Heard some comments passed today that I give in too much to Noah. This caused me to reflect on whether this is indeed the case. After some thinking, this post is an attempt to clarify why I do what I do, and to justify it.
Thus far, in trying to be a ‘gentle parent’, I’m well aware that the pitfall for me is to fall into being permissive. I already realised this about myself when I was a teacher when I found myself empathising so much with students at times that it was difficult to enforce ‘across the board’ kinds of rules. This is the good side of me that leans towards ‘permissiveness’. Many times, I see the validity of Noah’s request and am reluctant to privilege my needs and preferences over his. Not that I always choose to please him over myself or others, but just that we live in a culture where being an authoritative parent, (this is of course the ideal version in comparison to being ‘authoritarian’ – ‘my way or the highway’ type), is frequently about having the child give in to what the adult prefers to happen.
Case in point: this evening, while the family was watching our usual k drama, Noah pulled out a truck that he’s had for some time, and asked for a screwdriver to try and ‘fix’ it. The button-operated sounds on the car had not been working for some time, and he’d seen me use a screwdriver to open the battery compartment to change the batteries in a bid to revive the sound functions. Hence, when he ran around towards the storeroom and study room asking for a screwdriver, I knew he was probably referencing this previous incident and not simply looking for a toy screwdriver to play pretend.
I sensed he was concerned about the car not working as it used to, and went to get him a real screwdriver from the store room. My intent was to go through the process of removing the battery cover and changing the batteries again to check if the toy could be revived, and also to pay real heed to his request to fix the car. I saw no harm in modelling the use of a real screwdriver and allowing him to practise some fine motor skills in attempting to twirl it. Of course, there was no way I would allow him to wield the screwdriver unsupervised, of even allow him to handle real batteries.
My actions drew the comment that I was giving in too much and I should simply have used the toy screwdriver from his playroom to mess around with the battery cover to convince him that the toy was beyond repair. I see how this is an effective child management tactic to address the situation, as probably Noah might be satisfied and move on to something else. The assumption there is that he probably doesn’t really care about fixing the car, or would settle for doing so in a ‘pretend’ way. Or that his request is simply not important enough to disrupt a TV watching session. I choose to disagree with all the above assumptions. Even if Noah would settle for dealing with it in a ‘pretend’ way, why miss the opportunity for some child-directed learning? Many have commented that Noah is articulate and has a working knowledge of things beyond his age. I am not so egoistic to credit our parenting skills with his abilities, but I like to think that all the extra effort I take to, for E. G., let him help to scoop milk powder and stir it to make his own milo, has its dividends. Sure, parenting this way is more tiring, and opens the way to more toddler negotiations which take time and might not always go along logical lines (‘mummy can’t use the blanket, only Noah can use the blanket’), but isn’t this what guiding and teaching a child is all about?
Another background to this post is the phenomenon of Noah being ‘800% worse’ only in my presence. Currently, he has at least one meltdown tantrum a day when with me, which no one else has ever witnessed. When Galv was home the other day and heard one of his outbursts (Noah rejecting my help to remove a dirty diaper), he burst into the room in alarm wondering what crisis had come upon us. I am inclined to think that these tantrums often erupt only in my presence because most other times he’s in situations where caregivers would try to distract him away from potential tantrums rather than allow him to express his needs and try to meet or acknowledge them. So yes, the common wisdom that children tend to be ‘worse’ with caregivers who ‘give in’ to them is true, but this is not always the best interpretation of the situation. It’s been said that children act this way with their mums cos we are their safe harbour where they can deal with frightening emotions. I guess another reason behind Noah being less acquiescent with me is also because he’s learned that I do take his requests seriously so he isn’t so quick to give up in negotiating for what he wants. For me, the challenge is to keep choosing this messier and less convenient option to parenting, simply to avoid treating my child as half a person whose wants and needs should be moulded to fit my own constraints. Learning to live together and relate is difficult, as any newly married couple can tell you. Many adult parents and children continue to work thru boundary and respect issues through their lives. I guess with these turbulent toddler times, my son and I are just getting a head start on all this tough work of building a mutually respectful, yet clearly parent-child kind of relationship.
N. B. – Indeed, this desire to honour Noah’s needs is not without its challenges. Despite sounding all confident throughout the above post, we are still trying to find our way to a better version of our current bedtime routine, which can take up to two hours and involves multiple story readings, two bottles of milk sipped elegantly at intervals in the process, and quite a bit of snuggling /cuddling /wrestling and ultimatums as galv and I grow increasingly desperate towards the end of each session. Surely, there must be an easier way than this??? In the meantime, the haze and a flu bug which has hit us all makes it so much easier to just give in to his endless TV and video demands, especially when we are stuck indoors all day nursing our colds. Nonetheless, as I remarked to a friend earlier, this season of haze and illness and bad temper will pass, and I will live to fight another day! God is good, all the time.