Just a little over two years ago, I delivered my daughter. I was extremely lucky to have been in latent labour for about 24 hours and then once my water broke, in active labour for under 3 hours. I credit the fact that I never went to an antenatal class or read a baby book on my incident-free delivery. It allowed me to just roll with what was happening to my body as opposed to putting a label on it; a label that would have warranted a certain response, behavior or action. I did do one thing to prepare for the birth which was to listen to the Hypnobabies Course for about 6 weeks prior. I was therefore totally in the dark about the intricacies of what was coming and had just brainwashed myself into thinking everything would go fine, which as I said, it did. The pre-delivery brainwashing worked and then post-delivery the hormones and bodily chemicals designed to make me fall immediately in love with my baby took over and I was in a state of wonderment for many weeks. Besides the fact that I was hopelessly in love with this little crying, puking, shitting, sometimes-sleeping being, I just couldn’t get over the miracle of birth. I mean, I know that I was pregnant and had a growing zygote inside me, but it was like my mind had a singular place for it: inside my womb. Once the baby was out of her inaugural abode and in front of me, my brain just couldn’t bridge the gap. I couldn’t believe that this upside down, bloody, crying, screaming, greyish purple angel had been living in my body for 41 weeks. It just seemed unreal to me. I still cannot grasp the reality of this. The science, yes, but not the reality. To me it defies reality; it’s a miracle. Everyone hears that phrase: the miracle of birth. I finally understood it.
The effect of my awe at how life happens and how much love you have for that baby translated into me walking around the world for the next few weeks looking at every person I saw and exclaiming in my head: you were once a baby. OK, I get that I sound a bit nuts here, but I bet that there are some mothers and fathers out there who understand what I mean. I just finally felt this overwhelming compassion for all human beings. I understood that we all came from the same place and helplessly started our journeys the same: by being loved and cared for by a mother figure who made us her world. This state of being was a revelation. I couldn’t get mad at people doing random annoying things such as almost running me over with their scooter or accidentally stepping on my toe with their stiletto, they were just grown babies after all. Even if I read a news item on a depraved murderer, I was filled with sadness over what that innocent baby had become. The unifying idea of birth and babyhood delivered to my mind compassion like morphine on a drip. I was humbled by this realisation for a long time, until my daughter got older then I realised that we may start out the same on this journey but our paths soon diverge and it is often not a good thing…
This message was delivered to me by the park. Yes, that’s right, going to the park with a 10 month old killed my compassion bubble. Stopped my Universal Love Train dead in its tracks. Why? Because some little children are awful. Yes, I said it and again I think that many mothers and fathers as well as a large number of child exempt people will agree that if you want to feel depressed about the state of humanity then go to a park after school has just been let out. There you will see the problems of humanity perfectly illustrated by pre-pubescent animalistic egos running wild on plastic jungle gyms. Of course, it is not the fault of the child whatsoever. As I said, we all start out the same way and are cared for and nurtured by a mother figure who is also tasked with teaching us. I should extend that sentence to say: right and wrong, but I can’t because I do not believe that we should place our emphasis on right or wrong, rather we need to teach our children larger concepts which will inform them what choices to make. For instance, my daughter who is now two-years-old, sometimes throws a little tantrum and sometimes that tantrum includes hitting. If she tries to hit me, I simply move so that she cannot reach me, whilst saying to her: Mummy doesn’t hit you, so don’t hit Mummy. I say that repeatedly until she stops. If she makes contact however, I then grab the offending hand and say in a very stern voice: Don’t hit me! This usually starts her crying uncontrollably which ends the tantrum and creates a poignant memory in her brain that is associated with not hitting. Now although my daughter is still tantruming she rarely hits anymore. In fact, she is beginning to understand that hitting in general is not acceptable.
One day my husband was sleeping on the couch and my daughter got her toy car and proceeded to hit him in the face with it. Now, I am 100% certain that she was just playing and her hitting him with the car was not intended as a violent act, she just wanted to get his attention (which she did), but once he exclaimed to her: You hit me! She burst into tears. She would not be comforted for a good ten minutes because she realised that she had “hit” her Dad. At this age she is acquiring language and she is learning what words mean and how to use them. I can therefore give words connotations that will serve to mold her behavior. I have taught her that “hitting” other people is a big no no and when she hit my husband with the car and he exclaimed that she had “hit” him, all of the previous teaching was realised. I now have a child that will not “hit”. The fellow parents in my neighborhood should be happy for that just as I should be happy that they teach their kids the same but unfortunately, it seems like 50% of parents simply don’t teach their children anything. Maybe it is the culture where I live, but they seem to just let their kids do whatever they want without restriction. Granted it is not easy to be a parent, but it is our duty to teach our children how to behave so that we have a decent future society.
I will be honest and admit that I was shocked at how difficult being a parent can be. The first few months are horrible. It is like you have taken really bad acid and no amount of broken sleep with get it out of your system. On top if this you have a vulnerable, dependant being totally reliant on you. Eventually, you and your baby get more rest and fall into more of a rhythm so that bad acid feeling does abate, but just when you think you are successfully climbing out of the new parent quicksand and up the experienced parent mountain, your child becomes more mobile by mastering crawling and then walking. Having at all times, your full attention directed upon a toodling along toddler, is just as exhausting as getting no sleep. Your nerves get frayed by the hyper-vigilance demanded of you. After a few months however the baby masters movement enough to make you relatively comfortable that they are not going to do themselves any harm in your now baby-proofed home and you can relax a little until they start acquiring language. I was so pleased when my daughter started to say words here and there. I responded by reading to her and trying to teach her more words on a daily basis. Little did I know that they would come back to haunt me. For instance, a savvy parent does not teach their child the word for chocolate unless that parent wants their child to say chocolate over and over again, until you give them some chocolate. I admit that at first, I was so impressed by the fact that my daughter could even utter the word chocolate that I would give her some, but then I realised that I was an idiot. The more she learnt the names of her favorite foods the more she would demand to eat them. I was all for her saying that she fancied eggs for dinner but when I give her a plate of steak, mushrooms and potatoes and she looks at me and says: eggs. I want to scream. Needless to say, through my daughter’s birth up until today, I have learned that the level of energy and commitment required to be a parent is relentless and ongoing. There is no way around it unless you are not particularly concerned with who your child will grow up to be. I however am, so I am constantly looking, listening and learning how to be an effective parent. I therefore learnt that the acquisition of language went hand in hand with the need to discipline my child. As she figured out the power of her words, I had to decide what power I was going to give them. “Chocolate” was a treat if she ate most of her dinner and “hit” was an act that made her feel bad if she did it to someone.
I believe that if I do the work now with my daughter then by the time she gets to school her teacher will not have to do it. I believe that the window for learning acceptable behavior is now, at the start of the language acquisition stage. By starting to give a child discipline, structure and consistency at five or six years old you are making their lives and yours extremely difficult. Better to start early and then be done by five or six when the foundations have already been laid and can be built upon by their daily experience at school with their teachers and peers. The consequence of not teaching your child from the get go is that they will adopt any old behavior that they like. A good example occurred a few weeks ago at the aforementioned park. My daughter and I went to the park for our nightly visit. She set about playing on the various slides, swings, and such and I set about helping and monitoring her. At one point, there were a few other children on the slide when she made her way to the top. At the very top was a little boy of about a year old and he was trying to position himself to start the downward journey into his father’s arms. Unfortunately, this was taking a little too long for my daughter and she decided to help him along with a little push. This was the wrong move as she discovered when Mummy-Krakatoa exploded. I immediately told her: No! I then took her off the slide and made my way out of the park all the while explaining to her that we were leaving the park because she did a very naughty thing by pushing the little boy and therefore she would not be playing at the park tonight or tomorrow night.
I placed her in her push chair and walked to the local store to get some bits all the while ignoring her crying. I know that this is a big problem for some parents and it is the reason their attempts at discipline sometimes fall short, but trust me, I can listen to my daughter cry without any problem, not because I am a hard hearted person, but because I am a good person who wants to teach her daughter to be a good person too. It is not easy, to see your child upset, but I never yelled at her or hit her when she was crying. I didn’t tell her to stop or admonish her further, I just let her cry. The Turkish abhor this practice and I have had my share of dirty looks and even comments for letting my child cry but I do not give a damn and I will be clear as to why. I never pushed my child. She does not have a brother or sister to teach her to push, so where did she learn to push? That’s right, at the park. I saw my daughter being pushed by other children numerous times before she finally did it to another child. So it is the lack of parental will to mold children’s behaviour that necessitated, in this instance, my disciplining my daughter. Maybe if other parent’s wouldn’t be afraid to let their children cry, or be disappointed, or be angry, or hate their parents then we would all have better behaved children and therefore as a collective have to discipline them less.
We as a society and as a global community have to decide how we want to live together. Do we want to go pushing each other around? I am sure that most people would agree that we do not, so why do people let their children do it? Especially when it is so simple to teach your child the best way to behave. I proved it by teaching in 48 hours, my daughter not to push other children. That night after I finished my shopping, we went home where I prepared some food for us. We sat in the dining area with the computer on so that we could Skype with my mother in Canada. When my mother came on the screen she could tell that all was not well in our household. She asked my daughter what was the matter and my daughter replied: “Boy push”. In fact she had been saying this through her sobs and even at home after she stopped crying. She was telling me and now my mother that she understood that she had pushed the little boy and that was not an acceptable behavior. We chatted with my mother and the baby got over her mood. I put her to bed and she slept through the entire night probably emotionally exhausted. The next morning her first words to me were: “Mummy, push boy”. I used that opportunity to reiterate to her that yes, she had pushed a little boy and we do not push other children and that is why we had to leave the park and why we would not be visiting it that night. She understood. I know that she understood because she kept mentioning it to me, her father and again to my mother all through that day and into the next. When we did go back to the park ironically a little girl pushed her. My daughter looked at me immediately and I told her: Sorry that little girl pushed you, but we do not push back. My daughter in countless situations where she has since had the opportunity, has never pushed back.
Please do not think that this is a “I am such a great parent” piece because I am often the crappiest parent on the planet. I sometimes get sick and tired of the effort and give my kid cookies, cakes and the oft requested chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I am sometimes inconsistent when I have something I need to get done and just need my daughter to be out of my hair for a few minutes, but when it comes to how she treats other people, I never bend the rules. I realise that parents are busy, overstretched, and stressed but I am sorry, we decided to be parents. Yes, I am shocked in some ways by the sheer responsibility that will be mine forever more. I am also humbled and scared by it too because I know that I have one chance to get things right for the rest of my daughter’s life. I want my daughter to be the type of person who can easily make friends, have relationships, get jobs, win promotions, in short the type of person who others want to be around because she knows how to comport herself. A person who pushes another person is not a desirable friend, lover or employee and that is the final word on the matter. Some parents would rather not have their child or themselves be uncomfortable for a few moments now even if it means that they are setting their child up for discomfort in the future. You have met them. Those repulsive, ill-behaved children that even their parents find hard to love. How horrible for a child to be unlovable because they were not taught how to behave? It is like athletes who puts their bodies under enormous discomfort and stress so that they can win an Olympic gold medal or an esteemed trophy. When they are training they are sometimes miserable, but when they are winning they are on top of the world. That is where I want to help my daughter to live her life: on top of the world, instead of on top of the slide, pushing around other children.