Striving Toward Controlled Chaos
By Rita Brhel, editor of The Attached Family
I am naturally a very high-strung perfectionist with a short fuse. A bad combination for relationships of any sort. After seven years of marriage, my husband would now describe me as much more mellow than when he first met me. I can walk through a kitchen with dishes that haven’t been washed for three days, a table covered in an odd assortment of items with a small surface cleared off to allow for a family dinner, and a mine field of kids toys without batting my eye once. I can now look past many of the messes that come with a busy family with young children, especially the messes that come with a laidback husband who just doesn’t care if things aren’t perfectly in order and the messes that come with two toddlers. I just strive toward “controlled chaos” – that is, things don’t have to be perfect; they just have to be good enough.
It is through attachment parenting, specifically the approach advocated through Attachment Parenting International, that I have found a way to control my natural tendencies to demand too much from everyone around me including myself and then punish them when they don’t meet my expectations. I credit Attachment Parenting International not only for creating a truly joyful family atmosphere in my home but also for finally giving me peace and especially for saving my marriage.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t still meet challenges. Oh, I do, everyday. There are times when I don’t get enough sleep and I have to fight my temper. There are times when my husband is having a hard time with his illness and is unable to give emotionally to me or my children. And there are so, so many times that my children push my buttons and I have to consciously push down the feeling of spanking or yelling and reach into my parenting toolbox, grappling for an attachment tool, and often in these situations that I must apologize to my children for not being understanding.
I have learned that the best plan is to think proactively, instead of reactively, to keep myself ahead of my natural tendencies. Make sure I get enough sleep, eat frequently and healthily, keep my relationship strong with my husband so that the stress from that doesn’t spill over into other areas of my life, give myself time to myself, and especially find someway to channel my feelings of stress into something positive. For me, that’s working with Attachment Parenting International. It is amazing how therapeutic it is to turn my natural tendencies into something good through my skills and talents.
My goal in contributing to API Speaks is to give parents a peek inside my world, to reveal the ways that I am able to respond to the great challenges in my life in an attachment approach rather than simply reacting with all the force and destruction of my natural tendencies.
As some of you may know, I’m the editor of The Attached Family print and online magazines. Coming up next week on The Attached Family.com is an article from an attached parent on diverting anger in toddlers. It makes me think about this past Monday, the day after my family returned from a vacation to the Ozarks with Grandma and Grandpa. We had a great time, but the children were certainly tired and having some difficulty getting back to their normal activities and schedules after a couple days of no naps and late bedtimes. My three-year-old would demand for something with “I want…” and anytime that I would say that she needs to say “please” or “no, not right now,” she would scream “NO!” and crumble into a heap on the floor, crying and screaming and kicking. My attempts to help her calm down were met by more screams. And then her 20-month-old sister started doing it, too.
During one particular incident, I had taken my younger daughter’s sippy cup away when she continued to squeeze milk out onto the floor after telling her that she needed to drink the milk, not play with it. I told her that she could get her milk cup back after she helped me clean up the milk and put the cup on top of the refrigerator. Usually, on most days, she wouldn’t be spilling her milk, and if I did need to take the cup away, she would happily help me clean up the mess. This day, she went into a meltdown, yelling “no” at me and throwing her sister’s glass of milk on the floor, too.
Patiently, I picked up my flailing, screaming child and carried her to her room, determined to get her to a quiet place away from the scene of the incident. I would clean up the milk later. In her room, I sat down on the floor with her, while she screamed “no” and then hit me in the face. I tried to catch her attention by using my “listen” sign, where I put my index finger up to my ear and say “listen.” This usually calms my children right down, as they repeat after me, lock their eyes on mine, and give me their full attention. Not so this time. My daughter screamed louder, hit me, and ran to the far corner of the room where she hid under the bed.
By this time, I’m accessing the far reaches of my brain, trying to come up with another strategy to reach my daughter in her tantrum. I decide that maybe I’m not a comforting figure at this time, so I tell her that I’m going to go clean up the milk and I’ll come back to see if she wants to talk. I came back a few minutes later. I gave her the listen sign and she did it back. I sat down on the bed and she sat on my lap and began playing with a butterfly-shaped hair clip latched onto my shirt. And she was ready to talk.
I spent the whole day doing this – disciplining and then helping my children calm down from a long-winded tantrum, easing them back into life at home. Neither does well when they get off of their routines, and while they certainly enjoy not having to follow the rules we have at home, this doesn’t help matters, either. The vacation was wonderful, although I think we all needed to recover.
There were so many times I was tempted to spank or yell, or just leave my kid in her room. But, I know that these aren’t discipline methods. They don’t work. They’re simply a reaction parents have to their child’s behavior, a reaction often done out of anger, and no teacher can truly teach if they’re consumed with feelings of anger, hurt, and revenge. That’s what I keep in mind when things seem to be getting out of control – disciplining out of anger is not disciplining at all.
How do you stay calm and remember to use positive discipline when you’re faced with an emotionally challenging situation?