Hi Mos, I need help.
Of course. What’s the matter?
I was attacked the other day for my inadequate handling of my child. I’ll just describe what happened because I don’t know what to think of it.
We were at a beach, my family. We just came, and my four-year-old son ran to a playground. I told him he needs to apply the sunscreen first. He didn’t obey, he was acting out and running away. I argued a bit, but he was sleepy, hungry, thirsty etc., and didn’t cooperate. I grabbed and carried him to the shadow. I decided I wouldn’t seek his consent but I held him and applied the sunscreen amid his protests. He didn’t want to drink but I gave him a breadstick for a diversion. There was some wrestling and the breadstick broke. He began wailing. The noise got louder for a few notches.
My husband sat a bit away under a tree and friends held my baby girl who wanted to come to me. I was quite irritated, sleepy, hot, thirsty myself.
After I finished with the sunscreen, I didn’t have the patience to deal with my son’s tantrum, so I got my daughter and took her to my husband. I wanted his opinion.
A woman with a child in her arms (1-2 yrs old) approached us and said, “Won’t you calm your child?!”
I was startled. I said I tried, and she said I didn’t – that all I did was to haul and drag him around and that in this country such behaviour (mine) was a criminal offence and I should try to be a good mother at least in public.
Then I sort of just: went to my son, took him on my lap, and he calmed down. I was furious. I conceded to what she said basically to avoid making a scene. On the other hand, I wanted to prove her wrong. That taking my son in my arms was a success, went against my temper, but probably an intervention of his or my guardian angel. Because in that instant that was the best for the child. But all in all, I felt like the worst mother in the world, with no strategy, schooled by a stranger, unable to defend myself.
I didn’t have the guts to just take off and flee home (a hungry, thirsty and sleepy child would need just that, but we promised him the sea). I didn’t want to sit there to be judged further. I also wanted to retort to the woman. I pondered a hundred responses but was unsure where the blame was.
Was a fault with me, with her, with my son, my husband, the moon influence …? All of the above? The rest of the day (and a few afterwards) were wretched.
What should I think? I know if there’s a situation I’m not in the control of, my first reaction would be aggression. My husband says many times, I should be nicer to my son. But I also know I shouldn’t let my son choose everything. There should be some limits and order.
I’ve been on a yo-yo these last few days.
I’m not really a competent person in this case. I have too little data to be a referee, but–
We will untangle what is bothering you, Anney.
Let’s impose some order in our session. I stumbled upon a method, just recently, which is a set of questions to help us recover from a mistake. It doesn’t matter that we are unsure about the mistake part. It may have been just an assault to which you weren’t prepared to respond.
It is called the G.R.O.W.T.H. method (see the link for more info and acknowledgements)* and it goes like this:
1. Gather your thoughts
3. Own your mistake
It seems you’ve done a lot of it already, it was just all at once. We’ll analyse it, which means we’ll separate your jumbled thoughts to an ordered stream (by the above lines).
Let’s do it.
1. Gather your thoughts. Since the story is already told above, you could use simple statements for your thoughts. Less is more and such.
My thoughts … in the shortest way possible:
a. I was verbally assaulted in a way.
b. The assailant was in a way right.
c. I had an urge to comply, to give in to bullying. (I did so.)
d. I had an urge to defend/be aggressive toward the bully. (A later reaction.)
e. I had an urge to justify my own conduct (the conduct before the scolding, the urge a long time afterwards) but it doesn’t matter. To the public, it looked as it looked. Something was wrong with my conduct.
f. I didn’t get help from my husband/friends. I felt alone and in the wrong.
g. It doesn’t matter if I was alone, I need to be my own person and deal with my own problems. It’s what grown-ups do. (I have an issue with growing up.)
h. I still don’t know how to act in circumstances like this. (I.e. with a misbehaving child, needing attention, having needs I don’t recognise or assuage wrongly.)
i. I still don’t know how to act in circumstances like this. (I.e. being reprimanded for a wrong behaviour.)
j. I lack the confidence to own my own right (denying a mistake and claiming I am right and not a censor).
In my case, the reflection will extract the one point from the above list which is likely to haunt me for long.
Ad. a. This is a fact, I cannot prevent things like this to happen again, so I’ll not dissect it.
Ad. b. She was right and I was not. I’m stubborn and proud (in the vanity sense), so this is an issue, but I’ll deal with it later.
Ad. c./e./i./j. I lack confidence and am self-conscious. I need to work on this issue A LOT. I should make a whole post about it and link here for an example.
Ad. d. I’m aggressive. I need to work on this issue a lot, also. Another separate post.
Ad. f. This one is tricky. It has the least to do with the discussed situation, but it’s starting to grow and bother me more, the more I think of it. Because maybe, just maybe here lies the core of my problem. I didn’t get objective feedback upon which to act. Everyone was impassive, there were only three active persons in my dispute: the faulty me, the bully-woman and my wailing son. And both of them were urging me to do something without thinking, right there, right then. I always need feedback because I’m unsure about my own decision making. Huh. I never saw this coming.
Ad. g. True. No need to reflect (yet).
Ad. h. How to be a good parent? It isn’t just this instance. This issue needs a bouquet of posts. As in: save for later. (Too tired after this long session.) Defence mechanism: the problem might disappear if I ignore it.
3. Own your mistake
What I did wrong? (Me, and nobody else.) Probably I wasn’t prepared to be at the beach. And reading a book long into the night didn’t help. I was even more exhausted and vulnerable than usual (and unfit to deal with tantrums). Tantrums occur, but me being irritated occurs too often. I need to sleep (regularly), to have my children oiled with sunscreen before we get to the beach, and give them water before they are too thirsty to obey. I need to own my motherhood (because I shrink from it and hope someone else would do things).
My mistake: I shrink from responsibility. And avoid preparation which is a mark of being responsible.
I freeze in situations that need prompt action. So I did what I did. The best reaction I could muster as a person I was in that moment. (With no external help.)
God or someone has set me up. I’ve suspected foul play 🙂 I’m joking. But the whole situation had such a feel to it as, “here’s a chance to learn something”. I’m grateful for it now.
When I find myself in the opposite role, I’ll remember to mind my own business. When there’ll be a chance to say something to someone, I’ll try to remember people don’t appreciate meddling.
I did talk to a few friends, who assured me I shouldn’t blame myself and that I’m still an ok person, not a horrible mother.
By now, I’m pretty well. But there’s a lot of work ahead of me. All those issues need addressing. Attention, overwhelm ahead!
You did it nicely, Anney. You didn’t need me.
Frankly, I thought I’d need all of you, Jack and Don, too. But we managed by ourselves. Quite a long session.
Okay, let’s wrap it up. Have you done your homework? The guilt depression list?
Let me see my notes… Low self-esteem or the fear of responsibility. Both themes are featured in both sessions. We’ll go in-depth after we finish the overview.
All right, I’ll take low self-esteem and expand it to a whole post.
*I’ve read the article and assume you have too, so I’ll skip the details how to apply each line.