In those early days the buttons were pretty basic. I was too tired. I was too lonely. I was overwhelmed. I felt sad. So when Sprout did the usual toddler things, like expressing himself loudly
There are times I felt frightened. Scared I couldn't reign myself in, scared I couldn't love them enough. Scared I might actually hurt one of them because the end of my rope was already in my hands (and sometimes slipping away). I was brought up in a generation where spanking was acceptable and normal, but it felt wrong in the pit of my stomach when my instincts told me that all I had left in my parenting arsenal was to smack one of my children.
'Parenting arsenal' is a telling label all of it's own. Sometimes it felt like being at war with myself, or my family, just to keep on top of everything. To avoid smacking, I used a playpen to enforce toddler time outs, in not-quite Super-Nanny style. Or to separate the boys when I just had to walk away for 5 minutes. To say that I was unhappy about the resources I had as a parent is an understatement.
Here I am three years later, and I can honestly tell you it IS wonderful. But it has been a journey, not a event. I've had to learn, practice, make mistakes, get comfortable with apologising to the boys when my reactions haven't been very gentle or considered! I accept that part of my role-modelling is going to be showing how to repair damage when you aren't perfect. Because none of us are. I'm not, and the boys won't be either as they grow up. Becoming humble has been the first and most impactful lesson in becoming a peaceful parent.
I have a set of resources as a parent now that have transformed my thinking from 'arsenal' to 'toolkit'. My fear and flashpoints have been replaced with a depth of patience I didn't know I could cultivate. Above all, I am able to step back so that I respond to my children, rather than react.
This hasn't come about because I've learned new techniques to discipline them effectively. This has come about because I've learned how to nurture and parent myself effectively first, so that I can model behaviour for my boys that I would like them to learn. Behaviour like slowing down, breathing, having perspective, accepting emotions as they arrive, not only as I want them to be. Being kind. Being graceful. Being gentle.
I don't always get there in time. This weekend, Sprout (now 5, and such a big boy in some ways, but so little in others) had a BIG feeling. I was trying to give Bean (3) five minutes of Special Time before they left to stay with their father for two whole weeks. They've never left home for more than 5-6 nights before, and that's only happened three times in their lives. It's a big deal. Sprout became very aggressive, trying to get in there to 'take' Bean's time. I calmly stated the limit, and asked him to wait for his turn.
In the time it took to be with Bean, Sprout tore his room to pieces. He was SO mad. And when I went in to see him, he was wild with fear. Books, bedsheets and clothes were everywhere. He was waiting for me to yell back at him - I didn't. I sat in front of him and counted down his breathing, 10 - 1. As we both drew big breaths I checked in with myself, using the countdown to ground myself. To not be triggered. To become present for my frightened little boy.
To step away from what the mess triggered in me, and locate what the mess was that was raging inside my son.
He stopped yelling. Tears began to flow. 'I don't want to leave you for two weeks Mummy. I'm scared'.
In the space between the trigger and the reaction, just 10 breaths gave both Sprout and I a chance to de-escalate our emotions so we could cuddle, I could reassure him, and we could problem solve together. We agreed to Skype, to call, and if necessary, for me to pop over for a mid-holiday visit. My toolkit gave him the tools he needed to feel in control again. This is what Peaceful Parenting means to my family. We aren't perfect, we have our moments of chaos and high emotion. But despite moments that hit all of my buttons, I've managed to locate my own off-switch.
Since I found my own, I've got a LOT better at locating my children's when they need me to.
If you're following this Peaceful Parenting series and wondering how to end the war in your home, try starting small. Write this on your hands if you need to have a physical reminder for now - I've done that many a time in the early days!
Breathe out your own feelings.
Count down from 10.
Focus on your child.
Tell them you love them.
Breathe some more. And hug some more. There is nothing that can't be cleaned up, sorted out, put right and dealt with, when you both feel loved. It's way harder to clean up, sort out, put right or deal with the terrible feeling of being unloved.