Sometimes things take a while to sink in. Like a slow, steady drip, drip, drip. Then, BAM!, when it happens, it’s like a holy miracle and we forget, in that instance, everything that came before.
I first read about a child’s need for connection when our son had not long turned two years old. As an intuitive kind of parent, I had known about attachment from the oft but connection in this light was a new consideration for me.
Our son, at the time, was in an immensely provocative phase of biting other children and I read voraciously about everything and anything of what I could do to help him. Much information talked about time outs and other similar punishments, as a way to deal with the issue. I knew instinctively this hard edge was not the approach for neither he nor I. He was a wee toddler and I felt he was biting for a reason. I just didn’t know what that reason was.
And then I came across an article on the Hand in Hand website. Their explanation of seeming troublesome behaviours and techniques to help resolve them sounded far more up my street. Their theory is that children act out not to maliciously or manipulatively frustrate but because they are actually seeking connection and I understood the premise at once. It got under the skin of the struggle that I was experiencing in trying to stop him biting however, I took affront at the thought that our son wasn’t feeling connected. Jeez! I wanted to say to Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand founder and writer of the piece, Don’t you know he and I are SO connected! We co-sleep. He breastfed until he was 21 months. He and I have such a deep bond. How dare you suggest he might not be connected. Of course he is! My inner, sleep-deprived rant went on and my appreciation of what she was talking about was pretty slim.
Then, about a year later, I discovered Peaceful Parenting, a similar philosophy inspired by a woman called Genevieve Simperingman. Although the biting had stopped, our son was now finding sharing superbly difficult and, once again, I started to read avidly about strategies to help. Through Peaceful Parenting I discovered the, to some, radical idea about not forcing children to share and instead offering them the chance to complete their turn in their own time frame before handing a toy, go on a slide, ride on a swing, onto another child. Bingo! I really got this and too a whole stream of thinking that Peaceful Parenting encourages.
It’s been an incredible road from those days to today. An incredible road of breaking down previous thought patterns, beliefs and learned behaviours from my own childhood and how I was parented myself. It’s been an intensely challenging road in nodding and saying Yes! I really get the middle ground these offer to doing Yes and really putting into practice as we raise our two golden balls of beautifulness.
At first, whether taking lead from Genevieve’s or Patty’s (once I’d got over feeling so incensed at the implication of the state of disconnection of mine and my son’s relationship!), wisdom and advice, it felt like I was almost acting out learned lines I read in online discussion groups. Brilliant phrases such as, I will help you wait, as I sat patiently with our son in tears or hitting out because another child was finishing their turn with an Octonauts toy, or the wonderful When and Then (When you have finished your supper then you can play in the garden) as I learned how to take the sting out of bribery and muddy coercion (If you eat your supper then I will let you play in the garden) and remembering Connection before Correction in times when I was all set to do not just that. These were just a couple of effective and proactive tools as I learned to help shift my language and poise of engagement. They helped me slowly find my feet as I slowly began to find an approach to parenting that enabled a kinder, more mutually respectful model. They were simple on the page however not always whilst putting into practice.
On the page they felt like one matter. On trying to incorporate them, in the midst of meltdowns, tantrums and the kids pushing my buttons, remaining peaceful wasn’t always as straightforward as I tended to wish for. I used to do OK at staying calm in the middle of a blow up but then, once resolution was found, would usually find myself exhausted and tumbling down on the other side. Often feeling lowly resourced, inwardly I would dread the length of our son’s crashes. My trickiest stumbling point was getting tripped up in thinking of all the things I could have done differently beforehand that could have steered a different outcome from the one I was presently facing. Maybe if I’d told him earlier that we were going straight home after the park, the boundary would have been clear and he wouldn’t be screaming now that he wanted to go swimming? Maybe if I’d said we were going to have supper after playing then he wouldn’t be demanding TV now? …..
Our son has sensory processing difficulties so foresight and painting the picture ahead of the game has, over the years, become my nom de plume. He’s a child that needs routine and a clear structure to help him know where he is within the landscape of a day. I have known long the holes he and we can fall down when life doesn’t form in the particular way he needs and often expects. I know of the endless demands he strikes when the day isn’t singing his tune and the stress these bring to both my husband and I. A degree of fore-planning to prevent this does have its benefits on many levels however, it can be wholly, wholly exhausting and, recently I’ve begun to realise, possibly less advantageous for himself.
For the last while I’ve become more conscious and more ready about opening up my support for him when he meets the seeming beast that is disappointment. A growing commitment has been forging slowly within to really, truly hold the space for him when things don’t pan out in the way he’d hoped for, anticipated, expected. He’s not always going to have a manager to foretell the bumps along the road ahead, no one to overlook and guide him gently by his side away from them and to help avoid the blow ups and frustration that can arise. But, instead, I know, by sitting by his side as he rides the tumultuous waves that disappointment can stir and helping to cultivate his own internal muscle to listen to the music of not getting what he wants, when, how, NOW!, I hope it will not only empower him as his strides his way forth into young adulthood and beyond, but also enable us as a family to live a little more without the sting of the edge as I help him tend his.
And then there are the times when he shoots request after request after request at us, frequently bundled with a huge amount of displeasure at whatever he or we have just been doing, despite very often been grinning from ear to ear even just 15 minutes beforehand. Time after time I’ve just not got it. Why? We’ve just been for a lovely family swim which you’ve adored doing and now you’re full of anger and dissatisfaction? I don’t understand? How can you be so fed up? Aren’t you full? Isn’t your cup replete after such connection? Why do you keep shooting want after want at us? Why isn’t this enough??!
And, of course, I’ve tasted the burn of resentment as he loses it and asks for more. More. More. MORE!
And then there was today.
In the story of connection and my tsk! at the thought our son was feeling disconnected all those years ago, it’s been a long journey. Like the drip, drip, drip, sometimes I’ve been merrily thinking I’ve got this Peaceful Parenting thing going and then, BOOM!, some connection happens in time and place and I sink down to the next level, the next chapter of understanding.
Maybe it was coz this morning I spent some time on my own inner-enquiry. Asking myself what was my direct experience in my heart space right now? In my throat area right now? In my left eye? Right eye…? I came upon a place within in which I jumped straight out of straight away and disconnected. And with it jumped in my sense of abandonment, my own self-abandonment as, I witnessed in the background, my self-scorn for wandering away just where attendance was needed.
It was a piercing moment, as I ventured around my internal terrain and maybe it enabled me to see with new eyes what was to happen later today. Possibly.
Four pretty knackered souls left the house at lunchtime to go on an adventure for Father’s Day. We could have all probably done with a day at home doing bugger all but my husband had an urge to get some fresh air and it felt an important one to honour. But, despite our communal tiredness, we had a ball. Walking, climbing, meeting new friends, dogs, frolicking and giggles, in the rain, the mist…. We loved it. Erm, until we got back in the car to go home. And then our son’s tirade of fed up-ness and wanting to drive across the county to go visit friends right then, right now started to kick off.
Usually I would meet this with:
Outwardly trying to stay calm. Responding to him with;
Yes, I hear you really, really want to go to North Devon from here and I’d love to do that sometime too. Right now it’s late in the day and we need to head home to get supper. We will arrange to see our friends but we can’t do this today my love.
Inwardly, I would be travelling down THREE avenues.
Firstly. Why? Why is he responding like this now? We’ve just had such a lovely time. He was laughing his head off literally two minutes ago. What happened???
Secondly. I really should have told him when we were at the top of the Tor what was going to happen when we arrived at the bottom. I should have told him as we crossed the road to the car park. No, in fact, I should have told him before we left home….. (!!!)
Thirdly. Oh, jeez! Why are you complaining now? Again? I’m so knackered. I just want peace. And quiet. Why can’t you stay quiet???!
And each of these layers of dialogue, with him and myself, would a) be exhausting and b) negate seeing what was really happening and what he really was in need of.
In truth, I could have probably mustered a fourth avenue. Which would go thus:
He needs connection. But I am saying all the things that I think he needs to hear…. I’m acknowledging to him how he’s feeling. I’m giving him a clear boundary. I’m holding the space for him. Why’s it not working? I’m doing a shit job. Oh, I don’t want this….!
But life isn’t always textbook. Sometimes the book just needs a wide berth. And sometimes the lines just jump off the page and make sense in time and space that leave invisible scribbles on the wall. Sometimes things just take the drip, drip, drip until something kicks in and we embody them. Or maybe they embody us?
These are wonderful moments. Yes. Today I bypassed all the speed bumps on my avenues of habitual responses trying to make sense on this oh so testing road of meltdowns. Yes. I bypassed the Whys? in my internal questioning and went straight into the heart.
He’s feeling disconnected, I said to myself, and helping bringing him back to connection is the ONLY thing I need to focus on right now. Not the things I could have done beforehand. Not the feeding back to him every step of the way. Not the confusion. Not the resentment or the myriad of hurdles that I bring to the table when he asks to be brought back home. It came immediately, both my realisation and what I then needed to do to be there with him, there in that moment. No baggage. No complications. No attachments of stories, questions, reasoning. Just my attendance.
I’ve known this in my head for donkeys. I’ve know it in my trying each time, over the years. But this is the first time I have known it without the background chatter. Today was the first time I have seen his disconnection and urgent requirement for connection so simply for what it is.
When Patty talked about a child calling for connection, in my reading all those moons ago, I imagined connection was one thing. It was, at the time, both my perception and sense of connection that pertained to me. I thought he and I were connected, so yep I presumed, we were. I didn’t understand or appreciate at the time that she was talking about a child who has his own sense of connection that is related to mine but it is not mine. It is in fact separate and he has, as have we all, our own calling for connection that is unique to us as each lap of each wave as it kisses the shoreline is. Each trigger that fires and flares up in us is individual to us. Yes, they may be similar and yes, interwoven, however in the fleeting moments when disconnection happens for me it might not be happening for my son and vice versa.
Today I felt I circumnavigated the whole circle and came, in that fleeting nanosecond, to see this deeply for the first time.
It’s been five years in coming. The seeming Americanisation of the language that I first read in the early days on this Peaceful Parenting unfolding felt uncomfortable to say out-loud. It felt false. Not me. And then I started to inhabit it. I could say it and mean it so to speak. But it’s like layers of strata. I’ve been excavating, chipping away. Coming, slowly coming into Now. From the inside to out.
Boy, it takes time!