As M ploughs into toddlerhood, barging out anyone who gets in his way, I find myself time and time again returning to a quote I read once at the beginning of this motherhood journey: “before you attempt to make changes in the child, look first where they’re learning it from.” I believe unequivocally that we are all born with a character unique to us. For some of us, that character is more placid, a calm in the midst of the storm, others of us hold a temperament which can oft be the source of the storm. Watching T and M together, that we are born our own kind of beings is everyday reaffirmed anew. That said, no matter our nature, there is a definite element of nurture that nudges the edge of the mould and as M makes his way into this unknown territory, I’m so conscious of the role I must play.
As a parent, toddlers are hard work. But I’m positive that being a toddler is harder work still. The past week or so, once his technology-Lion-King-addiction-beating-ban had been enforced M has been focusing more on time on his own. He’ll take himself off to sit with playdoh and spend 30minutes at a time, tongue out, rolling the dough into rough little balls, placing them on a heap of mushed together lumps before flattening them with the palm of his hand. Some of these repetitive creations get handed over as cookies or cake with a coy smile and hint of self-gratification, others, for no apparent reason, with no obvious difference, are thrown to the floor as M declares the play finished. Unable to explain what it is that displeased him, or correct whatever went wrong in design, he simply wants out of the chair and away from the troublesome playdough. Playdough moments are (almost) everyday moments and though he most often than not needs nothing more than a restorative cuddle and a fresh cup of tea these incidents on repeat must frustrate him. I know because I have my own Playdough moments and its in these froughter of seconds I try to pull myself back to that quote to remember what he’s learning from me because yes, being a toddler is hard, but so too is being a toddler parent and when you realise that your arms wrapped tightly round your child hold the power to steady a racing heartbeat you realise the enormity of the task entrusted to you.
A task which, with all the insider secrets you have to learn on the job, pushes you to the edge of emotion in every possible way. Take for example the scenario of hearing yourself say, for the tenth time that hour, “please don’t sit on your little brothers’ head”. You know all big one wants to do is play, you know too that the littlest one’s giggles are egging the older one on, and you also know that at 23months the biggest of the babies has no comprehension of cause and effect. Your emotions swing pendulum style as your heart swells listening to your babies interact in cheerful play before reality brings back the risks of the game.
when for the tenth time that hour I’m hearing my voice plead now with M I need a time-out to focus on me, my reaction to the game they are playing. I do not want M to learn to shout as the answer to frustration, nor do I want him to respond to me in fear or as preemption of a negative reaction. He deserves more respect for his intentions than me shouting at him but he still needs to heed my request – T doesn’t deserve him squishing his head! I’ve always tried to be a fully attached parent. I breastfed long-term, carried both boys daily, and, though not always by choice, have co-slept for most of M’s life. My approach to discipline has been time-in rather than out and empathy in place of shusshing. I’ve practised distraction pre-and-post-emptive and give both as Montessory a lifestyle as possible. I believe your words are as important as your actions, in every circumstance and I truly believe that peaceful parenting with a healthy dose of attachment is the key to an independent balanced child but on that tenth time saying “Please move off of your brothers head” it takes every strength of my being to pick M up and roll T over instead of screaming at the top of my voice, “Just get off of him!”
One of the character tenants Islam praises highest is being able to take control of your anger, and though with your children – even toddler! – it’s rarely anger that you truly do feel, anger and frustration are such close relations that the distinction can be hard to define. It can be really hard in the moment, or ten minutes in, to remember that this red-faced monster screaming at a pitch Maria Carey would envy is not trying to annoy you but is just trying to figure “it” out. When I watch M in such moments and see such strength in his conviction of feeling, I know he needs from me to be the change before he learns how to react to his feelings himself, storm brewing as my inner-most nature challengingly tends to be. Although only 40 hadith, stories of the Prophet Mohammed have been authenticated, many of the unofficiated hadiths stand as positive guidance, if not sunnah, for they hold wisdom which applies whether we accept the credentials or not. Recalling to mind two such hadiths help me stay present in the moment with M. The first talks of the correlation between the heated feelings of anger and the fire surrounding Satan and reminds how water is the best antidote to fire; it’s amazing how calming sipping water can be. The second hadith – if one’s angry whilst standing, sit down, if sitting, lie down – ties in with advice also gleaned from the brilliantly simply book “Playful Parenting”; dropping to your knees not only brings you down from the peak of frustrations literally, it too puts you in a place on a level with your child, accessible for cuddles or tickles or tongue pulling and when you level your eyes to the same frame as theirs every word that you say, every gesture that you make is reflected back to you. Are you happy with the you they can see?
M’s speech is suddenly springing into life…”Car!” “Teeeggggaaaaah!””Bitte!” “Key!” “Orada!” “Burada” ” Egggee ‘ot!”.. and the speed with which his bilingual fluency is developing is a beacon flashing out a reminder. There is no time to be the change later. What he sees, hears and experiences from myself (and G) now will add the nuances to his character traits, as he proved just tonight in response to bedtime countdown – “oh noooo! oh noooooo! hehehehe…” Exactly as I do when he tries to tickle me. He’s turning into a parrot with mime and there’s no better trigger for deeper self-reflection than the words and reaction your child may quote back at you – are your everyday feelings the thoughts, or indeed actions you’d hope his heart would contain? I hope so, sweet boy, I pray so.