When my son was born it was the fulfillment of a long-held dream for me. I was so grateful to finally become a Mom that I wanted to be with him every moment of the day and night. I was the typical attachment parent. Nursing- on-demand, bed-sharing, baby-wearing. My life was all about baby, I only saw friends who also had babies, I only frequented child-friendly places. My life was one big play-date, designed solely for the benefit of my son. I took a gazillion photos and videos of my precious boy.
I ate, drank and slept motherhood.
And then when he turned two, I started feeling I wanted to be more than a Mom and housewife, I wanted to start a new business venture. My son started playschool in the mornings and I started this blog and then another, Inspiring Mompreneurs. I started detaching a bit.
Over time, my blogs gained momentum and I found myself excited by the challenge of creating something new, carving out a new place for myself in the world. I started interviewing Moms who had amazing stories. I became enthralled with the idea of inspiring other Moms. I was on fire. Stimulated. Challenged. I was on a steep learning curve.
Until eventually it became all consuming.
By the time my son was three and half, I was working day and night, not only when my son was at school, not only when my son was asleep, but all the time. Suddenly I was on a digital marketing treadmill, writing, creating images, publishing and sharing posts on social media around the clock.
I went from being an attachment parent to a distracted parent.
And both my husband and son were suffering. My husband was able to voice his concerns, but I was not able to hear him. He repeatedly told me that I was on the phone too much and not giving my son enough attention. I was too inspired and excited by my new focus to hear the truth.
My son was also telling me in more subtle ways. By becoming “naughtier” – doing crazy things like smearing all my night cream over the TV and mirror and then washing the whole tub in the basin (bye-bye night cream). Just last week, he opened up a packet of my precious herbal tea and shook out all the contents of the tea bag over the back seat of my car (after I had waited 5 weeks for the tea to arrive from the USA). Aargh!!
I couldn’t understand his behaviour. Until today.
At 4am this morning I watched my first video at The Mom Conference. I chose Abigail Wald’s video, “5 Actionable Tools that will Dramatically Better Your Experience as a Parent”. If you’re also feeling challenged by this parenting gig but you can’t seem to find answers, I strongly recommend you watch this video. Here’s a link to the Mom Conference.
The video was about Hand in Hand Parenting. I hadn’t heard of Hand in Hand Parenting before and it changed EVERYTHING I ever thought was true about parenting. It also changed EVERYTHING about my morning with my son.
This is what I learnt from Abigail today.
Children are inherently good.
Young children are still learning to feel safe.
When young children don’t feel safe, they may act out and misbehave.
Abigail went into the neuroscience behind this which was fascinating. All about being in the limbic brain which triggers fight or flight mode and switches off the pre-frontal cortex of the brain – the area which would usually help us make good decisions and do the right thing.
And then she went on to explain that…
Our traditional way of handling “naughty behaviour” is coercive. We feel we need to correct or control our child’s erroneous behaviour as quickly as possible.
We generally use a system of punishment and reward. This often results in a power struggle laced with threats, frustration, mounting anger and impending doom.
Once we understand that our children need to feel safe in this moment, everything changes.
Our job becomes not correction, not control, but love and attention.
Abigail offered some tools of Hand in Hand in Parenting. The first tool was:
Special Time with Your Child
The moment you see a behaviour that’s amiss you offer your child some of your undivided attention.
You set a timer for as long as you can manage and offer to play with your child for that length of time, uninterrupted and undistracted. You are all theirs for that time, enjoying child-led play.
This may seem counter-intuitive, as if you’re rewarding their bad behaviour but here’s the Science: Connection and Love puts your child back in the pre-frontal cortex instead of the limbic system, making them receptive and more in touch with their “good side” once again. Their desire to misbehave dissipates as they come back into their “right mind” so to speak.
I had a good cry after the talk thinking about all the times I’ve used force and threats instead of love recently. And all the precious moments I’ve missed by being distracted and focused on my work instead of my family. And suddenly I could see all the ways my son had been reaching out to me for my presence, my comfort, my safety. And I cried some more.
He weaned naturally a couple of months ago, and though it was gradual and gentle, I realise now that we both miss nursing. That was our special time, our alone time together, and it’s gone. And at the same time, I’ve been gone.
My son has been pretending to be back in my tummy lately and asking for skin-to-skin contact. I’ve allowed it for brief periods but there’s always been something pressing I needed to get to.
So I tried it with my son this morning – Special Time – not because he did anything “wrong” this morning but because I realised I’ve been doing it wrong for a while. I wasn’t seeing, I wasn’t hearing… I wasn’t conscious of my son’s needs and desires. And he’s been feeling unsafe with me for a while because I haven’t been there. I haven’t been present.
So this morning, instead of plonking him in front of the TV when he woke up so that I could get his breakfast, I gave him my time. We played and played and played… and it was wonderful! It felt amazing. We connected. I didn’t look at my phone once. And, amazingly, I didn’t miss it at all.
And now, when I fetch him from school, I’ll do the same. It’ll be OUR time together. So that I can build up his confidence and trust in me again. And I’ll do this until I can see he feels safe again.
Aah.. thank you Abigail Wald. This morning was a revelation for me.
If you missed Abigail’s talk, you can get an all-access pass to the Mom Conference here.
PS: Well… that was the plan and our afternoon started out that way. We went off for a nice walk to the park but I found myself becoming distracted again. I found myself wanting to add images to this post and start sharing on social media. And so I didn’t resist when my son asked me to put on a movie for him. I got my work finished. After promising myself I’d give my son the entire afternoon. Ho hum.
Now I understand why Abigail Wald said Hand in Hand Parenting worked better for her than any other method she had tried. Because Hand in Hand also supports parents through this transition. It’s not only about what you need to do for your children, but also a place for the parent to be really heard and assisted.
It’s clear that I’m creating new neural pathways for myself right now as well, learning new tools and it’s going to take me a while for me to master hand in hand parenting. So… about that support… 🙂 For now, I’ve reached out to the only Hand in Hand Certified Instructor in South Africa, Liesl Orr.