welcome to the angry house, where it's ok to be angry

June 14, 2011

A friend of mine, Sara, wrote a post recently sharing a bit more about her parenting jam, how she rolls, what she thinks. Sara and I have a lot in common, crunchy-wise, and well... adorable toddler boy wise. She pours her whole heart into parenting her son, so much so that I look crazy-fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants in comparison, which is a laugh because I can be pretty "parenting conscious" myself. Well, I try to be. My own weird neurosis not withstanding.

Cutting through the preamble: her post. It's a thinker. I like ideas about parenting that press me to wander outside my norm. If I have a strong reaction to it, if I think about it all week, that's the kind of stuff I love to read. Her thoughts made the list, the hmmm, maybe-no-yes interesting list, for further reflection. Parenting is serious business. As much as I believe in trusting my gut it's always worth it to stop and think about the ramifications of your actions on reaching your long term destination. Evaluation time! Do I suck at this YES or NO!

The gist of her post: Her main goal as a parent is to help her son embrace and deal with his feelings in a healthy way– and not discourage him from embracing them. Tears are not a bad thing, they heal instead of hurt. Rather than shelter and push away every "bad" feeling with coping methods she hopes to teach him to understand his emotions.

Fair enough, yes? Sounds good to me, and very relevant to the toddlering age. It even seems fairly straightforward– until you dig into the underbelly of how and the when and then what. That part was where it made me start questioning things that I do, have done, without even thinking. Have I scooped Jude up too quickly and wiped away his tears? Comforted him with food or a toy, distracting his attention away from those big feelings which later lead to complete meltdown? Yes definitely. It didn't feel good to acknowledge that, but our family is also its own unique callously zen microcosm. We don't take boo-hooing too seriously. Maybe that's what works for us.

When families teach little girls that food = comfort, and that emotional sea monster spirals its long grasping tentacles over their whole life, and they end up with bulimia? I mean that's tv show shit, not real life, but it IS real life. My actions on this tiny little toddler's coping skills can have a scarily far-reaching impact. It gave me a lot to think about in my own reactions to Jude's big feelings.

Another post lives with me always in my heart and could be cousin to Sara's, not the same and yet not different. They could hold hands and walk on the beach, wear some sun hats. In a child's body and his mind are his own, not anyone else's Jess wrote,
If I am in a good mood and my son is determined to be in a bad mood, I should let him do so with no consequence other than acceptance and giving him a space in which to do it.  I certainly feel any way I choose when the mood hits, so why should I have the right to deny him the same freedoms just because it's inconvenient to me?  And since he can't go lock himself in a closet and scream, I have to provide that opportunity to him.  
She goes on to tell the story of a trip to Old Navy gone wrong, the tantrum-ing kind we all know too well,
I snapped again and yelled angrily, "What is it that you waaaaaaant!?!?!"  He cried harder.  I took a couple more deep breaths for few beats and asked again, "Baby, what is it that you want?  Mama wants to help make you feel better and she's frustrated because she doesn't know how to help you," to which he replied, clear as a bell,

"Me not want to feel better.  Me saaaad and maaad!"

I swear you could have knocked me over with a feather.  He wasn't ready to be placated, to feel better.  He wanted to be upset.  I rode back home in silence chewing on my thoughts. ... This was a major epiphany for me.  I've been protecting his right to his physical space since his birth, but the truth of the matter is, I haven't been protecting his emotional rights quite as much if they threw a wrench in my day.  I need to remove the concept that some emotions are "good or bad."
Ooof. So. That stuff hits home with me. Our house has been the angry house lately. I mean Jon and I are fine, we aren't the ones yelling, but the Jude... well the Jude has a lot of BIG toddler feelings right now. We're totally in that stage and he lets it all fly free, loud and mad and wild. He's learning about angry. It's normal, it's natural, but I can't help but feel there's some better way I can guide him in expressing his feelings. I don't want to push them aside or distract him away from them, I just want to help him wrap his head around all that emotion. It's ok to be mad. Or sad– It's also NOT ok to hit or throw stuff. There needs to be a smidge of balance in each direction.

The fun part is that this BIG FEELINGS ANGER is all so totally age appropriate. And the only answer? MOAR BRAIN GROWING! It isn't a question of behavior, it's just one particular toddler and his individual personality. So rather than focusing on time outs and "solutions" I've been thinking more consciously about the feelings part. I can recognize that the big feelings are behind it when the Jude has a fit of anger, now we just have to figure out how to help them blossom, how to get them out, and how to channel that energy in a safe way. It's not easy, toddler anger is fearsome and, "use your words" might be the most useless phrase ever uttered in our household to date. Still, I have a feeling this whole thing may pan our to be pretty important later so we'll keep trying. Ongoing toddler feelings adventure? Check.
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