There is a fine line we all must walk. Strict enough whilst gentle enough, firm enough whilst understanding enough, tough enough whilst forgiving enough. Too strict and your child grows into a cowed, terrified and broken little person who is unable to express themselves and can’t develop properly because everything about them is suppressed. To soft and you’ve got a child with no concept of boundaries, no idea that certain behaviours aren’t acceptable, no understanding of consequences.
So where’s the balance?
Yesterday Miss Rose pushed us. She was sad and the sadness made her naughty. I’ll get to why she was sad later, and why this sadness has made us think hard.
She’s normally easy to take out in public and behaves perfectly, saving her real naughties for when we’re at home, but when she’s feeling under pressure she can erupt very easily. She’s either a 10 or a 0 on the happiness scale and is capable of swinging wildly between the two. In the supermarket yesterday she hit 0 and she ran. She legged it down the aisle screaming whilst I chased her and eventually caught up to her, and grabbed her back.
I need her to be able to express her sadness, her frustration and her anger. But not in a way that is dangerous. If she’s sad she can cry, but running away is scary. Someone could take her. She could get lost. She could get hit by a car. If she runs in the wrong place at the wrong time she could vanish from my life forever and I cannot risk that. I cannot live with that. I need her alive and well and here. So I cannot let her normalise it just because I know she’s struggling right now.
She did it more. She kept swinging wildly between happy and sad and began running off from us at home. Ignoring us as we called to her, walking away as we spoke to her.
Then she ran off at the bowling alley. Just vanished. Legged it around the corner and out of sight whilst her daddy chased after her and dragged her back. When it happens it scares me so much I could cry. I could throw up. She could disappear. She could be gone. We got her shoes changed and ready to go and she wouldn’t go. She kept ignoring us. I tried to take her hand and she went to run again, wiggling away behind her nanny’s legs and making to run across the room.
He pulled her away before she managed, I shouted. I told him to pick her up. She screamed and kicked. I shouted. He shouted. He took her outside, set her down and told her she needed to calm down.
I hate it when we shout. He hates it when we shout. She hates it when we shout. She needed stopping. We’d been successfully balancing the strict/soft line for most of the day and it tipped us. The fear of losing her, the frustration at her continuing to run, the stress from dealing with her running combined with the boy child kicking off and tiredness from looking after the baby and we just couldn’t take anymore and we shouted our heads off.
The balance slipped. We got too angry. We went home and reigned it in and gave her love and cuddles and fun and all was well. But we did slip. We went too strict. Too angry.
She’s in a difficult spell. She had her power taken by a friend. She was playing with an older girl who was bossing her around and being mean, and I found out she told Rose she doesn’t like her and hit her. Rose felt her power had been taken. That she was a victim. That she was weak. She started acting out to regain some sense of power and she unleashed it all on me. She had the biggest tantrum, screaming and thrashing and she kicked me. This time I had the balance. I picked her up and I held her close and she screamed and thrashed but I just hugged her. I told her I love her and I’m here and I know she hurts. She calmed down and cried properly this time, cried into my neck and told me she was sorry. Then we talked. We talked about how she’s not allowed to hit mummy, how hitting is mean, how she doesn’t want to be the mean girl. I got it right.
This is how bullies are born. Bullies are born from being bullied. Their power is taken, they’re made to feel like weak victims with no control so they seek to get it back. They’ve been shown cruelty so it becomes normal and they enact it upon others. Better to be the bully than be bullied. Rather be cruel than be hurt. I can’t let that be Rose. I can’t let Rose fall down that path. I can’t let the negative treatment she gets from others turn her into someone who treats others badly herself.
She’s not recovered from this encounter yet and it’s still impacting her. She’s acting out. We need to achieve this balance now more than ever.
She’s feeling out of control and sad so we need to be gentle enough to make her feel happy and safe and relaxed again. But we need to be tough enough that she knows where the line is and that she can’t cross it, because if the boundaries suddenly moved that would unsettle her more. She needs the consistency. She needs to feel safe within the walls around her, including the metaphorical rules. If they’re not there she’s exposed and confused and lost.
Walking the tightrope between strict and soft is incredibly hard. I don’t want her to be a bully but I don’t want her to be so weak she gets walked over. I want her to respect the rules but not be so cowed that she never questions what she’s told. I want her to know that she is loved more than life itself, that I hate being angry with her, that when I do get too angry because everything has got too much for me that I’m sorry.
Sometimes I fall off the tightrope. Sometimes I let her get away with things she shouldn’t, sometimes I get too angry when it’s not necassary. Sometimes I get it perfectly, and I recognise the cause of her bad behaviour, understand the pain, and course correct her smoothly. And those days are perfect. But other days are not perfect and on those days I just need to cry and let it out because dammit I’m trying. But this is hard.
One foot in front of the other foot. Keep walking the tightrope. Keep wobbling. When you fall, get back on. Look back and see what obstacle made you fall and be better prepared for it next time.
But always forgive yourself when you fall. Humans fall. Parenting is hard.
If it wasn’t hard it would mean we didn’t care.
One foot in front of the other foot. Keep going. Keep trying. Celebrate when you get it back, learn when you get it wrong.