe” and end up doing “baby jackal”…which really is the Waldorf “firm”…more or less “because I said so”.

    I can relate to your feelings and I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “It’s not about me, it’s not about me”…especially when you are faced with, “lousy local conditions” (Now I’m throwing in Gesell Institute parenting…which is I think what applies in this case.)

    For me being able to recognize and label the situation always helps me with implementing NVC…dealing with my own feelings of embarrassment and getting my needs met is another matter..:-)

    I think it’s a balance. Too much focus on a child’s needs = raising a tyrant. Too much focus on a parent’s needs…well, not good either.

    I like the Waldorf approach that children need to know their place in the world – a community focus but think there is too little focus on how we, as adults put them into situations that cause the “bad behavior”.

    What I like about NVC is that even though there is lots of talking…it’s effective….if you have time to implement it…and the big bonus..I feel better after taking the time to talk and talk than I do if I speak sternly or umm…yell!

  2. NQCP: It’s great to hear about how you are working with this. I know NVC is a growing thing in Waldorf circles. Now I just need to track down an NVC parenting class…maybe I’ll hear about one next year when (hopefully) my son will start kindergarten.

  3. Eve

    I noticed this for embarrass: “to destroy the self-possession of.” This interests me because last night I dreamed that I was packing to go to a conference and wondering anxiously whether my old colleagues would still like me, find me respectable. Since there was no resolution in the dream, when I woke up I realized that some part of my “cool factor” resides outside me. In other words, I am not self-possessed, but other-possessed, when I worry about whether people will like me and find me respectable.

    As I am not in many social situations any more that cast me in an embarrassing light, you have the conscious advantage of having a child who could put you in that position–of not being self-possessed. The other parts of embarrassment (self-consciousness, guilt, confusion, inferiority) it seems to me come in my life only after I’ve abdicated the throne of my self. That is, I can only feel self-conscious after I’ve abandoned a part of myself. While paradoxical, I notice that this is the way the pattern works in my life.

    So I wonder about your boy. Here you are, in a group of people, wanting to give him a gift of this experience. Rather than receive that gift, his tummy has another gift in mind: food. My sons are the same, very different than most of my daughters (who can feast off experience alone, it seems): they need food. They continue to be this way well into their mid-20s or so, until they finally stop growing (physically). Something about the experience threw you out of your usual mother mode and into giving up a part of your usual self, possibly? Because later you came to yourself and realized, “Oh, he was hungry!”

    So, to me, the non-violent communication with oneself is at the heart of it: what makes us abandon the part of ourselves that nurtures best in favor of some food that is not food (to borrow Christ’s idea)?

    Here I go, being all thinkalogical on your blog. Sorry! But, my, what thoughts you provoke!

  4. Eve: please be as thinkalogical as you like. One thing about blogging that’s a little frustrating for me is the lack of dialogue…I guess I want it to be more like a threaded discussion board and less like a journal.

    The funny thing was, I knew he was just hungry at the time, and yet I was still embarrassed. I think I was doing something that I learned about a long time ago in a personal development seminar: making stuff up. Meaning, you project all of your inner voices onto those around you, and you trick yourself into believing that the stuff is true or that they’re really thinking it.

    I think that projecting like that does cause me to abdicate my throne, as you put it, and forget that only I can possess my self. No one else can really define me and therefore only I can create my self. I trick myself into thinking that other people’s opinions (whether their actual opinions or my projections) have anything to do with me at all.

    That’s the beauty of NVC, I think: I can try to observe my emotions and actions, and try to ferret out what my real unmet needs are. What’s at the root of wanting respect? Or of wanting to feel that I’m as “good” a parent as others seem to be? If I could answer those questions, maybe it wouldn’t feel so impossible to meet my needs now instead of in the distant future.

  5. Nana

    The boy was hungry, it took a looong time to get some food. I’d be cranky too!

    The best way to handle the situation is to take him someplace quiet and just ask him what he needs. If he says he’s hungry, tell him you are hungry also and you will both be getting some yummies very soon.

    Mama & son become allies instead of antagonists.

  6. Hmm. (back from a quick scan of NVC). That’s similar to what we’re (in a very unstructured way) doing in some respects with our children but something whcih supermum keeps pointing out to me is that dudelet (at just 4) is simply too young for long debates and explanations, especially after he’s just thrown something at someone. I mean, we want to understand why he threw something and to express to him that it’s better for our little community as a whole if he attracted attentioin in some other way. But he also needs to know that in a wider society, you just don’t throw things at people. End of argument.

    Tricky. I’ve also had the hunger thing. About all I’ve ever been able to do is to learn never to be stuck in a tight corner with dudelet without having something eat handy. Or life gets painful.

  7. Nana: sometimes I notice that if I ask him, he doesn’t know what he needs. Sometimes kids can’t express things that we would think are obvious, like hunger. In this case, he specifically asked for food, and I just couldn’t get him some in a socially acceptable way.

    URD: When I carried a larger purse, I always carried crackers in there. Maybe it’s time for a big purse again! One way to use NVC with little ones is to just use the empathy part: you could just say “Did you throw that toy because you’re feeling angry/feeling frustrated/wanted to see how far it would go?” Then after he answers you could simply say “I can understand that. Next time please do X instead because throwing toys is not OK.” That kind of little conversation usually works well for us. The only trick there is that little ones can’t always express their emotions that clearly either.

  8. My problem with asking a kid a question that contains a possible answer, is that kids are extremely suggestible. I’m afraid the answer to, “did you do X because of Y?” is too often going to be, “yes!” because it sounds good when the kid hears it.

  9. Scribbler: That’s a good point. I often say “You seem frustrated,” instead of asking if they are frustrated. Most of the time I would only use a question if I had observed the whole scene and am using the question as more of an acknowledgment of their feelings than an actual inquiry. Lately most of my kids’ conflicts have been over not sharing, or one does something “mean” to the other, so I’m usually pretty safe in assuming frustration is the source.

    A lot of times I just cut to the chase right away: “I see that you’re frustrated when X does Y. Please use kind words and a gentle voice instead of hitting/throwing/poking/etc.” That way I’m still empathizing but not getting into dialogue.

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