My daughter Katy has been the subject of many of my radical unschooling posts. That’s because she’s given me plenty of much-needed opportunities to practice my peaceful parenting approach! But make no mistake – by no means is she the only highly spirited child in this family. So today’s post is about a recent struggle Ted and I had with our son, Thomas – and how we got to see the benefits of peaceful parenting in action.
For various reasons, Thomas was having a heck of a weekend. And not in the good way. He’d been irritable, impatient, mean to everyone, and quick to resort to physical expressions of his frustration (in other words, hitting his sisters about every 5 minutes). By last night, things had really come to a head. He got so worked up about something that he completely lost control, shouting, lashing out at anyone or anything in his general vicinity, and basically just having a major meltdown.
In a moment of “lapsed unschooling” Ted resorted to the only thing he could think of to get him to stop. He gave Thomas a consequence. Nothing specific. He just sort of said, “That’s it! You’re getting a consequence! I’ll let you know what it is when we’ve both calmed down.” Thomas retreated to the play room, sobbing, while Ted sat outside the door working on his computer and taking some deep breaths.
Let me just admit something here and now, so my husband doesn’t feel the need to share it in a snarky comment at the end of this post. The reason Ted was handling this whole thing alone was because I’d already passed the limit of my tolerance and understanding (in other words, I’d totally had a moment of lapsed unschooling of my own. Let’s just say I was expressing my deep frustration in a loud-ish tone. Okay…I was yelling. Sometimes I yell.)
So anyway, I was downstairs taking deep breaths of my own while my husband stepped up to the plate. And after a lot of breathing on everyone’s part, here’s how it eventually shook out…
Thomas: “Daddy, what’s my consequence going to be?”
Ted: “I don’t know, Bud. What do you think it should be?”
Thomas: “Well, do I definitely have to have one?”
Ted: “I’m certainly open to other ideas. What do you think should happen?” (this is the point at which my ears perk up)
After thinking it over for a moment, Thomas answers, “Well, here’s how I see it. We’re all works in progress, right? I mean, you’re always telling me how you’re working on being more patient, and how you and mommy are working on your marriage, and how mommy is working on getting healthy. So we all have stuff we need to improve. Right?” (did I mention that this kid is nine?)
Ted: “You’re right about that, Bud. We certainly do.”
Thomas: “When I used to get out of control, you and mommy had that code word, remember? You’d say “alert!” But that just made me feel silly.”
Ted assures him that he remembers. I try hard stifle my laughter. Luckily, I’m all the way down the hall.
And then Thomas says The Thing. The thing that makes me think that he may just be channeling Maya Angelou or Oprah Winfrey - someone wise and insightful and way past nine years of age.
Here’s what he says:
“So, when I get really upset and out of control, maybe you could just sort of know that in a while I’ll be done. And you know, that I’m a work in progress. And that I’ll get better at it.”
I swear sometimes it’s like talking to a really short 40 year old.
At this point in the conversation, I’m feeling really grateful that I’m listening in from another room, because I’m not sure I could maintain the level of composure that Ted is. He goes on to ask Thomas what it is he thinks he needs to work on.
Thomas is spot-on with his answer. “You know,” he begins, ” yelling and hitting and throwing stuff when I get really mad. Oh…and potty talk.” (at which point my attempt to surpress my laughter results in a snorty-choking kind of sound. Ted comes to my rescue, calling out that I must be watching one funny tv show. The show was on mute, but I wasn’t about to admit it.)
Turning back to the conversation, Ted remarks, “You’ve obviously thought a lot about this, Thomas. I think you’re really on to something. It’s a real strength to know yourself as well as you do.”
To which Thomas queries, “So, can we do that instead of a consequence? Just agree that I’m a work in progress?” (after all, he is only nine!)
And so they agree. He’s a work in progress. Ted’s a work in progress. As are we all. But Thomas isn’t quite finished.
“Daddy?” he says softly, “You know, if you want, you can still give me a consequence.”
“I know, Bud,” my wise husband replies, ” I could. But I think you’ve already figured out the lesson in all this. We’ve had a great conversation about it. How about we call it a night?”
On their way upstairs, I hear Thomas’s final words on the subject: “I love talking to you, Daddy.”
I sit there, silently thanking my level-headed husband, and taking comfort in the fact that this whole peaceful parenting thing actually does work. Even though we have plenty of “lapses”. Even though we don’t handle every single situation perfectly from start to finish.
At the end of the day, we have the kind of relationship with our son that allows him to talk the hard stuff through with us. The kind of relationship that encourages him to see himself as equal to us, not only with regard to rights and privileges, but in taking responsibility for the mistakes, for the brokenness, and for the growth that is necessary. The kind of relationship that strengthens his belief in his ability to grow.
“I’m a work in progress,” he says, knowing it to be true, “and I’ll get better at it.”
I’ll take that over a consequence any day.