There is no such thing as the ‘perfect parent’. In fact Im sure that if someone started to profess that they had all the answers, they would, in the same breath, be handed a shovel ready to dig themselves a hole into which they would never be seen again. And although some of us have more experience than others in dealing with children and their behaviour, at the end of the day, sometimes we just get it wrong. And more often than not, it’s with our own, rather than other peoples’ children.
I ran into an example of this today. Master 3 is fiercely independent. I was a fool to ever think my baby of the family would be the easiest. At 6 months old he refused to be fed, opting instead to hold the spoon and feed himself. Nothing has been the same since……. There are many moments in every day when I have to decide what is worth the battle and what is not. Today it was more than apparent that a daytime nap was required. (I have also been fortunate enough to have co-created children who have an allergy to sleep). So for me to realise this was a battle I was going to have to have, was a significant decision in the day.
So the theorist in me kicked into gear as we left the supermarket for our drive home. We live ten minutes out of town, and I quickly decided this would not be a long enough stretch of time to try the least intrusive method of sedation – the-falling-asleep-in-the-car strategy. So I quickly plotted the longest route home and began the journey. Observing from the corner of my eye the rapid decline in energy levels I felt satisfied I was onto it and the right approach had been taken. However, as I headed into unfamiliar terrain, a little voice began…..”what’s that sign say Mum?”…….followed by “and that sign?”…..”the road is twisty isn’t it”……..”I think we’re going fast”…..”we’re going fast cos things are melting in the boot aren’t they?” My hopes of this strategy working were quickly fading. As we turned into a road near home (15km and a quarter of a tank of petrol later) silence took over, and eyelids fell. The car slowed and we crawled to home, my hopes renewed in success.
I arrived at our house, raced inside and pulled curtains, turned down bed and strategised for the swift relocation from car seat to bed. Un-clipping seatbelt – so far so good. Lifting child from car – success. Carrying through house – on the home straight. Lowering child to bed…………..and eyes wide open! Scream goes up “Im not going to beeeeeeeeeed”. Strategy absolutely failed.
It’s at this point that I would be advising parents to try other forms of supportive approaches to managing a child on the brink of meltdown. However, to top it off, I was particularly exhausted and in the back of my mind I was envisaging all the frozen foods in the boot of my car melting in a big heap amongst the other purchases we had made earlier. So my supportive approach was fleeting. It was clear we were going to go head-to-head in a battle of wills. And I knew that it would be mother-suicide if I did not accomplish the goal of sleep.
Cue the grumpy mother no-nonsense approach. I offered a choice – he could lay down for cuddles with Mum, or I was leaving the room and shutting the door. No clear choice was made. So I was to go through with the threat. As I walked out of the room, the cries got louder and the fists beat harder into the bed. I hung around out of sight by the door, listening to the tones of the cries, wondering if the message had got through. But, I was not off the hook that easily. The door was opened and the high-pitched protests became geographically closer. I moved back to the room and physically returned him to his bed. He really was past the point of all negotiation, but I continued to persist. I suggested that if he remained on his bed the door would stay open. If he moved, the door would shut.
This seemed to work initially. While the protests did not cease or quieten, he did remain on his bed. In hindsight, this may not have been due to my skill in ultimatums, but rather the sheer exhaustive state he was fast moving towards. As he quietened further, I foolishly thought it was my opportunity to try to calm him again. Lying next to him in bed only served as a further catalyst. Suddenly he escaped off the bed and made a dash for my bedroom. Grumpy, no-nonsense Mum was quickly turning into dont-mess-with-me, had-enough-of-this Mum. Extracting him from the middle of my bed, I really did think this child was never going to sleep. And my groceries were definitely melting by now…..I was sure of it.
So time for no-more-nice-Mum. Put firmly on the bed, he was told that was ‘IT!’ “Enough” I bellowed, and the default pointed finger came out. “Mum is the boss, and you are in here until you sleep”. I then exited the room for all involved and their safety. Crying continued and I began to unpack the groceries. Slowly but surely the volume decreased and I was told “I need to tell you something” from the doorway. I guided him back to the bed, where he climbed in for cuddles telling me he “felt better now”. Sure this was code for ‘I’m still not going to sleep’, I volunteered a peace offering in the form of a banana. I was sure this would seal the deal, as sheer exhaustion was painted all over his face. The offer was accepted, banana consumed and teddy located. Lots of kisses and I love yous, and then he rolled over and went to sleep.
Peace reigned. Not text book by any means. Certainly not the pathway I thought we would take as I began my little journey leaving the supermarket. The dreaded pointed finger made an appearance and ‘IT’ was referred to. Not my most model mother moment, but it happened nevertheless. But, goal achieved…….Mum 1, Son 0. While I don’t profess that this is my favourite approach to managing my son, I am certainly not going to beat myself up that I misjudged or got things wrong. I’m not perfect, and neither is the next parent. All I can do is say, ‘we’ll that didn’t go well’ and reflect on how I might do things differently next time. Whether next time means a different approach or not, sometimes it’s good just to say as a parent Im simply doing the best I can in the moments I’ve got. That should be perfect enough for me.