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).
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?