I was at the store recently, doing groceries at the end of a long day. Our dog had died the day before and the kids had come down with a cold. I was feeling sad, grief struck, tired and really all I wanted to do was buy some food, get home and let the kids get back to feeling whatever they needed to be feeling about loosing our beloved family dog. Anyways, at the cashier, as I searched for my wallet which had disappeared under a pile of little horses, playmobil dudes, tear filled tissues and snacks, a voice thundered into my ear “Control your child WOMAN!”
I looked up, behind me was an elderly man with a frown strong enough to break a wall and ahead of me I saw my curly headed, smiling five year old stepping up and down a bit frantically from the shopping cart, wiggling. Wiggling a lot! Then it hit me…My son was doing the “I gotta go!” dance. Ever seen that one? The wiggle, jiggle, stand still for 2 seconds and start over again dance. Sometimes a soft hum goes along with it and when you see your kid shiver you realize that finding a toilet is the only thing you should be doing?
Whatever, take a hike, mind your own beeswax is all I really want to say…because the day had been tough enough. But I didn’t say anything.
Wallet found, I give my store card and credit card to the cashier.
Oh but the elderly man said it again, “control your child. don’t you see what he is doing? what kind of manners are you teaching your kids…blah, blah, frown, frown…”
My mind was racing I have to DO something to my kid! but then my mind switched gears. I took a deep breath and gently reached for my little dancing kiddo. I got down so we were smiling right at each other: “Hey sweetie, I just need to finish paying and load up the groceries in the cart, give me a minute and we’ll run to the bathroom!”
“How did you know I have to go?” He whispered with an adorable smile and I knew he was so glad I understood.
“Uhm…I guess I just could tell. So can you hold it for one more minute?” I asked.
“I know!” He says, “let me start bagging these groceries for us so it goes waaaaay faster!”
“I’ll help too mom!” Said my soon to be seven year old. “Me also!” Said my two year old.
Back to the cashier I took my card back and got the receipt.
I caught a glimpse of the elderly man now looking at my kids as they bagged the groceries, quickly but working together to make things fit.
Then the man said to me “How did you do that? I didn’t hear you say one mean thing. Now your children are just working like that? What’s your secret?”
“I just figured out what he needed sir. He wasn’t meaning to do anything wrong.”
“I’m…I’m…uhmm” he stammered. “I’m sincerely impressed.”
“Have a great day.” I said as we all dashed away, my seven year old cheering on his brother “you can make it, hold on…we are almost there!”
Later in the car I was remembering something I had read a few years before. It was a blog post from a mom talking about how when we choose non-punitive parenting we give up the notion we can control our children. She also wrote that when we parent without the intent to control, we open the door to public admonishments from total strangers that just don’t get what we are trying to do, or we eventually just give into the public pressure to be a “good, stern parent” and fall back into controlling ways. I think she was right in a way, it’s true, sometimes I think I have to “DO” something so other people will see I am “parenting” because sometimes people do make comments and it makes me pause.
But in reality, I have no belief that I can control my children. I don’t even want to. I want them to learn to make their choices and decisions – within a safe set of boundaries of course. I want to accept what is developmentally appropriate for my children’s ages and adjust my expectations so all of us can work together. I choose to look for ways we can cooperate. At the supermarket that day, I didn’t need to control my son, I needed to understand what he needed and he was able to find his own solution: helping out so things went faster!
By choosing non-punitive or positive parenting ways I did give up control (or the illusion of control really) but I gained this incredible sense of family harmony, of connection, of so much joy. No we don’t always get it right, and it’s not always smooth sailing, but none of us are afraid to say sorry, take a huge breath, start over or try again. The best part is that much more than public questioning or tsk tsking that the other mom warned about, to my surprise I often hear awesome comments and see frowns turn into smiles.
Positive parenting is about so much more than giving up an illusion of control. So instead of focusing on the need to give up control and warn that you may get bad looks I will share instead that choosing positive parenting tools honestly and truly makes daily life enjoyable even when circumstances are difficult and that I hope positive parenting works for you and your family too.
Peace & Be Well,