Warning... this will be very long. I've got big feelings around this which makes it hard to be brief.
My 3 y.o niece will be coming with my brother and sister in law for the holidays. In general they are great parents and we all get along really well. But when it comes to discipline we are different and it is causing a lot of stress. I need some support and suggestions on how to clear away my emotional reaction and find a way to address this.
I tend to be a more indirect parent when it comes to discipline. I try to avoid the behavior modification approaches. I do have some things that I set firm boundaries around, so it isn't that I just let things go. I give a lot of space to my DD1 (who is 4 1/2 ) to navigate her way on her own with my guidance. She is a girl who knows what she wants and really needs to do things her own way. When I have tried more traditional discipline approaches (time out, etc), life for us all gets horribly conflictual and stressful. She responds best to playful parenting and having me come along side her, rather than confronting her directly. My goal is to help her find ways to meet her needs while also respecting others. My overall approach is to give my daughter a lot of room but to stay very close by to help guide and direct gently.
I have been in an extremely stressful marriage that has just ended immediately after the birth of DD2 this summer. Because of their dad's issues, we avoided crying and tantrums early on because he can't tolerate crying, screaming, or any strong emotions. So, we set up some bad patterns in the beginning by giving in to her, just to keep her quiet and happy. And, on the other hand, he and I can be very quick tempered, so there has been yelling and less than respectful handling of her when we lost our tempers.
Now that he is out of the house, I'm working with her on setting more boundaries and just letting there be tears. I've been using Hand in Hand Parenting, and it feels like just the right fit for us. I'm also calmer and under less stress (although life is still very stressful), so I'm handling things with more consistency, I think.
When DD1 is with her younger cousin (3 y.o.), she can get a bit enthusiastic. She wants to do everything her cousin is doing, and have what her cousin has. She loves to share and wants to be doing the exact same thing her cousin is doing. The main conflict between the families has been around grabbing.
This was an issue when they were much younger, but I thought it has smoothed out. But when we saw them over the summer it came up again.
I don't play referee. If the children grab something from the other one, I give it a few seconds to see if they work it out themselves. Sometimes neither child complains and they just move smoothly on in their play. In those cases, I do nothing. But my brother thinks that this is teaching that grabbing is ok.
If there is conflict over the item, I move in closer, try to offer some words to help, and may remove the toy entirely. They see this as not being proactive enough and, if the toy is removed entirely, punishing the child who had the toy and wasn't done with it yet. I also try to use playful parenting. So for instance, on this last trip, I had us come up with a really silly word to help us remember about asking for what we need instead of grabbing. The idea was that we could say the silly word when someone needed reminding. My hope was that it would lighten things up in a tense moment and not create a bad guy/good guy scene. But we never had a chance to use it. Partly because it just isn't their approach at all and their daughter just couldn't understand the concept (she is much more of a black and white kid, while mine is more flexible).
I see children's play, at this age, as so fluid and I don't see a need to make a big deal out of someone being right and someone being wrong. Personally, I feel like my brother and SIL hover too much and play referee. They have expectations of their DD that have always been beyond her developmental level. And they way they approach things, the children don't have any chance to figure it out themselves, or to just be fluid in their interactions, because an adult is always there directing and guiding. And honestly, I feel like they hover so much that I don't have much chance to parent my own way because they always step in right away.
But I can see the other side of it too. Maybe if my daughter was the younger one I'd feel more protective of her. And they feel that their daughter ends up acting out because she has to protect herself from my DD.
There was an incident too where my DD was playing on the couch and her aunt sat down close to her. She was frustrated but, instead of expressing it with words, started kicking. I moved close, held her legs, told her she needed to use words to say what she wanted/needed, etc. But they would have had a more swift punishment. I am trying to guide her in the situation to find the correct response, not just take her away. But maybe that isn't what is needed? I don't know. She is a physical child and has a hard time putting into words what she needs so she will act out physically like that.
Then there was another incident when my DD tried to take the pillow her cousin had and her cousin kicked her so that DD's head hit hard on the coffee table. My brother's response was basically that it was DD's fault because her cousin was so fed up with having to guard herself that she kicked DD. My DD couldn't understand why her cousin did that. She really doesn't understand her cousin's protection of her things. My DD is extremely generous and wants to share all that she has. She doesn't feel that need to protect what is hers. So, I think she just doesn't get her cousin's viewpoint.
So things just came to a head and my brother expressed just how frustrating it is for them that I'm not more direct in discipline. And after the conversation I basically said, "ok when we are at your place, we will do it your way". But I have a lot of frustration too. I feel like they just don't understand what my values are and can't see that I really am giving a lot of thought to my approach. I actually think I've thought through what I do much more completely then they have. They are just going by the traditional approach.
But there is more to it. I just don't have the energy to parent like they do. There are two of them. They really do co-parent equally. If one of them is having an off day, or needs a nap, they can take some time to themselves. I have never had that option, even when married. So, they have more energy for responding to every little detail.
Plus, they both work full time. That means they aren't with their DD all day. When they are with her in the evenings and on the weekends, they are ready to engage fully with her. I'm with my two DD 24/7 practically. DD1 is in school 3 mornings a week but I still have the baby during that time. I do have a mother's helper 2 afternoons a week, so I can get a nap and a walk by myself. But I basically feel like our situations are so different. I just can't be on all the time to the level that they are. I'm not sure that I would want to be since it isn't my parenting philosophy.
On top of this all, this last visit was when I broke the news that DH and I were splitting. I had a new baby (she was only 2 months old at that visit), life as I knew it was falling apart, I'm in grief and in over load. I've had PPD. Being at their house is nice because there are actually two other adults that I can rest on a bit. So I'm possibly even less involved than I normally am simply because it is one place that I could actually step back just a bit from parenting 100%. That doesn't mean I left everything to them, but I didn't feel like I had to have a constant eye on the children. I didn't feel that they left a lot of space for me anyway. Not in a bad way, but simply because they are so engaged when they are with the girls. I felt like I was in the backseat.
A large part of my philosophy comes from what I experienced and needed as a child. There was the expectation that children just already would know what was right or how to do things in an appropriate way. I felt so disconnected and like the black sheep. No one looked for the motives of my acting out, which was really a cry for help. They only addressed the actions, not the root of them. I am fiercely determined to not do that with my daughter. But maybe I go too far in the other direction?
I want my daughter to be liked. Her cousin doesn't like for her to come and play at her house. I don't know what to do for the holidays. They will be here for 4 days. Part of me just wants to pack up and move away.
Normally we are a very loving family. I'm close with my brother and we both hate conflict. He is a really great dad, too (just has a different approach). And he wasn't mean about it when we talked, just frustrated. My poor mom feels really stressed because Christmas is a big deal for her and she wants everyone to get along together. But she thinks I'm being too overprotective and that they have a point. Basically, my whole family seems to think I'm too soft. I'm feeling angry and hurt and misunderstood.
Partly I just need to talk about it. And partly, I need some help getting past my emotional reaction and figuring out what to do about this so the holidays aren't just a big stress-fest.
If you've made it all the way to this end... thanks for listening!