Reese has a temperament of iron. He is unbendable, unbribable, unforceable. He cannot be reasoned, threatened, cajoled, or pleaded into doing anything he does not wish to do. If he thinks you are even faintly suggesting a course of action that isn't his idea to start with, he hunkers down, sinks his claws into the ground, and his face hardens into an expression that can best be interpreted as I dare you to even try to shake my resolve. Yesterday was one of the days (much more rare now at age 4.5, thank goodness) when he decides that asking politely for something is absolutely anathema to him. You would think that uttering the word "please" or simply using a nice tone of voice would kill him. He digs in, refuses to yield. He would rather go without the thing he desires so strongly than give in and ask without screaming. It's wild and somewhat baffling.
My mother's parenting Bible was James Dobson's Dare to Discipline and she has been known to hand out copies of The Strong-Willed Child to parents whom she considered to be in need of guidance. As a young adult, I embraced the message these books promote: that parents must be in control no matter what the cost to the child, and that children are tyrannical creatures who must be forcibly shaped into obedient, subservient ways. I believed that parents who prefer "gentle discipline" were permissive and lax (read: bad parents). I scoffed at the section of my developmental psychology text that presented the evidence against spanking. Hey, I was spanked and I turned out ok. Right?
After birthing my own child, I still pictured myself parenting a la Dobson, but as I got to know this baby and watch his development, the rest of my developmental psychology came back. I also belonged to parent communities that presented me with all kinds of new (to me) ideas. Some seemed radical and I dismissed them. Others, like the ideas in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, appealed to my sense of reason and all that I knew of child development. The big picture came together: these are people we're raising. How do we raise people who are socially responsible and emotionally healthy? Can we provide guidance in a respectful way?
To be fair, I picked up Dare to Discipline and read it. It was a painful experience. It explained much about my childhood (the section on the neck pinch was especially hard to read). I felt saddened that there are parents who are vulnerable to its harmful messages. I also noticed that while reading it, it was hard to resist the view of children presented in it: children are the enemy and parents must subdue them. Flexibility is a sin. While reading it, I was more short-tempered with my own child, less loving. It was easy to overlook the blatant misinterpretation of psychological principles and embrace the shame-and-blame style. Oh, it was poison. It was hate language. I shredded it.
I am "that parent" who is so reviled by Dobon and his followers: call me permissive or lax if you wish. I consider it proactive, respectful, collaborative. I am still the parent, the guide, the teacher, but I can fill those roles without bludgeoning my children emotionally or physically. Discipline is not synonymous with punishment; discipline is about teaching.
But oh, it is so, SO hard, especially when you have a child like this one. He taps into the violence in me, my innate need for control. Raised by a spanker with a need for control, I struggle with physical punishment and desire for control, myself. I have spanked (I have even had seasons of spanking). It was not the right choice. I am committed to an ever-more-nonviolent path of parenting. One thing that helps strengthen my resolve is the knowledge that violent parenting is not only harmful to the child, but makes it much harder for that child to be a gentle and loving parent, themselves. I can break the cycle. I can end it here.
(Aside: I loathe the attitude among some proponents of gentle discipline that parents who spank are bad people. If you are fortunate enough to have a temperament or life experiences that do not make you susceptible to anger, count your blessings and realize that you don't spank not only through determination, but also because you have not been in that dark place. Hate the sin, have compassion for the sinner.)
That which does not kill me - or lead me to flay my children - will make me stronger. And what makes Reese a "strong-willed" or "stubborn" child will serve him well in life. I worry much less about him and peer pressure than I do about eager-to-please Griff. Reese is a nonconformist, for better or for worse. And I will survive parenting him. We will both persevere and we will both be better people for it.
Griffin reminded me yesterday of the (new-school) Electric Company song about perseverance. I can't link directly to it but if you go here you can scroll through the clips until you find a music clip titled "Persevere 'till you find your way." It's pretty far down the list. Thanks for the inspo, Griff!
Here's a list of resources that I have found helpful over the years and a few I want to read as well, listed from what I found easiest to swallow in my less-gentle days to those that I used to consider "out-there" but now find to be useful sources of inspiration.
♥ The Baby Book (William Sears)
♥ The No-Cry Sleep Solution (Elizabeth Pantley)
♥ The Discipline Book (Martha & William Sears)
♥ How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish)
♥ The Daily Groove (daily parenting inspiration via email)
♥ NonViolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg)
♥ Hand in Hand Parenting (articles from multiple sources, site owned by Patty Wipfler)
♥ The Natural Child Project (articles from multiple authors, maintained by Jan Hunt)
♥ Playful Parenting (Lawrence Cohen)
♥ Raising Freethinkers (Dale McGowan)
♥ Raising Your Spirited Child (Mary Sheedy Kurcinka)
♥ Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves (Naomi Aldort)
♥ Unconditional Parenting (Alfie Kohn)
♥ Punished By Rewards (Alfie Kohn)
♥ Mothering.com (magazine and discussion boards, truly changed my life)