Sustainably Single Parenting

Making the most of life's journey alongside my three!!!

No Boys Allowed August 13, 2012

Ever since I told the girls about my pregnancy, Terra has made it clear that she is hoping for a baby sister. I wondered why she would be so adamant about having another sister when she battles constantly with the one she’s got. I figured that a 3 year old would see all same-sexed siblings in the same light; that maybe having a brother would mean no fighting, but Terra was thinking far beyond my reasoning. After weeks of hearing her say that she doesn’t want a brother, and weeks of responding with my narrow-minded explanations of how we cannot choose what I’m having, and how we will love the baby regardless, I finally decided to ask the question I should’ve asked in the beginning.

“Why do you not want a baby brother?” I honestly expected a self-centered answer which would have nothing to do with the baby’s sex; like that she didn’t want to share my breasts or stop sleeping in my bed or no longer be my baby. Instead, I was shocked by an entirely different candid response which seemed well beyond the capacity of my preschooler.

“When he grows up he will be like Daddy,” she said, giving me that recoiled look she always gives me when she talks about her father, usually in a negative light. “He will be mean. He will make me sad.” I was heartbroken. I sucked my tongue to fight back tears, and took a moment to collect myself before consoling her.

Listening to her reasoning was difficult, but I didn’t want to keep her from expressing her concerns. I reassured her that I understood her fears of a baby brother; that since he’d be a male, like Daddy, she figured that he’d be more likely to behave like her father. I told her that although the baby might be a boy, we would give him lots of love and show him how wonderful life, family, and women could be. I told her that we wouldn’t hurt him, and that we would teach him how to treat us respectfully. I let her know how much I would work toward helping the baby become a really nice man someday, who would have a really loving family, a man who would never have to be separated from his family for breaking the rules on anger.

The Rules of Anger are simple, when you’re angry:

  1. Do  not hurt anyone
  2. Do not hurt yourself
  3. Do not harm property
  4. Talk about how you feel.

I decided to take them to counseling a few weeks after The Big Incident, time I’d spent beating around the bush with, “We’ll talk about it soon,” and “He still loves you, but he made a bad choice and had to leave.” Their counselor framed my husband’s absence in this comfortable-to-repeat, age-appropriate manner; “Daddy broke the rules of anger and he cannot live with us any longer.” They adjusted to play-therapy surprisingly well; by the end of our first session I learned that they both knew much more than I hoped they’d known about the turmoil in our home prior to their father’s abrupt overnight departure.

I’d tried to keep the arguments out of their earshot, the pain from showing on my face, my disdain and resentment from interfering with the illusion of respect and contentment. Still, they knew. It was better though, even though it hurt, to be able to talk about how certain things that Daddy did had made us feel, without that looming guilt of betrayal or threat of punishment. Our initial visits were the hardest, but the issues needed to be addressed, and now we are able to talk comfortably about their father outside of the counselor’s office.

It will continue to be a process. There’s no child support yet, no set visitation, no conclusion to the court cases revolving around The Big Incident, no certainty of what will happen with their ability to see him in the future. I do not want to strip them of a vital relationship, but I do want to protect them from possible harm. It has been difficult. The girls are young but so aware of things I hadn’t told them. I’m happy with the fact that they will grow up knowing that we can be open about things from now on; even things painful to discuss.


My Duty is Not to Control Them July 16, 2012

I always wanted to treat my children differently than I’d been treated growing up.

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. despised myself for it, but I began to use his methods, because the girls no longer seemed capable of listening if I wasn’t screaming.

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.