Time Out Does Not Mean Go Away

Attachment parenting  has important things to say. Dr. Spock was the guru of his day. Spare the rod and spoil the child was a guiding principle in its time. The wise women of the tribal villages  have a wellspring of knowledge to share about mothering.

We have been guided by the words around us in the way we raise up our children because we need to be. We have this precious cargo that we are supposed to carry to a very far off time and place, getting it there in one piece, in a transformed way from the one in which it was entrusted to us. And we don’t really have the first idea how to do that. The journey is perilous. There are so many pitfalls along the way. Think Lord of the Rings here folks. You’re the Hobbit and the kid is the ring. It’s a nightmare really, punctuated by moments of pure and uplifting joy. This is your epic journey. Your magnum opus. You do not want to eff it up.

I have nearly delivered my rings. One, technically, has been delivered since she is an adult and lives away from me most of the time. The second is but mere months from his drop into the molten fires of adulthood, where my quest to raise him well will have mostly ended. They both love me. Not just the obligatory and primal mother-child love that often stands even when the  journey together has been fraught with tension and disappointments, but the easy kind of love that is filled with like. If their weekly total of text, email, and phone or chat conversations is any indication, I rocked this gig.

And I timed them out. Fairly often, in fact. (And they slept in cribs down the hall but don’t hate me).

photo credit: terrific mentors.com

I’m jangled by the current popular position that timing a child out for a misbehaviour is a rejection of the child himself and a failure of emotional engagement and connection. Perhaps it’s what the term conjures for some: a furious, enraged parent who yells with exasperation to get out of her sight, “go, just go!” and the child scurries off to their room for some indefinite period of time with no resolution of the problem at hand.

In our home, and as it should be, timeout was not angry. Well, I might have been angry but I was being a grown up unless I was taking one myself. It was agreed upon, in the sense that there was no surprise. The behaviour that would result in timeout was made clear. For example, if you hit, you will sit out. Sometimes children  do not yet have the developmental ability to reason abstractly, to consider all possible options before acting, to have insight, or to self-regulate with intention. Hence, if the child hit and that was the agreed upon rule, he was calmly and firmly told that he’d hit and told to sit. It was not arbitrary, with me summarily dispensing timeouts for every mild annoyance throughout the day. We used it judiciously and predictably. It taught cause and effect. Our timeout spot was on the bottom step of the landing – an out-of-the-way place but still within the main level of the house where supervision was possible. Bedrooms were never used for timeout.  Timeout lasted no longer than a few minutes, and then until calm.  And nobody talked to them while they were in timeout. It was  time…out. Out of the flow of the house. Out of the exciting things that happened during time in.  No reprimands, lectures, rants, deals –  just silence. Oh, it could get long and it sometimes did. There were tears, and screaming, and stomping, threats to never come out. There were some unhappy scenes. But we could handle unpleasant feelings, and wait calmly until the anger was processed and calm restored. We could stand firm and sure until  it was done  and then it was over, and that child was welcomed back. To the joys and engagement and praise and cuddles and laughter and love that was time in.

Lots of life is certainly about negotiation, compromise, mutual understanding, acceptance, empathy, and belonging. But there are some rules that are non-negotiable and some consequences just need to be accepted. In the real world, as adults, there is some behaviour that results in you being put in “timeout”  from other people, and even from the community at large. That’s truth. I guess I wanted my kids to learn that, just like I wanted them to learn to navigate so many of the other truths they would find when I dropped them into the fires of adulthood, praying that I had been steadfast and true in my journey to deliver them whole and ready.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the words around you telling you what harm will come to your child from the parenting choices you might make?


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What Would I Think About It?

The helmet made you look like an expert, geared up for your Tour de Neighbourhood. Your happy/anxious chatter filled my ears as we headed out to face the day’s challenge and adventure. Determined, lips pursed in concentration, we began my marathon training…I mean, your two-wheel bike riding trials. Gain speed, pedal those little legs, balance, DO NOT shoulder check – I am right here, steer. And again. Over and over we worked it together and, incrementally, I would loosen my grip and tighten at the first sign of wobble. Loosen, wobble, grip, return to safety.

So today when you started your request with “What would you think about… ”  I wanted to go back there. Back to when I could keep you safe just by tightening my grip. But you had to be so mature, opening a discussion, willing to perspective take…who taught you that anyway?? It was easier when you asked for cotton candy before supper. No. That was all. Just no. Now I have to be all grown up and consider this calmly.

No Cotton Candy, for realz?

You want to know if you can drive to K-Town with three friends from here, to visit your pals who are at university there. Sounds straightforward.

Let’s see? You could die. Repeat first point. You could make a driving error that results in injury or death to your friends, which would be terrible for them and terrible for you. And terrible for me, because this calm consideration does involve me having all manner of horrible and extreme possible disasters befall you, beyond the obvious. But the realities are sobering enough. If When you get there, you will be on a campus with thousands of other raucous young people on the weekend before Halloween. I don’t expect you will encounter much studying. Bahaha. It will be mad partying. You could die. Repeat first point…

Ok, ok. Alright. I will follow the rules of reason. But I don’t like it, just saying. You’re a very good driver. You’ve acknowledged the risks one by one, and the responsibilities. Any driver could die on a four hundred series highway. The friends you’ve chosen are reasonable. Your sister is there. You party here and manage the risks, so you know those regardless of place. You could die here.  (sheesh, there is a lot of dying possibility even on the reasons to say yes list) You’ve just finished your first college mid-terms with impressive marks and you miss your buddies. It’s not winter yet. Your sister was on the other side of the world at your age. Bazinga. You also deserve the dignity of risk.

But 4oo series highways move fast. And look at what happened to your face when you crashed your  bike all those times, I mean that one time that was a complete fluke? I have a fleeting image of myself running beside the car repeating the “loosen, wobble, grip” approach. That I would even think of that is alarming, if amusing. Holy ambivalence Batman! I want to say yes, but the risks are real.


Then I get the clearest picture in my mind. I’m running beside your small bicycle, having waited for just the right moment. I’ve let go, and you’ve noticed. Your face lights with pleasure and absolute joy. “I’m doing it Mom! By myself. I’m doing it”!  Yes you are, my love. You really are.  That was only the first of many  “seats” we let go so you could go ahead by yourself. And you are really doing it beautifully. By yourself. With us watching and cheering you on, and praying that we did enough trials together that you can return yourself to safety if things get wobbly.

He’s on his way…

PS. Now DO remember to shoulder check. I’m not right there this time.

So, friends, what would YOU think about it?


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Words Hurt, but Words Heal

The whole “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” thing is the biggest load of dung ever propagated in the form of advice for self-protection. In fact, sometimes I think the sticks and stones would do less damage because their impact would be clearer, and obvious to everyone. If you beat me with a stick, even I would know that you were bad for me. And everyone around would stand up and protect me from you. But words? They are sly little buggers. Whispered, muttered, twisted sarcastically, withheld, gossiped with others, and confused within messages that seem nice.

photo courtesy of reformer802.com


In marriage, words can really hurt. In any relationship really. Between people in general. Words have the power to seriously harm. All this talk about bullying had me really thinking about something – we are very ready to take up the cause of strangers who have been mistreated and subjected to humiliation or intimidation, made to feel insecure and rejected. But what about at home? What about with the person we are supposed to love the most? What about the one to whom we have committed ourselves as a partner? How do we use our words there?

Do you whisper harsh criticisms about your partner to your children, or to other family members? Or mutter them to yourself in a passive-aggressive way? Do you angrily throw them, justified because you are right, while you are engaged in conflict or “having a fight?” Do you gossip about your partner’s failings rather than discussing them directly? Do you say nice things when your underlying message is one of hostility and anger, barely suppressed rage? Perhaps most important of all, do you withhold words that build up, that encourage, that appreciate, that acknowledge, that pay respect, that are polite?

Because you see, words heal. They are powerful things, and we have the privilege of controlling how we use them. Here is a case in point:

“…- my better half, my best friend. She possesses a depth of compassion and caring that, at times, leave me in awe. ”

This is a message from my husband, publicly stated, on Twitter. This from a man that has received all of about…nothing…from me this past week. I’ve not been feeling well, work has been busy, our son was ill, my mom was needing medical attention, and I had a funeral tribute to write and offer. I was tired, sad, and not emotionally available to him very much at all. But these words? They filled me with strength, they imbued me with his love and support, they grounded me. Words heal.

photo courtesy tonyhaynespoetry.com

Perhaps part of the solution to the bullying problem is to look closer to home. Do you say please and thank you, good morning, hello, excuse me, and you’re welcome to the people that you live with every day? Do you look at them when you’re talking together? Are you really listening? And do you say it? “I. Like. You.” “You. Belong. Here.” Do you keep each other safe emotionally?

Check in. Don’t assume. Speak it into being. Words heal.

What have your words done today right in your home?




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