All the tantrums, all the defiance, the yelling, the fighting and even the destruction; but none of it to make my life miserable. To believe that would be self-centred and narrow-minded. Even so, when faced with these events, it can be difficult to see that the hardship I am faced with at that moment is a drop in the ocean compared with what is going on for her.
I am sure if I could remember back to my four year old self, I would remember the confusion, the frustration, the jealousy, the feeling that nobody understood, the lonely feelings and the sad ones. I think I would also remember that the hurts I felt were real and mine to feel. They were not for someone else to own and reciprocate nor were they fabricated to give my parents a hard time. They simply were what they were and all I would have wanted was for someone to get me, to see me and to understand me.
But I don't always remember this. I don't always get it when my daughter is screaming at me or her sister and sometimes I don't even really try. Sometimes it is easier to pass it off as tiredness or hunger or just simply her personality, rather than to truly see what is going on. It can be exasperating and if my mind is not strong, it can be easy to show annoyance and reflect my own hardships at having to deal with it, back at her
I am now beginning to realise that when I let myself become affected by her behaviour and begin to believe that my hard time is harder than her hard time, I am no longer being the respectful parent I am aiming to be. My reactions become intolerant and unempathetic. The effects of these reactions for my beautiful, sensitive girl are long lasting.
Lucy became upset recently after seeing her younger sister, Penny, receive a colourful new mattress protector to help with bed wetting. She didn't show her reaction directly upon seeing the liner, in fact she ogled over it and admired the beautiful design. Lucy is a long way off staying dry through the night so, still being in a nappy, she does not require such a liner for her bed. I could tell she wanted one, though.
About 2 minutes after seeing the liner, Lucy's behaviour became erratic and unpredictable. She swiped a car her sister was offering her out of her hand and shouted that she did NOT want to play with her.
Now, if I was not parenting objectively here, not seeing the bigger picture and not seeking to understand the hard time my daughter was having, it could have been easy to run to the defense of Penny, and to see the aggressive acts from Lucy simply as poor behaviour. Her hard time could have become lost in translation as I sought to discipline her and teach her that Penny was trying to be kind so it was not nice to treat her that way.
Instead, I sat with her as she was curled up screaming under her sister's bed. She yelled for me to go away. I told her that I would go away if that's what she wanted but that I still loved her no matter what.
My daughter is not giving me a hard time, she is having a hard time!
I paused before I left and said: "You know, whatever is making you feel sad is okay. It's okay to feel what you are feeling."
She cried louder as she blurted out "Daddy said I was naughty!"
As it turned out, Daddy had not said this to her, we have never used naughty to describe our children's behaviour. But it made me realise that this is probably how she perceived herself at that moment. She knows what the word means and in her own mind she had convinced herself that this was how we viewed her.
Every time we react to her behaviour with exasperation as though she is giving us a hard time, we are sending her the message that we think she is naughty or there is something wrong with her, without needing to use those words. Every raised voice, loud sigh, stern word or cold shoulder is absorbed and swallowed by our little girl to be carried around with her throughout her days.
I admitted to her, "You know, Daddy and I both sometimes say and do things we don't mean when we are angry. I wish we didn't. We know you are not naughty. Nobody is naughty in our house. We always have to remember that we are all just still learning."
She then blurted out: "You said you didn't want to be my best friend (a phrase she herself frequently uses when things are not working out the way she is expecting it to)!" I was confused at first but she clarified: "When we went to Stradbroke Island, you told me I was not your best friend. I cried and went to my room and then you came in and told me you shouldn't have said that!"
A vague memory stirred. The Stradbroke Island trip was over 8 months earlier and I seemed to remember having a stressful, emotion charge moment with Lucy where she was hitting at me, trying to bite me and shouting that I would never ever be her best friend.
In a moment of parenting thoughtlessness I had told her that that was okay. That I didn't want to be her best friend.
In hindsight, it was an awful and immature thing to say to a child having a hard time and needing love and acceptance. I had believed in that moment that I was being given a hard time. That my hard time was more important than hers and my reactions came accordingly. Now, here she was, 8 months later, still holding onto that pain she had felt back then.
I am grateful, though. I am grateful that she has finally been able to verbalise these feelings. She has let us in on a little part of what is happening inside her, each time she snaps seemingly out of the blue.
She carries with her so many emotions. Her outbursts seem out of the blue because despite outward appearances she is is actually self regulating her emotions most of the day. The feelings are always there, simmering, but she covers them up through cleverly masked disguises.
I often say to people she seems to go from 0 to 100 in 0.5 seconds flat. But what I am now realising is that she more likely sits on 95 for much of her day, covering this up very well and then reaches 100, very quickly, screaming vehemently like a leashed tiger being tortured, when she can no longer hold it in.
As Lucy sobbed into my arms that day, I was able to deeply apologise and reassure her that my love for her was strong. I told her of all the qualities I loved about her. Her generosity, her kindness, her strength, her determination, her adventurousness, her ideas, her assertiveness, her helpfulness, her loving spirit, her zest for life, her confidence and bravery. I genuinely admire these things in her but I don't get to tell her enough.
I also spoke about her ill feelings towards Penny. This is a HUGE part of her hard time: "You wish Penny wasn't here sometimes. Sometimes you wish it was just you."
She cried out "Yeeeeeeeeeesssssss!" as if i had finally got it.
I told her I get it. I told her I understood and it was normal to feel that way. I empathised that I had felt that way about my younger sister when I was little. I told her I couldn't make Penny go away and that I loved her too but I reminded her that I was there for her and would always help her whenever she needed it. I also pointed out that my sister and I eventually had lots of fun together and are now best friends.
Her arms were wrapped around me but she clawed her fingers deeper around my back, trying to squeeze a little harder, not wanting to let go. I didn't make her.
At those times, when my daughter is playing up, acting out or expressing emotion, I have to stop seeing these behaviours as personal threats against me and my sanity.
I must remember:
She is not seeking to derail me.
She does not want me to fall to bits on her.
She does not want me to see her as naughty.
She can't cope if I can't cope with her.
It is not always about food or sleep.
She is trying to tell me something; something important.
Her hard time is harder than my hard time.
It's a lot to remember but I am committed and know I can do it! (For a free copy of this text click here: I Must Remember Printable)
My Daughter is not giving me a hard time she is having a hard time!
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