I subscribe to a "gentle parenting" style when it comes to child-rearing. It took a journey to come to that point...one that I'll have to go further into in future posts. But for now I'll just say that I've found a parenting philosophy that speaks strongly to my heart and makes sense to my spirit, as a mother and as a follower of Christ. I respectfully, yet wholeheartedly, disagree with the more mainstream Christian parenting resources that encourage strict schedules for infants, physical punishments for toddlers, and the need to keep a child in it's "place", so to speak. It's not to say that those who advocate and/or follow those methods are "wrong". It just didn't feel right to me, particularly not when looking at the Father heart of God as an example of how a parent might relate to their children.
But that's not to say that my husband and I don't set boundaries for our daughter. It's a common misconception - go "soft" on the discipline and your children will run amok. It's important to us that our kids grow up learning to be respectful to others, that they know how to deal with disappointment, and that they listen and obey. Our main focus is consistency. If we say we're going to do something, we're determined to do it. Whether it be remembering to read that book that we promised we'd read in "just a minute", or following through on a consequence for an inappropriate action. Of course, we've failed countless times. That comes with the territory. But our intentions are to maintain consistency in an appropriate way. This value is tested every day. And with every such instance I learn something, if I open my eyes and my heart to what the lesson is.
Last night at bedtime, major toddler meltdown ensued. We had arrived home later than usual, so the routine had been delayed a bit - not a good situation for my little creature of habit. We got her teeth brushed, stories read, and prayers said, all the while listening to that droning, sleepy whine. By the time she and I headed back for some pre-bed cuddle time in her room, we had reached the unreasonable stage. I sang her a song, which she wanted to hear again...and again. Recognizing the attempts at stalling, I told her I would sing that song once more before it was time to go in her crib. When she was all snuggled down in the crib with her blanket, she asked again. I reminded her that the "once more" was all done, but offered to sing her usual lullaby, prefacing it with a reminder that I would be singing it one time, and then it was time to sleep. As I expected, when the lullaby was done she asked me to repeat it. I told her it was time to sleep, tucked her in, gave her a kiss and told her "night night". She was crying as I walked out the door. I wouldn't have left her crying while she was a baby, but as a sleepy toddler on a manipulation mission, I feel ok about letting her fuss a bit.
Within two minutes, the cries turned to tired, half-hearted protests, and then she sighed and was quiet. My heart ached a bit, knowing that I had done the right thing by staying consistent, but also fighting the twinges of sadness that I always feel when I have to be tough.
About five minutes passed, and then through the quiet monitor sitting beside the couch, I heard a little voice, whiny tone completely gone, clear-as-a-bell...
"I not sad anymore. I no cry. I happy now. Ok. Mama? I see you?"
Contemporary wisdom would recommend that I stay put. I had done the "right" thing. She would be asleep within minutes anyway. I knew this. But you know what? At that moment, a flock of child psychologists followed by a herd of wildebeests couldn't have kept me from going back into that room. I slipped through the door, adjusted her blanket, and rubbed her back. And then I started to sing her favorite lullaby. As I did, she joined me, in a voice half-asleep, fully satisfied. When I was done, she didn't ask again. Somehow, I knew she wouldn't. This was something different. There was a different tone between us now. I was no longer fighting to keep the upper hand, and she was no longer fighting to try and take it. There was just peace. As I walked back towards the door, she whispered, "Thank you, Mama. Night-night."
Goodness knows I've been swayed by that little girl's manipulation techniques many times, with frustrating outcomes. There will be many such times to come, I'm sure. But last night, my decision to "give in" was one that I wouldn't have traded for anything. I broke the rules, sure. But I had a priceless moment with my daughter. And I learned a little lesson about pride, and about grace.