Sufiana was mad at me. She was raging with anger; hot tears flowed down her cheeks. In between sobs, she was yelling her heart out, “badmaash (naughty) mamma…kyon badmaasha kara (why did you do such a bad thing). I was standing there sheepish and sorry for the hurt and resulting anger I’d (unwittingly) caused to her. I kneeled down at her height and sincerely and gently told her, “I’m sorry baby, I forgot that you don’t want me to wipe your body and wrap the towel around you. I thought you were feeling cold. Sorry Sufiana. I’ll remember this next time, okay?” I said the same thing, using different but simple words, a couple of times.
She’d let me know before in no uncertain terms that she would like to wipe herself dry after every bath and then wrap the towel around herself; that I should not do it at any cost. Basically, this less than 3 years old is an eager natural learner. She loves being in charge of her everyday chores (so much fun for her!) like brushing her teeth, bathing, applying coconut oil over her body, grooming her hair. But, that noon, when she ran out of the bathroom with her body dripping wet, the fan was blowing full speed outside and the cold breeze due to the monsoon rains added an element of cold that we aren’t used to here in Goa. I rushed to wrap a towel around her, without thinking how upset she gets when I or my hubby ever do that. To make matters worse for her, I laughed light-heartedly as if meaning, “yay, I caught you and beat you to it”. Now, that was hilariously stupid on my part, I sincerely feel. And, well, she wasn’t humoured one bit.
Hence, the angry expression over not being listened to, of not showing regard for what and how she wants, of undermining her opinion.
So, yes, I was sorry for her hurt. And that’s an understatement. It’s heart-wrenching for a mother to see pain in those sparkly, trusting eyes. I was feeling for her and was trying hard to hold the space for her – I wasn’t intervening in her cry, wasn’t stopping her from yelling.
Yet, I could not help but feel awe-struck by the immeasurable beauty in that scene….
That face of my little girl soaked in tears left me wondering. I could see her soul shine through those eyes. The intensity of her feelings held me speechless. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Yes, really, I felt it was a freedom of the highest quality for a child to express her anger and hurt with such profundity.
Those tears were not of crankiness. That heart-felt cry and yell was not a result of a tantrum. It was a full-blown expression deep from within her heart and soul because she’d felt unregarded and violated.
In my heart of hearts, I was commending her for this deep connection she’s been able to forge with her self:
“Yes, yes, this is it! This is it!
Way to go my baby.
Look at you, the uniquely unique you…
You’re feeling your feelings.
You’re being your own unique self.
You’re seeing your world with your own unique perspective.
You’re experiencing life.
You’re being you.
You’re being fully present to yourself.
And, that’s your biggest learning. Keep at it.
When her sobs had subsided and she regained some calm, I went closer and hugged her.
Once again, she told me with a tinge of angry warning, “mamma aur aisa nahin kara, okay?” (“Don’t do this again, okay?”). And, I hugged her tighter.
As parents, it’s ‘convenient’ for us to desire our children must always be well behaved and polite and agreeable. We all try to do the best that we can for our children. But, when they complain and whine even after our (so called!) best efforts, we are left clueless, irked and stressed.
“No complaining…no whining”
So, basically, the child is to comply at all times and in all ways. She must conform with our orders and instructions. She must meet our specified standards or stand disciplined.
Disciplining may include spanking, yelling, shaming, time-outs (removing all ‘privileges’ including love!). Though spanking is on the decline in the past few years, and yelling is looked down upon too. There’s another form of discipling that’s considered “progressive”. It’s called time-out or ‘grounding’. Time-out means removing all privileges (play, music, TV, family-time, intimacy) till the child complies. This is considered a ‘peaceful’ alternative to other forms of discipling that are physical (spanking) or verbal (yelling, shaming, blaming) in nature.
I’m at a loss imagining how love can be withheld from the child who’s in a state of turmoil? What purpose does it serve to isolate the child or deprive her of something she enjoys or loves or needs? If this is not an authoritarian approach, what is it? It can’t be I can’t agree that it’s progressive. It’s certainly not a kind approach.
What can be more damaging than not discipling but hugging a child after her angry tirades?
I say, shaming a child for the so-called ‘bad behaviour’ or manner is infinitely more damaging than hugging.
I say punishing her when all she needed was a patient (and compassionate) ‘listening’ has life-long implications.
I say, withdrawing love from a “misbehaving child” will lead to a broken heart full of fear, insecurity, anxiety, confusion, anger, resentment, and low self-esteem. Not to mention embarrassment and humiliation.
And, most of all, I say, trying to ‘fix’ the child before trying to ‘fix’ (understand) her situation from her unique place or perspective can hamper the relationship between the child and the parent.
Whatever may be the reason for her anger (and it’s for me the mother/parent to process and find out) the fact that she’s expressing herself fully is, in and of itself, a thing of beauty worth valuing.
The Onus is on me.
Hence, I want to keep reminding myself again and again and again – as a rational adult/parent, the onus is on me to empathize with and understand her emotions. She’s only a 3-years old or a 6-years old or even a 10-years old. She’s only beginning to shine her own light with her delicately emerging sense of worth and self-esteem. The negative emotions (if we want to name them ‘negative’) are as much a part of her wholeness as the positive ones. By shunning her anger or oddness or sadness, I’ll risk rejecting her wholeness too.
And hey mamma, beware, she sees her wholeness mirrored in your very eyes! So, how you see her is how she sees herself. Her image of self is formed in your ‘seeing’. Can you beat that! Can it get any more connected (and divine) than this!
I’ll leave you with this most beautiful paragraph on parenting that I’ve read in recent times.
As children, the good communicators must have been blessed with caregivers who knew how to love their charges without demading that every last thing about them be agreeable and perfect. Such parents would have been able to live with the idea that their offspring might sometimes — for a while, at least — be odd, violent, angry, mean, peculiar, or sad, and yet still deserve a place within the circle of familial love. The parents would thus have created an invaluable wellspring of courage from which those children would eventually be able to draw to sustain the confessions and direct conversations of adult life.
These lines are from an immensely insightful novel called ‘The Course of Love’ by Alain de Bottonan.
I was mesmerized when I read this thought and found myself nodding my head in resonance. The author emphasizes how when parents bestow the greatest gift on their child – the gift of unconditional love – that the child will navigate, with courage and conviction, the complex maze of human conversations and connections. The author says that this courage will stem forth depending on whether or not the parents have nurtured their child’s inner wholeness; whether or not they have accepted the child for who she/he truly is. The wholeness is not about your perfect self but about the unique you with your perfections and imperfections.
Couple of questions for you and me…
Imagine, how different your own inner and outer world would have been if, when you were a child, your parents (and may be your teachers and other adults in your care-taking circle) would have celebrated your early expressions of anger or frustration or sadness rather than asking you to “behave yourself” or silencing you into complying and conforming with them?
As an adult now, would you have seen your relationship with others and your own self differently if those adults back then had not made you feel bad about yourself for expressing yourself so…?