Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Parenting - a personal reflection

Owain is getting to be a handful - literally.

Now that the initial excitement has worn off, Owain is showing clear signs of not wanting to go to school. Actually, he told me point blank that he does not want to go to school. Mornings are hellish since the boy has to wake up at 6.45am to get ready for school. It's so hard to get him to co-operate - he cries, scratches, pulls, punches etc. I have had many calls at 7am in the car from a hapless Lolita who hands the phone over to a sobbing kid.

What do I do? First I revert to type (ie how I was parented, how I used to parent - unconsciously without thinking): I try bribing ("I'll buy you cream puffs when I get home.") or cajoling ("Come on, be a good boy...") or scolding ("You're in serious trouble with me!") and then finally, threatening ("If you don't go to school I'll come home and cane you!") - Yep, not my proudest moment.

For a while, one or the other methods worked. But sometime last week, there finally came a time when nothing worked. Nothing. What was I to do? How to reach out? Beyond the dreaded 'cane' word, I was running out of tricks. Is this all I know?

At the same time, happening elsewhere in my life, I was asked to be co-leader to set up an attachment parenting group. What an honour! I was excited, all for it, had lots of ideas. Then it home - what a sham! I, set up an attachment parenting group? I, who threatened to cane at the first opportunity? I felt disturbed - this is not right. If I was going to do this, I'd better walk the talk. Or don't do this at all.

I started thinking deeper about this whole issue of discipline. Owain had started being very aggressive physically, hitting, scratching, kicking etc whenever he got angry. And no one was spared when he lost his temper - not me, not his dad, not even baby Trinity (but he does try to control himself a bit better when I remind him that she's only a baby!).

The other day right in Orchard Road, he pummelled, kicked and hit his dad until his dad got him into the car (an hour later, still growling and punching all the way) and his dad lost it and smacked him. By the time I got there, his little arm was pink and sore and he was perspiring and sobbing. The daddy also looked vexed and troubled, his palm throbbing and red. And all this drama happened why? Because he didn't want to walk and daddy didn't want to carry him.

All this rage. Not the first time it happened. The minute he was angry or felt wronged or unjust, there it would start - the hitting. Note though, that he was never like this in school with his peers - just with us, the people he knew well.

What could be happening? And how to manage this?

I tried the aggressive approach - didn't work. He just looked at me with those eyes - and yes I could see they were full of hurt that I would yell at him, try caning him etc. Seeing that look really made me ashamed. What was I doing? What was I thinking? This was the baby who had a gentle quiet birth - why did I bother doing all that for him when I was now entertaining thoughts of giving him good smacks with the cane? The look in his eyes - anger, hurt and betrayal, as if he never thought I would do this to him, really shook me.

But oh yes, I was angry and that kind of behavior set me off very easily. I found that that was my first response all the time. So I reverted to what I knew best that worked and had immediate results - violence. I wanted immediate compliance. I was not interested in seeking out the why behind the behavior. People use the cane to dominate, for power, for instant action. After a while, it got easier to do this and parents get lazier. And when parents get lazier, they stop asking, probing, they lose the patience to wait out a kid. They get impatient. I know, I went down this road.

All this dawned on me slowly as I started thinking harder about how I was acting to 'solve' the problem. Maybe, it occured to me, the problem had no immediate solution. Maybe parents should not 'solve' problems, not be there to provide quick instant answers, maybe there wasn't any. Maybe we just work through the process. Just be with the child, not do or fix.

Try listening. Try asking. Try being patient. All these little inner voices nagged.

So I tried. One night last week we were playing aeroplane chess. The game was down to just Owain and Cait. I commented (unwisely as it turned out): Wah, if Cait throws a six, she'll win the game!

And true enough, she did. Yay, went she! Bash! went he as he launched himself like a little rocket at me, knocking me to the ground, pulling at my shirt, his face ablaze with anger, hitting and kicking and growling (yes, growling). I was laughing because of the sheer silliness of the situation - it was a sheer coincidence and bad timing that I said that and now here this boy was, trying to knock the breath out of me.

After a while though, it got less funny and I started to get angry. But this time, I was aware of how I was feeling. And being aware meant that I could be in control. So instead of lashing out, I held him tight. Gosh it was hard to hold a squirmy kid!

His fingers were grasping for a grip, to pinch, to scratch and I was grateful that his fingernails were short! We sat like this for a long time, in a mutual vise - him struggling to get free, me struggling to hold him without hurting him, but not allowing him to hurt me. And cutely, Trin came over, yelled at him and pummelled him with her fists to get him to let go of me. I had to tell her it was okay.

Throughout all this, he did not cry, just kept growling angrily in a low tone. I kept talking to him. I was holding him such that he could look at me. So I kept my tone even and calm and just talked. I said it was not my fault, I didn't throw the dice, it was fair that the game turned out like this. I asked why he wanted to hurt me like this. I reminded him that I had no special power to influence the throw of the dice. I said I know he's angry that Cait won, but I had nothing to do with this. I kept repeating this again and again, over and over until I know he calmed down and his grip slackened.

By then, it was really late - 11pm and I was tired after a full day's work, but I offered to give him a bath and help him with his PJs. We just sat there, a bit tired from the wrestling, but he nodded eventually. We hugged and I kissed him and that was that. But it was exhausting.

KH says he has a really bad temper. My parents say this is due to breastfeeding (hah!) and my dad shook his head and said I have been too lax and I spoil him.

I am not sure, but I think he is hitting a new stage in his life (what stage this is, I don't know!) and the change, the leap across the chasm, is always hard and unsettling. I think he's not bad, just needs to know how to manage his anger. I think he is asking me for something but I'm not sure what. Time? Attention? Mothering? Patience? Space? Listening? I'm still feeling my way around...

The incident with the game was not the end. On Sunday in church, he did the same thing, got so angry with me (and this time I honestly have no idea why!) he started pushing me in the pew. Not funny when we're in church and I'm trying to pay attention to mass while nursing Trin as well.

Same thing - I got mad. Really angry. My instinct was to smack him immediately. But I knew I was angry and since I could not hold him since I was nursing Trin, I just gripped his hand hard to stop him from pushing me. It took about 20 to 30min before he stopped. By the end of mass, he was sitting quietly next to me, my arm around him in a semi-hug.

I think the general idea is: if adults can't even control themselves, if adults too can lash out, can hit, can denigrate, then why get upset if kids do this? Children model themselves on adult behavior. If I expect him to control himself, I've got to show him how. Not cane, smack or hit.

Still, I like to think that if I can parent always in the way that I parented Owain recently, I think the bigger transgressions will not happen. After all, I think most serious 'crimes' like stealing come about because of a loud inner cry for understanding and attention and respect. I like to think that if I give my child that from the beginning, if I can establish and demonstrate the boundaries of a respectful relationship, that they would not go astray like this. Is this wishful thinking? Am I naive? I know I am fallible - extremely so, and I am so wary of sounding like I am perfect parent with the answers since I know firsthand just how often I can make the same mistakes over and over again.

I think the key, for me at least, is awareness. Knowing what the triggers are, knowing when the buttons are being pushed and then setting in place, with the awareness, a different set of actions. Conscious parenting. It's hard and it will be so hard to struggle against type, against all that I am conditioned to be as a parent, against instinct to react instead of wait. And I am sure there will be times when I do lapse. Many I'm sure! But maybe it counts just to want to work at it, just to keep trying all the time.


The Chengs said...

Hey, he sounds like Daniel in those descriptions! The Dr Jekyl & Mr Hyde syndrome. Sarah calls it "PMS'g". *haha*

I have found no solution and I keep monitoring the situation since he has his "saint-like" moods & his "devilish" moods. *sigh*.

I usually am very stern with him and warn him about how it is unreasonable. And since it's unreasonable, it's so totally unnecessary for him to be stressing all around him about it! This kind of situation can really be described as "feeling blood vessel going to burst" (as in Chinese, lah!).

Usually this happens within our family, but yesterday, he came home with scratches on BOTH his arms. And what'd happened? He met his match in class. His classmate stepped on his foot, Daniel gave him a tiny scratch, his classmate gave him LOADS of scratches. Whoa, it looked terrible! I was soooo afraid he'd catch an infection! Aiyoh - really PMS & petty like girls. And both did not tell the teacher b/c they both knew they were at fault. Again - super-sigh.

Then today when he was just telling me on the way home how *cute* Timmy is and how he wanted to hug him - and I said "but well, within a few minutes of being home, usually I hear you shouting at Timmy?!!!".

Really need to monitor. I don't use smacking. I just react verbally, but I think it's just as bad.

Can't be perfect!

Iris said...

hi! Just found your blog, it's interesting :) Your two posts on Owain really resonate with me. My Kai (also four this yr)is getting really violent after starting school. I pulled him out of school for the past two days, and he's much better - not so keyed up and stressed. It's a big issue for me right now, so you're not alone!