Something interesting happened in our house this morning. My husband learned just exactly how valuable our choice to omit all types of violence from our interaction with our daughter really is.
Let me give you a little bit of the setting and plot.
My daughter awoke this morning in a funk. My husband and I have spent the last two days working through some emotional upheaval between us. My daughter is well aware of the tension and distress that he and I are experiencing. Her awareness translates into intriguing response patterns, some of which are more demonstrative than others, but the sense that she is also struggling along with us is very obvious. Due to this tendency of sensitivity on her part, we try very hard to not argue or really have at each other in front of her, but sometimes life requires that we address things openly. She is exposed more than I think either of us would prefer, but the positive aspect of this is that she is not only learning to manage the difficulties through observing us, but she is also learning how to cope and work through them, by the same observation.
That said, this morning she was in a definite funk when she awoke. Not a bad mood, just unstable emotionally. We went about our morning, he and I talked about a few other difficult things, and she demonstrated her awareness of our conversation, as well as her confusion and semi-displeasure regarding it. We confirmed that our issues were not due to her, nor did she have anything to do with them, except that our dealing with them was affecting her.
About an hour later, I asked her to come down to eat and her Papa happened to be near her. From what he could tell, she did not comply with my request, or even respond to my beckoning in a timely manner, so he reinforced my instruction by repeating it a bit differently directly to her, within visual range. She continued to disregard him just as she had me. He was already on edge and this set him off, so he responded in a knee jerk fashion and brushed the top of her head with the folded towel he had in his hands. He didn’t strike her with it, he didn’t shove or knock her over with it, but he did react out of irritation and impatience.
He watched her face turn from indifference (which was actually a face absorbed in imagination and whatever she was thinking internally) to horror and fear, followed by seeing her reaction to what she perceived as his betrayal of her trust and safety. She immediately began crying hysterically, the “fear cry”. I knew there was something wrong when the cry wasn’t a mad one. Nor was it a cry of having been physically hurt. She was terrified and actually, seemed confused. So, I stepped in a bit to inquire (of him, as she was not rationally responsive) the cause of her distress.
My husband showed me the towel in his hand (a fresh folded bath towel about a foot square – he was headed to the shower – that had no rigidity whatsoever) and made a brushing motion to demonstrate what he had done, and informed me that it had connected with her head. He didn’t believe he could have possibly used enough force to hurt her as it barely brushed over her head and just ruffled her hair. I confirmed his claim and belief and replied that her cry wasn’t one of physical hurt or pain, but instead she was afraid and seemed like she wanted to be mad but didn’t trust her that feeling to be shown.
I held her for a moment in silence, while she cried, searching the face of her Papa who stood behind her. She was inconsolable and her Papa realized that he had actually harmed her… he’d harmed her spirit. He apologized openly to her at that point, but she would hear nothing of it. At which point, I knew that I had to remove myself from their moment… I looked at my husband and requested that he “fix this” and reminded him “no violence means none, of any kind”, hoping he would see that she had perceived his actions as violent even though to him they were not. He acknowledged me and I set her down out of my arms into his, and left the two of them to figure it out.
I heard her telling him that he should never, ever, ever, ever hit his baby. And she went on to liken the same admonishment where her own toys/stuffed animals were involved, of which she deems her own babies. He openly and regretfully agreed with her that there should never be any hitting and apologized again. He told her that he was wrong to have used the towel and her head when he was upset that she wouldn’t respond. She told him he whacked her. He confirmed that he brushed the towel over her head out of anger and that if that seemed like a whack to her, then that was ok, and he should never ever do it. He was also able to express to her the importance of her responding to her Mama and him (Papa) when she was spoken to. She agreed that she should and she explained that she was just playing. He reminded her that being given space to “just play” was important and that she had to remember to hear Mama/Papa and respond so that she could continue to have time to “just play”.
About two minutes later, they were holding each other and giggling. Both had learned a lot from the experience. Both had grown. Though I suspect she will likely be as distracted again in the future, and we will have to again talk about the value of responding when Mama/Papa call. But perhaps, for a while (or longer) she will be more aware and more likely to respond. (Something to note here, she generally responds mostly immediately, even if she is absorbed in play. I think her reluctance or maybe just delay, was due to the stress our home is shouldering right now.)
Today, my husband learned that the idea of no violence, none, really means none in heart, mind, or body. No physical or emotional action as a reaction to any form of anger, irritation, injustice, impatience, etc… a reaction as a result of these is violence. Action taken to address the cause of the anger, irritation, injustice, etc., can be done in love and patience (especially where a young child is the provoking entity) and with the complete absence of violence, thereby providing a complete safe and gentle environment, void of fear. This approach yields learning, trust, and growth.
I share this experience with you for two reasons, the first perhaps more obvious than the second. This experience vividly demonstrates the value of a complete void of violence when working with children. My husband’s new position has enabled him to be home and around our daughter much more frequently than he ever has been able to be. He is still learning the ropes, learning how to interpret her, and learning the value of patience. He is not a violent man, though his temper can flare just as anyone’s can. He is patient and generally very endearing and kind hearted toward her (and everyone, actually). But his reaction to what he perceived as insolence from her was one that was outside her safe boundary. She is entirely unaccustomed to angry responses from either of her parents, in any form. Even something as minimal and seemingly benign as this experience was interpreted by her as something she needed to first fear, and then feel wronged by. Yet, she hesitated… and some might say out of reverence and respect. I believe she hesitated to feel her natural reaction to being injured in spirit due to fear. And this, from a child that has no comprehension of fearing her parents wrath… I cannot fathom what must go through the mind of a child who knows all too well what is their reality when they dare respond to those natural reactions that speak against disrespect and devaluing. They know that their reality is one that will just become harder to bear, should they attempt to stand up for themselves. This concept is one that is also shared and fully understood by those damaged by slavery and prejudice.
My daughter is entirely unaccustomed as to how to handle an angry outburst or reactionary lashout from either of her parents, because she’s just not been exposed and forced to learn to cope with such behaviors from us. And you know what, I would have it no other way. If she were used to such damaging behavior from us, not only would I be too shamed to show my face, but I would be in the depths of despair at my worthlessness, having damaged her so. Yes, there are times when I lose my temper, just as there are times when my husband does. And believe me, I am no stranger to the self-imposed guilt session that follows my carelessness. However, these times are so few and far between that my daughter just doesn’t have any idea what to do with herself when we behave so inconsiderately toward her. She is so little… She will be forced to learn how to manage people with bad tempers and selfish lack of consideration for her value soon enough. The least I can do for her in this area of her development is spare her from having to learn any earlier than the world would impose. I hope by the time she has to cope with this dynamic, she will have experienced the absence of it so thoroughly in her own home that she will immediately recognize the behavior for the self-serving and pathetic excuse for maturity that it is, and reject it.
The other reason I wanted to share this experience with you is in hopes to raise your awareness and sensitivity on the value of the absence of violence in the home where children are introduced, as well as in our relationships, from the very beginning. My daughter is three years old and fully capable of expressing herself through verbal language. She is eloquent and articulate. She let us know this morning, after she was no longer afraid, exactly what she felt, thought, and didn’t want to feel or have to think.
How many of us have acted out against our little ones, when they were much too young to use language to express what our actions have done to them? If you are a follower of the Pearls’ methods, they have it well figured out, they have you “training” your BABIES (infants! No, I am not exaggerating) so that by the time they can actually speak, they won’t. In all honestly, I can’t imagine any other adequately reliable way of breaking your children sufficiently to keep them from ever challenging what you cause them to feel than to have been broken before they had the faculties to respond in a manner that could be interpreted by the offending adult. To that, I will add that even the tiniest of creatures DO actually respond to this sort of harm and damaging behavior from their primary caregiver, but most often, if that caregiver has been blinded to the extent that they believe what they are/have done is acceptable, they will not be aware of their child’s response as anything but mere insolence. The Pearls have a built in response and method of dealing with this too. More violence. More and more until they break. Oh how I would like to spit in the face of the man that wrote the article I have linked to here.
Let the cycle of violence continue and humanity will be no better than it has ever been. Evil and pain will prevail.
Cause this cycle to burst apart from the center, exploding into so many pieces that none can be retrieved well enough to regenerate and be reorganized into the return of the cycle… then is when humanity will be worthy of its title.