The trials of being a peaceful parent pioneer
By Genevieve Simperingham (first published in the Natural Parent Magazine)
When children cry or tantrum. A common challenge relates to how to deal with the interventions of relatives or other parents when one’s child gets really upset, cries or has a tantrum. Relatives or friends, although perhaps well-meaning, can be quite intrusive with comments such as; "stop crying”, “you’re just being silly”, “don’t be sad”, “be brave”, “you’re acting like a baby”, “you can’t always get your way”. Children can feel very shamed when they are laughed at, mimicked or mocked. Some parents freeze and lose their voice (if it wasn’t safe to stand up to their parents as a child), others react angrily leading to conflict that further distresses the child, some parents get so embarrassed or defensive that they themselves scold or distract the child and later regret not connecting, listening and empathising with their upset child. Some parents just say “it’s ok thanks, I’ve got this” and just repeat this if necessary. It can take a lot of practice before a parent can successfully tune out the other adult enough to give their full attention to their child, connect with them and meet their needs.
“sometimes other people don't realize that we are intentionally letting the tantrum run its' course, and jump in trying to be helpful because they think we don't know what to do. I’ve said about my daughter: "If I let her get all her feelings out now as loudly as she needs to, it'll take only a few minutes and she's likely to be cheerful and cooperative the rest of the day, but if I suppress her feelings she'll be in a whiny mood all day. So I'll gladly take the tantrum.”
The mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome describes what works for her: “Because my daughter behaves very differently from the norm in cafes etc., I’ve had to learn to let go of what other people think because otherwise I’d never socialise. It’s an ongoing process for me because I am sensitive and naturally tuned in to others. Telling my in-laws not to treat her in a particular way hasn’t been fun or easy, but it’s been necessary. I have a fridge list of acceptable ways to communicate with my daughter for family and guests.”
Having the difficult conversations: Sometimes, it’s important to courageously sit down with an adult in our lives and have that very difficult heart-to-heart to move from individual incidents to expressing a really clear boundary to let them know that they’re crossing the line in whatever way. It takes huge courage to stand up to parents and in-laws especially, but as hard as it is, if we don't manage to get those boundaries up, we continue to prioritize the adult's feelings over our own children’s feelings. Even though it may create tensions, it often reduces tensions in the long run. For me, the benefits putting up the boundaries lie in seeing how much stronger and more confident my children are at advocating for their feelings and needs or holding those very important boundaries. And yet sometimes having those conversations is either too difficult or may be counterproductive. It's a complex issue, one that deserves time and consideration.
Differences can bring the challenges of feeling judged and also of judging others. And again, the more we can learn to navigate these tricky situations with skill and diplomacy, the more peace of mind we can maintain. It can be painful to know that the strife that shaming lectures, punishments or unrealistic expectations create could be easily avoided. It’s natural for people to want to share with others that which has helped them in their life, yet whether advice is wanted or constructive depends on each relationship. Sometimes it’s about getting the balance between empathising with the parent who is struggling with their child, while also bringing in empathy for the child, which can help the parent to soften their heart. The parent might say; "they never do what they're told", and we might say "it's so frustrating isn't it when our kids are resistant, and so hard for them when we’re annoyed at them". The parent might say; "she's always so mean to her sister", we might say "it’s hard when our kids fight hey, so hard for everyone". This kind of reframing diplomatically shows more empathy for all concerned.
Judgments often stem from a lack of understanding. Often Grandparents or in-laws genuinely wish they could understand why their relative parents in the ways that they do and are open to learning more about our reasoning. If there's some openness to have those conversations, it can help and sometimes lending a book that explains some of our philosophies can help. Some parents have seen a complete turnaround in their parents or in-laws after they've lent them a copy of one of Aletha Solter's books. I recommend Aletha's books because they're very practical, easy to read and super credible with lots of research dotted throughout. Often the relatives really are so worried about what we're doing to our kids and need reassurance that it's not just permissive parenting. It's a new model that they don't have a frame of reference for, which must be pretty scary and disorientating.
Part I covered: The challenges of working to be a more peaceful parent in a society that judges lack of punishment to be permissive parenting, my own challenges as a parent parenting differently, the emotional turmoil that differences in values can evoke, some quotes from other parents who share their struggles, setting ourselves up for success.