Hair Therapy

When she was a young girl, Little M dreaded having her hair groomed.  Sure, disentangling and combing her kinky hair would require some uncomfortable pulling and tugging, but she feared something much worse than the rough feeling of her grandmother’s hands in her hair: the even rougher tone of her grandmother’s words in her ear.  Ordered to sit still on the floor while her grandmother unbraided, combed, and re-braided her hair, Little M endured a stream of insults and negative assessments.  Her grandmother stretched the hair-combing sessions out as long as possible, so that she could maximize the time spent telling her granddaughter about all the things that were wrong with her; all the inappropriate gestures and language she had used; all the problematic requests she had made.  With each charge of bad behavior, Little M’s grandmother painfully pinched her cheeks, or wrung her ears.  Grandmother’s hands left behind smears of hair oil on Little M’s face, like a scarlet letter broadcasting to the world just how inadequate she was.  As she walked away, finally dismissed from the session, she felt shame and inadequacy; she believed that she was worthless.

Half a century later, my mother combs my daughter’s hair everyday.  Together, they have a ritual.  Little K runs to retrieve her booster seat, places it on the table, and asks to be seated in it.  Ninnine unbraids my daughter’s hair, as my daughter begs her to comb it into her favorite style—an afro.  My mother tells her, “non, mon amour, Mommy does afros; Ninnine does cornrows.”  My mother starts the French DVRs that they watch during the sessions, and together they fall into the rhythm of the language lessons.  “Strawberries!,” my mother will say; “fraises!,” my daughter will respond.  “Bread!…du pain!”  “Cake!…gateau!”  “Oh, my little Kisou,” my mother ultimately says; “I love you all the time!”

When I come home from work, my daughter runs to the door to tell me about her day, and to show me her new hairstyle.  “You look beautiful, K,” I tell her, and she responds, as she does everyday, with “Ninnine combed my hair!”  I feel grateful that my mother manages my daughter’s kinks and coils in this way, and I admire the intricate rows and patterns of braids my mother has created with my toddler’s hair, like a crown.  Deeper than beauty or convenience, however, the hairstyle and accompanying ritual are symbols of the bond my mother and daughter are creating with each other.  I like to imagine that each cornrow represents a long line, stretching from my mother, the dispirited little girl, made captive to words that hurt and tore her down, to my daughter today, the spirited little girl who is repeatedly assured of her worth.  Along that line lays a path of healing.  My mother, no longer trapped between her grandmother’s legs on the floor, has released the pain and indignity of those hair sessions so long ago, knowing that her caregivers didn’t really know any better.  Our mothers and grandmothers don’t always realize that their good faith–but old-school–attempts to discipline us can inflict wounds that we are later compelled to re-inflict on the vulnerable in our own care, just as little children act out their abuse on their dolls in an attempt to make sense of it all.  Ninnine, however, has broken the cycle, using her power during hair sessions today to build Little K up, rather than break her down.  Each flick of my mother’s wrists weaves a new hairstyle and a new connection, conveying to Little K just how adequate, indeed just how inherently worthwhile and perfect, they both are.

Spare the Rod?

By CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy from BoobsAndBummis.

Do you spank your child? How often? Which infractions merit a spanking and which ones call for a time out? Is it your tool of last resort?

The NY Times recently ran an article on spanking on general and Black spanking in particular. Scooba is getting to an age where he is constantly. Into. Something. Got an obstacle? He’ll climb it!  Buttons? He’ll push’em! (Not figurative buttons, actual buttons that light up or make beeping sounds.) He is also interacting with his peers and I often have to remind him to use a “nice touch.” (Don’t just smack that kid on the head, Baby.) We are not going to spank a  1 year old, but we like to plan ahead.

So. Husband and I are coming back to the spanking question. Before kids, we both agreed we would be spankers. I have long been a proponent of spanking. I was spanked and I turned out GREAT! My parents did not beat me, but I got spanked for large problems. For example, I got spanked when I played with fire. Twice. (The second time cured me for real.) I got spanked when I stole. I must have gotten spanked more than this, but these are the ones I remember. For other stuff I was put, “On Restriction”. No TV, no radio, no friends. It was lame.

Husband was also spanked as a child. He turned out pretty okay, too. Today, however, spanking seems like the worst thing ever. Study after study after study seems to show that spanking will make your kid violent. How can you show a kid that hitting is wrong when you hit him? Spanked kids become bullies. Violence should not be in the home. Okay. Sure. But, I do not want my kid running around all wild and embarrassing me. When I say sit, you sit. When I have to look at you with a spanking glint in my eye, you know play time is over. This post by Gradmommy includes a study citing how bias plays into all the anti-spanking studies.  Can I just spank sometimes? Is it an all or nothing, zero sum game? This seems to show that sometimes spanking is fine.

I’m also a little torn because I remember telling those “My Mom was So Mean and Beat Me” stories with my friends. It’s a calling card of being Black that you had the story of a time you got popped so fast you didn’t even see it coming. Or of the things a parent would say as they beat you. Or the time you ran away to avoid a spanking. Do I want to deprive Scooba of his hilarious story? It’s a birthright of the Black child to have these stories. Hard-won tales of a tricky childhood. Then I wonder if that’s what I want him to remember from his childhood. There’s clearly more to Blackness than getting a whoopin’.

There are lots of parenting books. Tons of parenting strategies. But I know spanking works. It worked on me. It worked on my brother. It worked on generations of Black boys who couldn’t afford to ignore instructions, cause it could mean their lives. But is it barbaric? Is it a legacy from a bygone past? Am I actually teaching the lessons I want to teach? Listen to your parents. We love you. Use your words. Stop playing when I tell you to stop. I remember being scared of getting a spanking. It prevented some bad behavior, but do I want my son to fear me?

So here’s my thing: how many people spank their kids? Is it in conjunction with other forms of discipline? How do you decide when something is bad enough to warrant a spanking? What’s your rationale behind the decision? I am leaning towards using the spanking sparingly, but keeping it in the toolbox. Thoughts?

You Know What?

Written by CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy

You know what’s dangerous? It’s dangerous to speak your mind as a Black child in an inner-city school. I’m an educator. I love (almost) all my students.  As a middle school teacher, I saw tons of kids who chose to be disrespectful, arrogant, or jerky. But except for one or two cases, I was always able to remind myself that they were children. Just kids stretching their muscles of power, testing limits and sometimes making others miserable because they themselves were miserable. As I taught in a school where the majority of students were Black or Brown, my skin color might have gained me some cred at first. Despite what other (white) teachers sometimes said, being Black wasn’t enough for a kid to respect or listen to me. They soon figured out that I liked them, cared about their futures and would do my best to help them succeed. They also soon learned that I knew my subject area and wouldn’t tolerate crap or chaos.

In Maya Angelou’s Heart of a Woman, Maya is summoned to her son’s school one day. Guy had been explaining to some white classmates on the bus about how babies were made. Well, the little white girls freaked the heck out and Guy was in trouble for using bad language in front of students, especially girls. When Maya was in the principal’s office and heard the story, she asked what her son had said about the incident. Turns out, they hadn’t even asked Guy for his side of the story. They just assumed that what the girls conveyed was true. Maya was, of course, upset and demanded to see her son. She then gives voice to how many parents of color feel: You give your child to people who often do not look like you. You have to trust that they will not mar his sense of self, and if they do, you must do your part to repair it. I’ve read this book many times, but reading it last month this part really struck me.

The success of my students was personal for me. The more Black and Brown faces without a degree meant less of those faces in power; meant more of those faces dead or in jail. I knew that my eventual child would be okay academically, but some cop or lady on the street wouldn’t necessarily distinguish between my polite, kind, hilarious kid with the high reading level from a “dangerous thug up to no good.”

I pushed my kids academically, stressed the importance of respect for each other and themselves and laughed with them. (Middle schoolers are hilarious. Especially if you find fart jokes funny. I do.)

However, there are many teachers that are not like me: teachers that call students “dirtbags” teachers that see any deviation from given instructions as dangerous, defiant and insubordinate behavior. Too many Black boys are in special education classrooms because they are “behavior issues.” We have to ask though, how much is it about the behavior and how much is it about the color of the kid? The same behavior — being wiggly in class, speaking without raising your hand, being mouthy — by a white kid in Scarsdale is seen as childish antics, but in a Black or Brown child in Harlem is seen as insolent. (Now if a parent wants to have different standards fine, but schools need to be consistent.)

The guidelines for suspension are so very subjective. Was the student was defiant or disrespectful? Defiant is suspension, disrespectful is a detention. There are shades of meaning there that are left to the beholder. Don’t have too many suspensions on your record or it will be harder to find a school that wants you in NYC. (Students must apply and matched to public high schools in New York City in a complicated system.)

I get it. It is extremely difficult to itemize what exactly is meant by defiant. There are millions of ways a kid will find to be defiant. But we have to do better. We need to somehow quantify how bad an attitude must be before a suspension. Otherwise, we just give license to suspend kids for being jerks instead of working with them through this angsty, trying period in the lives. How many of us would want to be judged for how we were at 14? Yet, by suspending kids for arguably age-appropriate behavior, and not helping them grow through or learn from the process, we are stunting their growth academically and emotionally. We need to hold them accountable for bad behavior, but still care about them as people. We must do better. If that means more time is taken to really piece out events that have occurred, so be it. Just as our justice system would rather let a guilty man go free than an innocent one imprisoned, we need to make sure suspended kids really deserve it.

Schools are supposed to be the place where it’s okay to fail sometimes. You see how far you can push and experience safe consequences. Too often, this is not how school operates for Black children. A student that feels that he is heard, respected and valued is more likely to succeed at school and at life. Teachers are not the bad guys. But I will make sure to be in my kid’s classroom when the time comes. That teacher will know that I am paying attention. I am a fierce ally for the teacher, but I am also an advocate for my son.

HarlemMommy is a breastfeeding, cloth diapering mother of one. She works with middle schools and loves to read. Her husband is very funny and they love to travel. She also writes at www.BoobsAndBummis.wordpress.com.

putting a whooping on spanking statistics

I know I am opening up a huge can of worms (or whoop-ass, however you want to see it), but I came across this article while studying for finals last week and finally had a moment to read it today. It is fascinating….ALL parents should read it. Specifically, it shows how spanking studies over the past 40 decades have been skewed toward the researchers’ philosophical bias*, but against actual statistical results: while many researchers are philosophically opposed to spanking, methodologically sound research does not make the case. When meta-analyses of spanking research that meets high methods standards are performed, spanking has not been shown to be any more “harmful” to a child than any other tool of punishment, including time out.

Most spanking research that tries to make the case that spanking is harmful fails to distinguish:

1) qualitatively between abuse and spanking (defined by hitting on the bottom or extremities with an open hand without inflicting physical injury while meaning to correct behavior) within the study,

2) between the ages at which a child was spanked (spanking a teenager is different than spanking a young child), and

3) the quantity of spanking (getting spanked once a month is different than being spanked, as one survey studied, “156 times a year . . . up to 13 times the normal average.”)

And while abuse certainly is harmful, the biased researchers will analogize to spanking by using a “continuum” theory that has never been empirically tested. In other words, anti-spanking researchers will say “spanking is on the same ‘continuum’ as abuse, and therefore parents who spank somehow ‘transform’ into parents who abuse.” Studies have actually found that abusive parents have very different personality traits than non-abusive parents and that:

Research that discriminates between abuse and physical discipline indicates that you cannot predict that a child will have behavior problems simply because his parents use spanking. (pg. 42 of the PDF)

The author uses anti-spanking laws in Sweden to show how a national spanking ban can have counter-intuitive results. In Sweden, parents are not allowed to do anything to their children that they would not do to their neighbor. The rhetoric used is often something along the lines of, “Can you hit an adult who doesn’t do what you tell them to do? Well, then, why should you be able to do that to a child?” That includes not only spanking, but also pulling a child’s arm to move them in the direction you’d like them to go (With my three year old, we’d never go anywhere.) The law, which many other countries also adopted, is based on the U.N. Convention of the Child, which mostly all countries have adopted except the U.S. and Somalia.

The problem is, according to this article, as a result, apparently Swedish children are out of control. There has been a perceptible rise in teenage violence since the ban went into place (although violence in Sweden is still very low compared to American standards) and Swedish teenagers who have grown up entirely under the spanking ban believe that their parents have no right to punish them at all.

There is so much more in this article, and if you ignore the footnotes (although there is a lot there to be interested in), this 76-page article is really not that long. And if you’ve followed me here or on gradmommy, you know that I am not one to spare the rod, so I found the article downright refreshing.

But I also find this article fascinating in how it sort of contradicts itself.

Part of the argument is about how what parents know to be true instinctively – he talks about how parents who were never spanked themselves go on to spank their children – have turned to childrearing advice gurus and statistics to justify or “learn” how to raise their children.  Most parents who spank don’t do it because some book told them it was the right thing to do, but because it was a cultural parenting tool that has been handed down through generations as an effective tool for discipline. We learn how to parent through how we’ve been parented. Yet, the only way he has to debunk all the junk science out there about spanking is to do it through statistics; he has to use the same platform to out-do what he’s fighting.

To be fair, I do know some parents who say they are purely philosophically against spanking because they see any hitting whatsoever as violence on any scale, but they are very few and far between. I can really only think of one who has NEVER resorted to citing a study that justifies his or her viewpoint. And even those who are philosophical in their viewpoint have a limit that I find hypocritical: what exactly is the outer bound of the non-violence? Is mental pain okay? Taking away a toy is painful to a child. Why is that kind of pain and “violence” okay, but hitting is not? At that point a person usually has to resort to, “Well, but the studies show that….”

Read the article (or don’t, and just trust what I say about it is true) and let me know what you think. I can say so much more in the comments. If spanking is shown to not be harmful to children, would that change your mind about doing it? How does it make you feel to know that the research has been purposeful skewed due to researcher bias based on a philosophical viewpoint? Is the only way to fight statistics with more statistics?

What do you think about parents’ tendency these days to rely more on “expert” opinions and statistics about childrearing and parenting than on our own traditions and instincts?

*(Parenting research is fraught with researcher bias. I am no exception; when I defended my dissertation proposal last week about parenting and special education I was called on my almost overt bias against special education placement. So I understand where it is coming from. But I had 7 people in that room on purpose to keep me in check because I acknowledge and own my bias. Anti-spanking crusaders? Not so much.)

Beef

Ok. The straw has broken the proverbial camel’s back.

I’ve sat in on one to many conversations with mothers going on and on about their child’s over the top behavior. As has been the case lately, I’m the lone Black mother in the room, conscious that  my words, tone, and facial expressions will probably be misconstrued… Yes, I am all too aware of the Sapphiric machinations that non-Black folk tend to expect from Black women.  One example that comes to mind- I expressed my frustration about another teacher, telling two White colleagues that I needed to go and have a talk with the woman. My male colleague says “Uh-oh, it’s about to be on up in here!”, with what HE intended to be Black girl affectations…

My liberated self (ego) won’t allow me to code switch when in mixed social company. Soooo, when I found myself a part of a recent discussion about parenting with a small group of White women, I couldn’t do anything but be who I am. When asked “what do you think?” about an idea, I gave an answer contrary to what was expected, and dare I say appropriate. Silence followed my response. One woman then offered a “compliment”, “I love that you keep it real. That’s so great!”

Later in the conversation,  another parent described a situation with her daughter, a precocious toddler who I’d say has some serious behavior issues. The mother went on laughing, describing how her “sweetie” doesn’t like her preschool teacher, and made a public announcement. Her “sweetie” doesn’t like to eat vegetables. Her “sweetie” doesn’t take naps because she doesn’t want to. And the piece de resistance: one day her little angel was very angry because she didn’t want to put something away and so when mommy took it, mommy got pimp slapped. Ok, maybe not pimp slapped, but you get the picture: the little girl hit the mommy multiple times, yelling and screaming.   Now up until this point, I held my tongue, and kept my facial composure.  But I couldn’t contain myself, I interjected- something akin to the “need to physically exorcise a demon out of your spawn”.    Dead. Silence.  The women were absolutely MORTIFIED that I would suggest such a thing. They each went on to explain why any sort of physical aggression toward a child was unacceptable.

I couldn’t help but feel alien…I suddenly wished for the community of my Sister friends.  They would understand. None of us are big on spanking our children…I didn’t mean it literally, but I didn’t want to have to explain to these women. They just didn’t get it, the unspoken understanding that certain things are unacceptable. Of course I don’t mean brutalize your child –  but I KNOW that in a circle of my Sisters, there would have been the chorus of “girrrrl” and talk about “breaking them off something” and “oh no! it ain’t goin’ down like that!” – and then laughter, and the…solidarity and understanding…

Five for Fighting

I was talking to a co-worker recently and the topic of kids fighting came up. The conversation started with my concerns about my middle daughter going to middle school next year. My co-worker mentioned that her niece had begun taking a switchblade to school because she HAD TO for protection. I mentioned that I had never been in a fight as a child, which struck her as odd. She then relayed the story of how she had once come home crying and her father said to her that she had to go back out and kick the ass of whoever had made her cry or that he would kick her ass. And so she fought.

I’ve never had that conversation and I don’t plan to. I can almost understand the logic (show & prove, do it this one time and then people won’t mess with you) but I don’t like the message that it sends – that there must be fighting, whether at home or away. With so much violence in the world, and so much of it directed at us, I just don’t feel comfortable encouraging more of it. I’ve always thought of home as a place away from the stress of the world, and encouraged my kids to feel the same way. My parents were there to protect & support me, not beat me for feeling hurt or angry or confused.

My sister and I were not allowed to fight each other at home. My mom’s mantra – a house divided against itself cannot stand. And so there was no fighting. My kids are not allowed to hit each other. They are not close in age (15, 10 and 3) so it doesn’t come up too often but they know that it is not cool.

What are your thoughts? Did you get the “kick their ass or I’ll kick yours speech”? Would you allow your child to carry a weapon to school?

If your child is being bullied at school, please check out http://stopbullyingnow.com/

Andrea is a mom of 3 (son is 15, daughters are 10 and 3), and a serial entrepreneur. She is currently working as a clinical informatics consultant, and couldn’t do it without the help of her mom who is her nanny while she’s out of town Mon – Thurs. She is a great believer in personal responsibility, good grammar and the power of ice cream. She is an omnivore who loves to cook, is trying to eat healthier and give her kids fewer chemicals. She needs to exercise consistently and drink more water. She’s in the process of getting divorced from a nice guy.
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No Boy Is an Island

I tend to follow Benee’s and the other Cocoamamas’ pieces about raising boys closely, without really daring to interject. The fact is that my own relationship with my mother—with all its glorious and inglorious extremes—has driven me to form some very firm opinions about how to raise my own daughter, but I’ve given far less conscious thought to raising my boy. I know I want him to be respectful of women (and everyone really, but especially women) and kind and service-minded but beyond that, the canvas has largely been blank.

My boy is challenging in a different way than my girl. He’s loud and impulsive, can’t sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, tests boundaries constantly and can be found bouncing off walls quite often. I’ve generally shrugged at his behavior and observed: “It’s all that boy energy!”

An incident last week started an avalanche of questions and thoughts in my head, prompting me to rethink my strategy. We have observed for a while that while my girl (who is 5) can accept a no as a no, my boy (who is 4) thinks no is his cue to start a maddening crying and whining campaign to get whatever it is he wants. My husband and I have had a long-standing rule about whining: We don’t negotiate with whiners. And so when he begins whining, I walk away: no explanations, no sympathy, no begging and cajoling.

I thought our rule worked well until the other day when my four-year-old turned to me and said: “Mama, how come when Mina (his sister) cries, you be nice to Mina and when I cry, you get mad and be mean to me?” And two beats later, his sister chimed in: “Yeah, mama, I’ve noticed that too!”

Ladies (and gentlemen): This question stopped me cold in my tracks. My boy, my beloved boy, was hurt because he felt that he was being mistreated. That he was being treated unfairly. And, at 4, he is not necessarily connecting the dots of varied causation: that he gets no sympathy because he cries mostly when he’s whining whereas she gets sympathy because she cries mostly when she has hurt herself. All he knows is that when he cries, we get stern, and when his sister cries, she gets sympathy.

And we are not connecting those dots for him. We’re just expecting him to get it, to intuit the difference in treatment, and to be a boy and get over it. There is a lot of emotional nuance, most of which is not being explained in the way it needs to be.

I went in search of more information and found this blurb in Dan Kindlon’s Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, which really resonated with me:

There is plenty of reason to be concerned: a confused young boy grows into an angry, emotionally isolated teenager, and, predictably, into a lonely, middle-aged man at risk for depression … Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger or aggression. They need to experience empathy at home and at school and be encouraged to use it if they are to develop conscience.

All this is not to say that my boy is now going to be coddled and get his way when he whines. But I intend to be more expressive about why I’m not sympathetic to the whining, about how much he is loved, how sad I am when he is hurt, how much compassion I feel for him when he is frustrated or angry. He may still be one hyper bundle of pure boy energy, but surely he is just as deserving as his sister of the emotional exchanges that come with the childhood hurts and tantrums.

When did we sign this silent pact that our boys are to be islands, cut off from the same emotions and connections we provide so freely to our girls? I don’t know how and where it all got started but I, for one, am out.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’ve been mulling around this post for quite some time now. I think there is something to discuss when it comes to our diverse ideas of what makes someone a “good” or “bad” parent. I also think there are some things we can try to hash out as a group (and guests!)

Growing up, did we not always hear our parents say how they always want us to have more than they had, be better than they were? And did we not often have times when our parents did or said things that made us pause for a moment or made us think “Wow, but they said I couldn’t do that!”  The universal response has almost always been:

“Do as I say, not as I do”

I thought about this because I have a pretty foul mouth and my son has picked up some curses. I do not curse AT him or anything (I hate that), but I occasionally let a curseword slip by when I’m around him. It is usually when I’m driving. You understand. I am working on teaching him that he should not curse, but here iss the rub: I am not opposed to cursing, as a rule. I do not feel right telling him he cannot ever curse because I believe when he is older, he can speak as he wants to. I do, however, feel compelled to teach him that he cannot do so now, as a child, and as he gets older, I will teach him about times and place where it would be inappropriate to use such language.  Growing up, I’d never curse around my father. Now, we curse when speaking to each other occasionally. I’ll never forget when I was about 25, my dad dropped the F-bomb and said “Well, you’re old enough now. I know you curse, you know I curse.” Our relationship was forever changed by a four-letter word lol.  This is just one example.

There are things I do, that I do not think are necessarily wrong for an adult to do, but I do not want my son picking up or doing right now.  I battle with feeling like a hypocrite. Someone said I am too liberal a parent and that I need to keep it “old school”.  Here is the thing though… old school is not always right. In fact, “old school” includes a LOT of things I am very much against, with regard to child-rearing. I was called a liberal parent, as if it were a bad thing. I do not see a problem with making certain allowances for your child, if that is how you want your child to be raised. Understanding society’s limitations and expectations, however, I feel compelled to make sure my son learns certain ways of being so as to not get into “trouble”. As a Black male, he is “trouble” by virtue of his existence, if you let some people tell it. So I feel even more conflict in the things I let him do, the things I teach him, and how far I let him go.

When my son asks me about drinking, I’ll tell him, like my mother told me, he can drink when he can buy alcohol. I started drinking at 14. First time I got drunk, I as so hungover, my mother said, “Now you see what I mean”. She did not beat me, ground me, or anything. I did not drink again for at least three years. I grew up knowing my mother smoked marijuana. She supported its legalization, as do I.  She taught me that smoking it was not wrong, but that it was something adults should do. I do not think she was wrong for teaching me that.

So I bring it to you, dear readers… are there things you do that you do not necessarily want your children doing, but feel weird telling them that?

Are there things you are OK with your children doing now or in the future that others may frown upon? How do you handle that?

Billy Bad Ass

*Deeeeeep Sigh*

I am having serious issues. My precious, darling, cutest baby boy in the world has morphed into a Creature of Badness. No, we’re not supposed to talk about our kids like that, but hey, I’m amongst family, right?

Right. So let the venting begin.

Maybe I need to back up a minute and state, for the record, that I truly believe behavior is learned, either by mimicking the behavior of those in one’s immediate society, by direct behavior modifcation efforts from authority figures, or by indirectly picking up things along the way from more external sources, like media, for example. I believe that children absorb everything around them and it influences how they think, the choices the make, and, consequently, their behavior.

With that said, there are certain ages where children just begin to lose their ever-loving minds!!! This is one of those times I’m guessing.  My son went from being sweet-faced, obedient, always wanting to please to being angry, rude, disrespectful, disobedient, and just all around bad.

And it is driving me up the wall!

I spend weekends with him and he is with his father during the week. Its only about 3 days (from Friday evening to Monday morning) but it comes out to being more hours than his father spends with him during the week. It’s usually just he and I, one-on-one, mano a mano. I’d say maybe 15-20% of that time is pleasantly spent laughing, playing, reading, doing fun things.  The rest of the time is spent fussing, fighting, yelling, disciplining, dragging, popping, and all other types of foolish defiance-induced struggling.

I had to step back the past couple of weeks and think of what might be contributing to this behavior. I thought about his being 3 year old and how every article I’ve read says that its the 3s that are the real trouble, not the 2s. Ok, I’ll give him that. I thought about how rapidly he is developing physically, mentally, and emotionally, and how difficult it must be to try and navigate all of these internal changes being only 3 years old. Poor guy, right? I thought about the separation, and how it might be causing issues for him as he tries to adjust to his family being separated and his going back and forth between two homes. That’s a lot to deal with at 3. I thought about how, in his new child care setting, he is allowed a lot more freedom and provided with a lot less discipline than he once was. His father’s step-mother is his primary caregiver, and let’s be honest, she spoils him rotten (like she did her own sons).

My son has become a demanding little beast who does not take “No” for an answer. Everything is a negotiation. He  went from always saying, “Mommy can I have some juice please?” to “Mommy. Juice.” I spent an entire weekend retraining him to ask politely for the things he wants. And then, when he does ask and I say “No”, his response is “But Mommmmmmmy, you can’t say ‘No’!” or he comes and hits me, scowls his face, and follows up with “You don’t tell me ‘No’!” or somehing to that effect. Or, he comes back 5 seconds later, “How about now?”

Wait… what? Where did he learn that mess?? Who is jumping at every demand that he puts forth that he ever got it into his mind that 1. it’s ok to make demands 2.  it’s ok to hit me and 3. it’s ok to yell at me and tell me what to do??

As the young folks say, “Where they do that at?”

I feel like I spend the majority of our time in disciplinary mode and it is wearing me out! It is making it very difficult for me to enjoy my time with my son and thus making it hard for me to connect with him the way I want to. Since connecting with him has been an issue since he was born, for other reasons, this concerns me a great deal. I feel like I’m playing Good Cop, Bad Cop, and guess which one I am?

Occasionally, I feel a sense of dread when I have to pick him up, especially if I know he hasn’t taken a nap that day (which happens often because his caregivers aren’t making him nap). I prepare for the inevitable evening meltdown that will ruin any plans I had for that time and I prepare myself for battle. When I drop him off on Mondays, sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, I feel sad for ever feeling this way.

I’m doing my best to remain consistent in my disciplinary tactics, but little is working short of popping him with the “Bad Boy Stick” which is a wooden spoon. Even then, he stares at me like “So? That’s all you got?” and I feel horrible for having spanked him (I’m already against spanking). When I see how ineffective it is, it makes me feel like it’s not worth it. Someone recently said, “Hit him harder”, but is that the answer? Really?

He has always had an indepedent streak. I try to support it. He wants to do things on his own, so I allow him the space to do that. But with that comes often bad behavior that I have to correct, when I feel no one else is. The other day, I had reached a breaking point and I was in near tears asking him, “Why are you so mean to Mommy? Why do you behave like a bad boy so much? Why can’t we have fun and smile and laugh and play?”

He started crying and said “I’m so sorry Mommy!!” and threw his arms around me wimpering. He then said, “Because I want Daddy here”. I don’t want to believe that he understood what I was asking well enough to answer that way, but at the end of the day, I think I have my answer.

Where are these kids’ parents?

I know that I tend to think a lot about discipline. I think it has something to do with raising cocoa males. I know what the stereotypes and barriers are that they will probably face because of their skin color. So, my hubby and I work hard to assure that our children are polite and well behaved.

We live in a county that is 90.7% White. We tend to stand out in our community. My oldest son is the only cocoachild in his school, grades K-2. At a recent PTO event, we were able to socialize with other families. We ate pizza, there was a raffle and then we all went to a high school basketball game for breast cancer awareness. While enjoying time with our family in the school’s cafeteria, we noticed all of the children getting restless. We didn’t expect our children to sit still during all of that time. We allowed them to walk around with their friends. After a few minutes, we began to see some children running, sliding across the floor and yelling across the room. Cliff and I looked at each other and asked, “Where are these kids’ parents?”

Cliff and I often wonder what the perception and comments would be if that were our kids. We often receive complements on how well behaved they are. For instance, I was recently shopping at a local department store. My children asked if they could walk over and look at some toys on a rack. I instructed them that they had to stay where I could see them. They said ok and quietly walked over to the rack. They came back over to me just a few minutes later and stood with me while I checked out. A woman in front of my in line was amazed at how well they behaved. She began to talk about how her children would have been running around screaming and all over the floor. I thanked her and reassured her that my children do have their times.

I am extremely honored that friends, family and strangers notice the politeness of our children. But, it’s not natural. I mean, I’d like to think that they just came out that way. But, parenting has occurred behind closed doors in order to get these results. For instance, I recall my mother having “the talk” with me before getting out of the car. Cliff and I joke about that all the time. But, we also have “the talk” with our children. What is “the talk” you ask? The talk occurs while you are parking your car or arriving at a location. During this conversation, the parent(s) lay out all expectations while at the location (i.e. do not ask for anything, behave yourself while we are in the store, don’t hit/fight your brother, etc.).

I don’t want people to look at my kids and ask where I am. Or, if they do, I hope it is because they are impressed by my child. I’m proud of my children. They represent me well. Don’t get me wrong. They fight one another and argue at home ALL the time. I know that the “real” parenting happens behind closed doors. The hug and cuddle time, the conversations about responsibility, reading to one another, dinner time, family outtings. All of these opportunities allow for communication and teachable moments. Where have your parenting moments happening?

Annie is a former CocoaMama who is married to her best friend of 15 years. They have two sons, a 6  year old and a 3 year old. She currently works at the Pennsylvania State University full time where she  is also completing her doctoral degree in higher education. She has worked and been a student for as  long as she has been a mother. So, she has had to learn how to simultaneously juggle all of her  identities. While she has not perfected this skill, she continues to assure that her family remains her  number one priority.