Wow guys! You all started speaking, and at the same time! I can’t tell you how big the smile on my face is tonight as I attempt to respond to the comments (most of which have triggered yet another post on the horizon, so please, keep your experiences and understandings coming). I experienced a rough situation tonight that, for a myriad of reasons, I can’t elaborate on at this moment… but reading through the responses to the “Why We Don’t Punish & What is Discipline” is healing. I want to share a bit about our day, however, in hopes of sharing my smile with you.
My younger brother is getting married tomorrow; my daughter is his flower girl. My daughter has been 4 since mid October. I still slip once in a while and refer to her as three, and I hear about it from her when I do. “Mama.”, says my little coherent. “I am 4. Do you not remember my birthday? It went on for a month Mom. We are still celebrating! I want to celebrate everything, always. So please remember to stop forgetting that I am not three now. And soon…!!! I will marry Papa too (wedding theme abounds of late). So, but you have to be 4 at LEEEAST, or maybe 7, to marry somebody. But I think 22 is really old. It’s big. Are you that old??” I hear this same line of thought about three times a week and it never ceases to make me smile.
Yesterday we traveled the 5+ hour drive from our home to my brother’s. Today, she awoke way earlier than I thought she would (have mercy – I should have gone to bed earlier last night) and kept her Grandma (staying with my parents) going for the better part of the morning. But, by 11am or so, she started whimpering and just being sort of whiny. At first I assumed she was hungry (we are going through the “hunger satiated after bite two – until 20 minutes from now” development segment), and so when she turned down an offer of food, I didn’t think much of it, until we got in the car to head to the wedding venue. She was exhausted. That didn’t make sense. I asked if she was hungry. Nope. Just thirsty. Ok… but then suddenly I knew I needed to observe her for a moment longer (you know, the parallel sensation somewhere in your core that if you pay any attention to it at all, you realize just how much you can perceive and understand about the world and people around you). Sure enough. I took her hand in mine and waited a moment, touched her neck just under her chin, and could feel her body temperature rising. She was succumbing to a pretty significant attempt by the “yucky germs” and when asked how she felt, she replied (that) “The white blood cells in my bloodstream, and the big, tough antibody guys are gettin’em Mama.. But they’re really having to work hard and it’s making me so tired. But I can heal. My brain has told my body to get hot on the inside to fry those germs away. But my head hurts and I don’t like how I feel and so I think I don’t like these germs.” Followed by, “Where’d they come from anyway!” – My kid has a current thing for anatomy and instead of ending a fever with Tylenol, we hop into a hot bath and help the body do its job to restore health.
Fantastic, I’m thinking. It’s dress rehearsal for my bro’s wedding, there’s supposed to be a dinner after that, we’re in a hotel in the middle of the mountains in Colorado (though, mind you, it’s warmer here than we’re accustomed to at home), and we have nothing but travel and more travel, oh, and a wedding tomorrow… Eyes watering, flushed, pale and gray.. and I somehow expect this little thing to play grownup tomorrow, at the grownup’s party, and like it to boot. Yeesh… Ok. Time to step back and re-prioritize. Time to ask the kiddo what she thinks about everything.
Upon inquisition, she offered that she was pretty sure her body was strong enough for her to practice for her uncle’s wedding. Besides, she really wanted to throw flower petals around so she could go collect them and plant new flowers. 🙂 So, I let her participate as much as she decided she wanted to. She did pretty much exactly what everyone asked and wanted, and then some. She was brilliant and excellently cooperative, attentive, and even showed a ton of compassion and patience to another little one that was there (1 year old). Then, the eyes started watering again, the fever began to climb, and my little Bug asked for arms.
She slept through dinner.
Then, instead of going to bed, we took a hot bath. She reported it being very helpful, and after tolerating me putting her fragile locks into rags for the purpose of hair preparation for the festive event, she and Papa snuggled up and went to sleep. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
Eventually I’ll post about the part of today’s experience that I can’t discuss yet.. But to give you some insight into the positive side of it, basically it’s as simple as this, even though my daughter was miserable, sick, exhausted, and generally really miserable, she chose to be involved tonight and she did so not because either her dad or I told her she had to, or kept pushing and prodding her to cooperate, she chose to (and I know this because she communicated her preferences directly to me) be involved because she thought her uncle and future aunt would value her being there. She asked if they wanted her there, and if so, she’d be there, says the brave little Bug. And while there, she did her thing, we played, we rehearsed, we ate hot chocolate and marshmallows (and so did half the group, as she went on a mission of marshmallow sharing madness). Her willingness to learn what the adults wanted her to do, follow instruction, and just generally totally be “there” in spite of how she felt (or what her curiosity suggested she check out), all came from her. She had no fear or even remote concern of me or her Papa punishing or scolding her for not performing or conducting herself in some way we (or the other adults) expected. I don’t think she even comprehends this sort of scenario because every time she sees it with another kid/parent, she flips, asks a ton of questions, and demonstrates sorrow at the other child’s discomfort.
I don’t have to threaten. I choose to explain.
I don’t have to give ultimatums. I choose to allow her autonomy.
I don’t have to punish. I choose to allow her choices to result as they will, and to stand by her as she experiences those results and learns what to do with them.
I ask for her involvement in our shared life, I explain the details, I educate her as much as possible about the whys/whats/whens, and I have no fear telling her that the only reason something is expected a certain way is because Mama is being intolerant at that moment/about that subject, or some other adult is focusing on themselves and forgetting to see the world through her eyes too.
Does she know when compliance is mandatory? Yes. She understood this at about 13 months.
Does she know that if compliance is mandatory and she chooses to refuse, that her mom or dad will step in one way or another? Yes. She knows we will do what is necessary to keep her safe and to keep us sane in dangerous or extremely stressful situations.
Does she know that we trust her with the choices and information she currently has? Yes.
Does she know she has the right to refuse our requests, just as we have the right to refuse hers, and that compromise and flexibility are highly valuable skills and traits to develop? Yes. But she also knows my love, my grace, my compassion and empathy, my understanding that the world is massive for her right now (like it’s really any smaller for me).
Why does she work with us when we ask? Because she knows deep within her that we honor her and accept her entirely just because she exists. AND because we work with her when she asks..it’s a two way street. She feels good and secure inside when she knows that our family is sharing our lives together in harmony.