Yesterday I was asked to leave a social-media support group for spirited children. Uh-huh. This spirited adult was booted from a spirited child support group. The reason is both funny-ha-ha and funny-ironic. I got ousted for being closed-minded. Let that sink in a bit.
The original poster vented about her spirited child and asked for ideas. Everything the parent tried for behavior management was not working and every time her daughter was angry she acted like it was the apocalypse.
Here’s where it got a bit messy. One of the parents posted instructions for how to use a car seat to strap her child down so she couldn’t get out of time-out. (Using a car seat for imprisonment! Genius!) Another poster discovered what really “got to her kid” was locking herself away from him when he was upset. (There you go. Make him feel even worse. Win!) Another mentioned how her son cried longer when she was with him so she placed him in his room alone and that made him calm down faster. (That’s it! Teach him to stuff down those feelings! Score!)
Sarcasm aside, I posted a different way of looking at the situation. It IS the apocalypse for the child. She isn’t being overly dramatic or manipulative. She is trying to cope with overwhelming feelings. The world might be ending for her in that moment, so love her through it instead of punishing her for feeling something. Because that’s really all that’s happening. She’s just feeling.
I expected some backlash. Someone said I was teaching my kids that violence is okay by letting them flip out. Another said this would only work for me and no one else. Most just thumbed-up the ludicrous punishments. But one parent asked how it was possible to love a child through a fit, and if I made one person think differently the whole debate was worth it.
I explained how it took me a long way to get here and I’m still learning, but now I make myself available to my kids when they are upset. Every time. There are times when I need to step into the other room to collect myself. Sometimes I need to blast music in my headphones when they are screaming too loud. But I’m still there for them if they need me because the tough moments call for unconditional love the most.
Here’s where it got really messy. I posted my opinion. It is cruel to strap your children down when they are upset. It is cruel to lock yourself in another room because it gets them to pipe down. And sure, placing your children in forced isolation might teach them to calm down faster, but it’s only because it teaches them that being upset is unacceptable. In this case when they’re hurting the only option is “Act how I tell you to act. Feel how I tell you to feel.” That isn’t teaching. That isn’t progress. It’s dominating and cruel.
Shit meet fan. How dare you say someone is cruel? You are so closed-minded. This is a parent support group. We need to stand together. This obviously isn’t the group for you. Please leave. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.
Is it cruel to call another person cruel? Maybe. So I left without hesitation and without further comment. Listen, I am not going to support a cruel action. Even if it’s my own. Of course there are times I do cruel things. Everyone does, and anyone who claims not to is lying.
Once we were in a parking lot and Gwen ran ahead of me. I called out to her and she stopped but she was standing in the driving lane. I couldn’t get to her fast enough so I screamed for her to move back onto the sidewalk because a car was driving up the lane. She stayed put in the street and said, “I am.” I ran over to her and yanked her out of the street and yelled something about listening to me. Cruel action? Yes. Cruel person? Probably not.
My action came out of a place of caring, but also out of a place of anxiety. When we talked about it later I discovered she thought she was standing on the sidewalk because the cement was the same color as the road. We discussed what we could do next time to make a similar situation easier for all of us and I explored my feelings to find actions that truly matched my intentions.
Actions do not make anyone a cruel person. I have no doubt that all of the parents posting on that page have the deepest love for their children. It’s the actions that are cruel, not necessarily the people. Still, if we take a bad situation and make it worse by disconnecting from those around us we aren’t really helping anyone. Definitely not our children, and least of all ourselves.
I got ousted for being closed-minded. I’m laughing as I type this of course, but if I do something that’s closed-minded does that make me a closed-minded person indefinitely? Maybe if I’m a repeat offender, but maybe not even then.
I used to work with a little boy for social language therapy. One day he looked over his shoulder at another student’s work and his teacher called him out as a cheater. He told me the story and said, “Yep. I’m a cheater now.” BAM! Self-image modified! Simple as that.
It took a bit of creative story-telling to get him to understand the meaning of cheating. That cheating happens when you intend to copy someone’s original work and simply glancing at another person’s paper doesn’t make you a cheater. Furthermore, the act of cheating doesn’t make you a permanent cheater any more than saying prayers makes you a permanent saint. In fact, you are only a cheater in the moment you are cheating, and in that same instant you can also be honest, or brave, or any other plethora of characteristics.
We are never just one thing, no matter how much other people want to box us in. We are also not defined by our actions. In fact, we get into trouble when we allow our actions to pigeon-hole us. When we let our egos (or someone else’s) get the better of us we are no longer capable of change, nor are we able to move forward or transcend what we currently are. So I got ousted for being “closed-minded.” Irony aside, my mind is open too.