How to really love a child

I’ve been slowly making my way through “discipline without distress” by Judy Arnall, and it is such an eye opener. The main motivating factor is that I really don’t want to parent my child the way I was parented. I have an idea of the kind of relationship I want to have with Roz when she is a teenager, and I know that I definitely will not get there by emulating the way I was parented.
So I felt I needed to do some learning. 
Now, I’m not saying my parents were awful parents.  I certainly didn’t wear rags, go hungry for days on end or not get educated, but I feel there are better ways to parent than my parents’ generation. 
From speaking to people in my age bracket and older, and sometimes slightly younger, the way my parents raised us was not dissimilar from other people. I would struggle t find someone my age and older who’s parents didn’t smack them, hit them with a stick when naughtier, pull ears, etc. 
Corporal punishment in Zambian schools was only abolished last year, so not only could your parents beat the crap out of you for “misbehaving” but teachers also felt they had the same right to discipline other people’s children for whatever they felt was“misbehaviour”. If you grew up in this environment going back generations (I know my mum often says my Banene was very harsh and used to really whip them with sticks when they were naughty, and my Banene says the same of her own mother), the only way I can hope to break the cycle is to learn a better way. And if those around me cannot teach it, I have to read up and learn it by myself.   
In the last month Roz’s vocabulary and comprehension has increased exponentially! I’m constantly bursting with pride and amazed and how much she can understand and communicate. I can see that she also loves the fact that she can finally communicate with us and that she can make decisions herself, and we will uphold them. Her proudest moments are when she wants to nurse and can choose which side. She’ll point at a breast and say,
“Wan dish!” 
In a very bossy tone and then give a smug and very satisfied smile when I oblige. Very sweet to see.
Anyhoo, in the book, Judy Arnall says to visualise the kind of relationship I want to have with Roz when she’s a teenager, and what qualities I want her to have that she already exhibits. I am to write this down, and then work every day to get there. You cannot yell at your child, hit them not talk to then, berate them, humiliate them, not nurture them emotionally, and then expect to be best buds when they are teenagers. I understand this in theory, but have to start the practice now while she’s still little.  I have to learn to apologise when I am wrong, to be her cheerleader when she needs cheering, to say why I am annoyed or angry at something she did, and to show her it isn’t her I’m angry at but what is being done. I want her never ever to doubt for a moment that she is loved, that she can be honest and that I can be there. I know it’s a lot to wish, but if you can’t aim for the sky with your child, what’s the point in trying at all?
So I got to practice a bit, and this is an anecdote that I never told my sister, and I hope will let her know she is doing such a super job with her son.
When we were in Zambia, we had just arrived at my aunt’s home for a very late lunch. We were all hungry and tired after being stuck in a car for close to six hours on the drive back from Livingstone to Lusaka. I was over in the kitchen having a nose around the place and arrived in the veranda to find Krys with Roz and M. Roz had taken a few potatoes out of the kitchen and was playing with them, but as I arrived in the veranda M. Threw one at her. He threw it pretty had and it was sheer luck that it missed her head and instead thwacked me right in the shin! I was ready to cry, it was so sore. And without thinking I said, very angry,
“M, what the hell are you doing? That could have really hurt Roz!”
And of course, being only a little boy, his face fell, his shoulders slumped and he dragged himself, really unhappy and close to tears, out of the room saying,
“but we were only playing”.
Krys came over to me and, giving me a cuddle as I rubbed at my shin and blinked back tears, said,
“Muuka, that was really harsh. Roz and M were playing really well up to then. He was patient and was picking up the potatoes and brining them to her, rolling them and making her laugh. I think you owe him an apology.”
(I mean honestly, where would I be without this man?!)
So then I felt awful! I was only really angry that he had hit me with the potato. That’s what I should have said. You can’t deal with ifs and maybes. The facts were he didn’t hurt Roz, and he did hit me, and not intentionally at that, because he’s not a bad child. And when you assume a child is bad, you already have a bias and everything they do will be bad or have ulterior motives. I’ve known my nephew all his life and I know he’s a good kid. So yes, when I thought about it rationally, I felt awful. 
When we got back to my sister’s house a few hours later, there was a small window of opportunity when we happened to be the only ones in the living room. He was sitting on the floor colouring and I went and sat beside him and said,
“M, I’m really sorry about the way I reacted earlier when I thought you were going to hit Roz with a potato. Krys told me you had been really good and playing with her and I shouldn’t have lost my temper with you. I’m really sorry”.
(and yes, I do speak to my nephew like an adult)
And you know what he said? Without pausing in his colouring or even to look up he said,
“yeah, but aunt Muuka, I shouldn’t have thrown the potatoes at her, she’s only little and I could have hurt her. I’m really sorry too.”
And I said,
“So. Friends again?”
And he said,
Then, and only then, did he turn, give me a beaming smile and a big hug.
Gosh, I’m getting tears in my eyes writing this.
I don’t think, nor do I ever want to forget that moment. I was proud of myself, I was proud of M, and I realized that it’s possible to break the cycle.
Yes, I’ll inevitably make mistakes on the way, but I also know that I can learn the skills to overcome them and that only practice will make it second nature.
I’d like to end this sermon erm, post, with a little picture I stole off a friend’s wall on facebook. Krys and I have made a pact to look at this often, and to always remember this one line:
“Remember how really small they are”
And they will be small for a very short time. Enjoy it, make the most of it, and learn your skills now so that when you really need them, they will be there for you to fall back on without thinking.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Muuka, I really love your writing and can identify with your idea of “breaking the cycle” completely. That’s what I’m doing with my two children, and it’s at once difficult and brilliant. In my house growing up the parents were always right, there were no apologies EVER and I was very afraid of my parents. I too am the first born, high-achiever and approval-seeker. I’m breaking this cycle with my sons, and I really see it’s effects daily, there is so much respect and love in our house, and we are never afraid to apologise if we hurt each other. I’m going to continue reading back through your blog, as I love your honest, humourous style. Keep blogging!

    • Muuka says:

      thank you! It is very difficult isn’t it? especially when stressed as I find I want to fall back on what I know…which I know is wrong.

      I am glad that it is working albeit slowly, for you too. 🙂

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