Did I make a mistake? What would have been better.
Today I am struggling with a parenting decision I made. My partner feels like my actions were inappropriate, and whilst I understand their perspective I am struggling to agree with it. I feel like I made the correct decision as a parent, but maybe not as a partner. I am however open to opinion and advice regarding this.
We have 1 child, they are 3 1/2. They are extremely headstrong and independent, and we have raised them in a "gentle parenting style". They are very capable of discussing how they feel, but can be situationally poor at empathy and respecting boundries. Despite the fact we are trying very hard to verbalise, they seem to have developed selective hearing, and will often choose to completely ignore us. Recently I have been having success with balanced and fair consequence. They seem to be responding and understanding a little better to demonstrations. For a little background, both my partner and I grew up in abusive households, theirs moreso than mine, but it is a motivating factor in how we choose to parent.
Today our child decided to smash some vinyl records we have hung on the wall with a small toy wooden sword. This is not the first time they have deliberately broken things to illicit a reaction. I'm assuming they are doing so for attention, which is normal and understandable, if not a little frustrating as we have repetitively verbalised that if they feel they need someone to interact with, then they just need to say that they need/want someone to play with.
I came into the room and asked what they had done. They tried hiding behind the door, so I calmly sat on the floor and carried on talking to them. They said they had smashed the records. I asked if they knew how that would make us feel, and they responded with "sad", I asked if it made them feel to make other people feel "sad" and they told me that "they like to". I asked how it would feel if I broke one of their toys, and they responded by saying that "it would be fine". I asked how it would make them feel if broke their sword and they said "you can do it and I won't care". I asked them if they were sure they wouldn't feel sad to have their toy/belongings broken, and they said "you can break my sword, It's fine."
So I snapped it.
Cue 2 mins of crying, a hug, and then a chat about how that made them feel (sad), I explained that I also felt sad that I broke it, because I knew it would make them feel sad, but that I did it so they would understand how it feels when someone breaks one of your belongings. They said they understand, that they were sorry for breaking the records. I offered to replace the sword because I didn't want them to have a broken sword and I could see they were sad, and have ordered an exact replacement. They said thankyou and asked if they could buy some replacement vinyl, to which I explained that they didn't need to do that, they just needed to think about how it feels to have something you like broken before they break something deliberately again.
We then had a cuddle and watched cartoons.
Now my opinion of this is that was fairly balanced, fair, rational and ticked all my mental boxes for not causing harm to my child, and caring for and explaining feelings caused.
My partner feels like I commited an act of violence in front of our child, and that my behavior was unacceptable. They are unwilling to listen to the full series of events or the context, and are only aware of "child broke vinyl, you broke sword"
I don't want people to validate either of us as such, I'm seeking genuine opinion on what I could have done better, or if my response was reasonable.
I don’t think I would have broken the sword. That seems a bit tit for tat to me rather than a genuine consequence. In my best parenting moments I would probably have put the sword away since they can’t be trusted to play constructively with it at the moment and required them to help clean up the mess.
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That's a tough age, and a tough behaviour to deal with.
To me, this is uncomfortably reminiscent of responding to a child who hits by hitting them "so they understand that hitting is wrong." Children are keen observers of hypocrisy.
I try to help my children understand my emotions as a way of developing empathy. When my oldest was about 4yo, they smashed a younger sibling's first Christmas ornament. I explained that the object was important, and why, and that it made me feel sad and angry that they had broken it. They suggested we could fix it, and I showed them that it was too broken to be fixed. They were moved to tears. We cleaned up together, and I asked them to respect my things in the future by trying to help me take good care of them. They agreed.
I know that, especially if you come from an emotionally abusive background, it can feel like manipulation to be honest with people about your feelings. It sounds like maybe you tried to be too rational, too philosophical, and maybe being more upfront with your feelings might have been helpful.
When you are in the moment, and something happens with one of your kids, it is virtually impossible to do the exact right thing every time. Sometimes every parent does something they question later. In our family, I stay at home with our kids, and sometimes I can look back and say- I wish I had thought to do "x" instead of "a."
Both my spouse and I sometimes criticize how the other handles a certain situation. I know it really upsets me when I handle a situation to the best of my ability on that day, yet my partner doesn't like it. And vice versa. Would it help to have a conversation with your partner and say- This is what I did because it seemed like the best solution at that moment. Can we make a list of ways to handle similar situations that we are both comfortable with?
During that list making session, though, it might be helpful to also have the conversation about how you both know the other is committed to doing their best for the child... mistakes will be inevitable, though, as your child grows and hits different phases. So, let's also commit to forgiving one another and not making each other feel bad for their on the spot judgement calls.
I have found that as my oldest child hits different developmental phases, he pushes different buttons and I have to do serious emotional and psychological work to de-program my knee-jerk reactions.
I am editing this to add- not that this was a knee-jerk reaction on your part. It sounds like you did your best to stay calm and collected.
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