She did it again.
It was the end of a really great morning and both girls had a great time. When we stopped at the corner to say goodbye Ada pushed Sarah. This happened 3 weeks ago and I lamented to my friends about it - mostly about the fact that I was really angry with her and that actually scared me. This time, I was shocked, yes, but also really wanted to hang my head with my face buried in my hands. My mind was stuck on "Oh for fuck's sake" but I said something like, "No! No pushing! Why did you push her?" then scooped Sarah up and handed her to Kathi. I closed my eyes at Tom, shook my head from side to side ,muttered an apology and scurried to the car with Ada.
On the way, she sweetly pointed out, "Sarah's crying. Mom, Sarah's crying."
I took a deep breath before I spoke to Ada. Words can carry an unspeakable weight and I didn't want to screw this up. But I think I might have. I told her, "Yes, Sarah is crying. Sarah is crying because you pushed her down. That hurt Sarah, that hurt Sarah's feelings. Sarah is crying because of something you did. Ada made Sarah cry."
I don't know if Ada understood this all because she was still telling me that Sarah was crying. I told her how if she pushes other little kids that they won't want to play with her. By the time we got to the car I was really on a roll and I speculated that I didn't know if she could play with Sarah again. That it would be a miracle if her mother allowed her to play with Sarah and I could hardly blame her.
She must have understood this part of it because this was when she started crying. She was very quiet in the car. When we got home I told her to go to her father. He put her down for a nap.
I spent the rest of the day thinking about it - about what happened, about my response to it. I was disappointed in her behavior, yes. My child isn't an ogre or a bully. In fact, she's typically very sweet, considerate, affectionate and lovely.
However, when she needs her personal space she doesn't really know what to do about that. I keep telling her to say, "no thank you" when another kid is trying to hug her or something. It doesn't always work though. It wasn't until later that I recognized that this is where I've failed her: rather than giving her a second step I just gave her step one and left her on her own to figure out the rest, which she did. Instead of stepping away or turning around or asking again or saying "I need space, please", which are all options I should have given her, she pushes the other child away. I didn't give her the tools she needed.
I failed her in this way and I'm miserable about it.
Then there's my response. This is something I think about ALL THE TIME. Words can carry more sting than a spanking - they can be so powerful and make a lasting impression. I don't want to use guilt or manipulation to make her behave. I believe that there is a much better, gentler, more compassionate way to raise children. Finding role models for this has been...harder than I had hoped. I'm figuring it out as I go, often making my own rules and mistakes.
Take the day in question, for example. I might have said too much or been too severe in my delivery in the car on the way home. I saved what I really had to say to her for when we were alone, which made me think that I was about to say something I might be ashamed of. I consciously tried to not speak impulsively. I tried not to but what if I didn't exercise enough restraint?
I gave her the cold shoulder once we got home. That wasn't good. I reasoned that it was better to not say anything than to say things that were really hurtful and damaging. Does this qualify as with holding love? I hope not. Even when she has behaved badly I love her even if I am upset with her.
Knowing unconditional love is one of the cornerstones of being the parent I WANT to be.
Then there's the part where I have to be honest: I was upset by how her behavior might reflect on me. I was embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to think I was a bad mother or that my kid was a bad seed. I felt so ashamed of her behavior and wondered if my response to it was "right" enough. The only thing worse than kid A being mean to kid B is the parent of kid A doing nothing about it. I wondered if Ada would be allowed to play with Sarah again. I worried that this meant I was a bad mother, a bad role model. The fear from 3 weeks ago struck me again - one day, will I be so angry that I can't forgive her quickly enough and it creates a distance between us?
Have I already begun to fail?
Things happen with toddlers, especially when they're just learning how to control their impulses. We all get that on some level, or at least I think we do. Don't we? Maybe I'm over-thinking it but I feel like the door has been cracked open juuuust enough to let me see more of the issues that await us as she grows up. I don't want to be unprepared, to have not thought ahead and anticipated problems, because doing so also lets me plan my reaction a bit better. Somehow I expected that at my age I'd have a better idea of how to handle all of this. How disappointing to learn that I don't have the answers.
I have so much to learn.