I vowed to allow them choices whenever possible, and to provide logical reasons for denying their requests. I knew that I would never spank them and I never wanted to utter the phrase, “Because I said so.” Prior to conceiving, I had numerous conversations with my husband about how important it was to me that we treat our children respectfully, appreciate their individuality, and do the best job that we could as parents to protect their fragility.
These practices only lasted a short while for my husband. Our first born, Amara, was a very reasonable child. I’d describe to her once or twice why we didn’t do certain things (hit, bite, chew the window sill) and she would follow our lead. There was no need for anything more than explanation and empathy. When logic and positive reinforcement failed I turned to redirection, but this is where my husband began to draw the line.
“You’re just letting her get away with it” he would say, as though a two year old needed to brood over her errors. He began enforcing time-outs, which I wholeheartedly disagreed with.
When our second child, Terra, was born, headstrong, impulsive, and independent, my husband didn’t seem to care about attachment parenting or practicing gentle discipline anymore. We’d get into heated arguments about how the children should be treated, but this only led to shaming, blame, judgment, and “we’ll see whose method worked when they’re older.”
I felt so betrayed. I wanted our parenting to be a unified effort, not me doing things my way and him doing things so incredibly different. I felt like he was taking the easy way out, being the impatient and compassionless parent that he’d always resented his father for being. The way he treated them granted him instant gratification, but was ultimately damaging to our children. Nevertheless, he continuously demanded their respect.
They listened to him because they were afraid to do otherwise.
He would raise his voice and I would watch them cower. If they dared cry he would say “Whaaaa!” mockingly and make their whimpers turn to shrieks. Often times he would punish them without even inquiring about the situation (what exactly happened, what were they in fact trying to accomplish, how could we do this better next time to avoid a mess?). He’d tell them that, “It’s a man’s world” and that they needed to get used to taking orders from men without complaining.
I watched in horror as my daughters became crueler, bossier, and less compassionate toward others. They began hitting and throwing things more often, they stopped listening to logic and reason almost entirely and only responded to punitiveness.
Yelling slowly became routine. Instead of suggesting, asking, reasoning, and allowing them a decision I found myself demanding. I found myself threatening and punishing more, hugging and kissing less. How could this be? How could I have fallen into the habit of feeling as though my children owed me something? How could I have become the enemy?
Now, even with their father hundreds of miles away, the damage of our straying from attachment parenting and gentle discipline remains. Time-outs are a thing of the past and I am doing a lot less yelling, but bad habits take time to replace. We’ve been creative about handling our anger and other difficult emotions, the girls are in counseling to help with the transition of living without Daddy, and every day I strive to get a sticker from each of my daughters on my “Respectful Mama Chart” (my rewards are hugs and kisses).
My children constantly challenge me to be a better human being, and I will never again allow someone’s ill-intentioned resolve to get the better of me. It is not my duty to control my children, but to protect them from being broken by those who might interfere with their ability to thrive.