Monday

Non-Violent Communication and Parenting

non-violent communication parenting
My daughter is two years old.  She has been violent in her communication since before she was born, when she would kick my stomach so hard that I would see the full imprint of her foot. My daughter had colic. She cried for four-six hours a day for as many months. I am conflict-avoidant, neurotic and submissive in my interpersonal style. My daughter totally stressed me out. She still does.

I have been arguing with one of my friends for a few months now about how I parent. He thinks that I need to be more stern and punitive with my daughter, who now screams and flails like an epileptic fish when I won't let her drink my wine or climb the monkey bars. But I know that the punitive style will not influence my daughter, which is why I have found a much more way to sway her: with love.

I breast-fed my daughter for a year and a half. This is on the longer side--most moms go six or nine months or a year. My intuition led me to breastfeed for this long. I knew that she would quit when she was ready to quit. I also read a lot of research to support findings that extended breastfeeding makes kids healthier, smarter, more immune, and better adjusted. I wasn't going to go until she was four or six like those moms on Dateline, but I thought I would give her up until two to quit on her own.

For a year and a half, my daughter stared up into my face while being nourished. And I found recently, during one of her recent tantrums, that she would not look me in the eyes when freaking out. Looking in my eyes reminded my daughter that she loved me. It broke her will to be mad, and made her feel embarrassed. It made her feel seen and reminded her that I love her too.

This does not always work for her. I sometimes have to literally drag her from the playground like a prison guard, which is hilarious, because I have the strength and size of your average geriatric cancer patient. My psychic will is about as strong. So I get things done  just like a grandmother: love, cookies, cuddles, love, and a little bit of sternness smudged in but not much.

My relationship with my daughter is an economic relationship. I have to make incredible amounts of deposits into this account in order to cash a check--and my personal influence is something that I have to earn like a paycheck. It is hard-won, and carefully spent. I know that she respects my viewpoint insofar as feels loved and respected as well. If I just go imposing my will on her without being careful, she will see me the way anyone sees anyone else who acts this way, like a stupid hater and idiot.

I know it sounds crazy to grant autonomy to a two-year-old, but I have seen this true with my nieces as well, so I think it might be the most effective way to have harmony and gentle authority with kids. The books I read  that taught me how to interact in this way are:

How to Win Friends and Influence People
The Power of Now
Nonviolent Communication
The Tao of Pooh
The Bible

When  I was a kid, my step-dad said things like "affirmative" and "negative." He disciplined me if I didn't leave vacuum lines on the carpet. He forced me to eat cheese toast made out of American cheese, which stuck to the tops of my teeth and gums like slime.

I don't think I liked him very much. I say this because I was sitting on the couch with him one day as he cleaned his guns, and pointed one of them at him, and pulled the trigger. I knew it wasn't loaded, but still. There was some serious hostility happening.

I also impulsively threw things at him sometimes.

I once got so scared of him that I dropped my pants and pissed on the floor.

I am not saying he was a horrible person at all, because he wasn't. He was kind and smart and capable, and danced with my mom in the kitchen and kissed her. He just didn't have any patience with kids. He didn't like me. I took this deeply personally, and to mean that I was a flawed and a bad person. I thought that everything he thought was wrong because I didn't like him.

So when I am hanging out with my nieces, especially the sensitive one who is like me, I am soft and listen and make a lot of eye contact. Unless I am in bad form that day, in which case, I lay on the couch and play with my iPhone. But when I am on, I am right there watching awful movies about families and their dogs and whatnot. Oh, it is work. Or worse than work. Yes, I think work is more natural than Beethoven 3.

I remember how I felt about adults when I was a kid: I worshiped them. People talk about how much we love our kids, and they forget how much kids love us back. It is easy to forget what loving like that feels like. When you think your mom thinks you're stupid, it is as wrenching and painful as when you grow up and think your lover or best friend or mom thinks you're stupid. It sucks. And I have never found that way of communicating--"do what I want and make yourself better or I will ruin your day with my criticism"--to work. That dynamic has actually crushed friendships and my marriage. Plus, I had a cat who wouldn't stop pooping all over the place I guess because I was irritated and ignored her. And it probably wouldn't even work with plants--flourish or I'll judge you, plant.

No, plants and kids and cats and adults need water, light, the right fertilizer, some singing while you feed them. They shake when you come near them even, which I read a few years ago in some botany/science study that gave me visions about plants screaming but making no sound and having no power while you killed them. I can sympathize with the Jain Buddhist idea of sweeping in front of you while you walk. (They are the Buddhists who don't believe in killing anything beyond the barest needs of survival. Philip Roth has a pretty scary portrayal of them as life-denying anorexic maniacs in American Pastoral, but I can see their side, too.)

Anyway, the eye contact thing. I started laying it on my daughter a few months ago and whoa, it stopped her tantrums cold. A firm and gentle and sustained look. I have also been able to dissipate most fights with adults with some form of this tactic. A look or a touch on the hand or a hug or an apology or a smile or an acquisition. I know what you are thinking, so I am a pushover, but for some reason I just have this view of conflict like it's something you don't have to fight through if you can dissolve it and make it go away. You know what works even more amazingly? An apology. A sincere, shit-eating apology, which is like depositing a whole tax return into your interpersonal bank account with that particular human.

I am rambling, and probably won't edit this much, and will also maybe be telling you in 13 years what it is like to bail your kid out of jail. But I don't want to give my kid anything to rebel against, is the thing. My mom didn't. She was stern and loving and quietly disapproving in a way that broke my heart and will immediately. So I will be stern and whatnot when she does something like try to punch me in the face or run into traffic, but with words like:

Don't hit mommy. That hurts.
Don't run into traffic! Cars can hurt you!

And she is scared of cars, and doesn't try to hit me anymore.

So that is my parenting advice according to non-violent communication. But coming from someone who has never kept a house plant alive, not even a cactus.

1 comment:

  1. a distant crackly thunderstorm of a story. nice

    ReplyDelete