When I talk to parents about shifting their perspective from the dominant parenting paradigm and really listening to their children’s feelings and needs, I meet a lot of resistance. Resistance that seems rooted in the fear that the opposite of controlling your child is total permissiveness. I know that when I first started exploring these concepts, I felt the exact same way. After all, even if I can see things from my child’s perspective, I still need them to do as I ask.
This is especially difficult for me when my child expresses ambivalence about getting older. My son will periodically refuse to do something he already knows how to do and demand that I take care of it for him.
A most recent example involves toileting issues. At the age of 6, my son has been solely responsible for wiping himself (with the occasional need for adult intervention!) for the past two years. And yet recently, he started asking us to take care of it ALL for him. Frustrating to say the least!
In this situation, how can I practice peaceful parenting, focusing on my relationship with my child through feelings and needs, while still setting the limit that he wipe himself? Let’s look at it from both paradigms:
I am in the kitchen washing the dishes when I hear my child yelling from another room. Why is he yelling like that? I turn the water off and listen.
“Mama, come wipe me! I need help wiping! Wipe time! Mama!”
My first thought is that my child is manipulating me. He knows how to wipe himself and is just being lazy. I try to just ignore him and hope that he will take care of it himself. That strategy doesn’t work. He just yells louder. As he continues to yell for me, I become increasingly irritated by this demand. I feel annoyed that he is yelling at me across the house. Annoyed that he is pulling me away from my work. Annoyed that he still can’t take care of this by himself. He is old enough to not need my help anymore.
I storm to the bathroom, swing the door open, and yell at him,
“You know how to wipe yourself. There is absolutely NO reason for you to need my help. You need to be a big boy and take care of this. Every other 6-year-old wipes himself. I don’t know how you are going to make it out in the world, if you can’t even take care of this most basic function.”
All the while, he is trying to interrupt me saying, “But, I need …” I don’t let him continue. I don’t really care what he needs. I am filled with anger. Anger based on my fear that if I help him with this today, then I will be doing this for years to come!
Finally, I tell him that he may NOT leave the bathroom until he has wiped himself, flushed the toilet and washed his hands. I leave him crying alone as I stomp away fuming mad. Mad that things are so difficult with this child. I think to myself, Why can’t he just take care of the things he is supposed to? Why can’t he just grow up? Sometimes parenting is so hard and such an inconvenience.
PEACEFUL PARENTING PARADIGM
I am in the kitchen washing the dishes when I hear my son’s calls from the bathroom, “Mama, I need a wipe check!”
I feel annoyed. Annoyed that he is yelling at me from another room. Annoyed that his needs are interrupting my work. Annoyed that he wants me to help wipe when he is old enough to do it for himself. I check in with myself and accept that my feelings are valid. All of these things are annoying. After all, I don’t think there is a single parent who would list wiping bottoms as their favorite parenting task, do you?
I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down before slowly walking to the bathroom. I knock before opening the door and say, “Were you calling me? Do you need some help?”
At this point, I stop, look and listen. I really pay attention to what my son needs at this moment.
I have made a commitment to learn about childhood development so that my expectations are a realistic match to my child’s age. So, I know that children go through quite a difficult transition around the age of 6. They are trying to assert their independence but often feel ambivalent about getting older. Maybe my son is feeling ambivalent and needs babying? Maybe he is regressing in this area as a way to get my attention? Have I spent any quality time with him today? All of these questions are in my mind as I listen to him.
“Please wipe me, just this once? Please. Please. Please.” Ugh, I hate it when he begs. That really pushes my buttons. Deep breath.
“It sounds like you want me to help you. Do you remember that everyone is responsible for wiping themselves? Daddy wipes himself. Mommy wipes herself. Auntie wipes herself. Uncle wipes himself. Why don’t you want to wipe yourself today?”
“I don’t want to get poop on my hands.” Ding, ding, ding! Now I know why he is making this request. He must have gotten poop on his hands recently and didn’t like it.
“Well, we have to be careful when we wipe. But sometimes we get poop on our hands. That’s why we wash our hands with soap and warm water when we’re done. Will you try to wipe by yourself? I’ll stand right here and help you check at the end that you’re clean. Here’s a wet wipe.”
My son wipes himself as I stand by talking him through it. I leave him to flush and wash hands by himself, with the promise that we’ll meet in the living room to read and snuggle after I finish the dishes. It is clear to me that he needs a time-in right now. I can baby him a little, after all, he’s only 6!
UPDATE: I wrote this blog post some time ago, and am happy to say that at the age of 7 my son is now taking care of all of his toileting issues on his own! Happy Mama, Happy Dance!