It was like watching Goggle Box. I was viewing the scene from the other side of the street, a stream of judgemental critique flowing through my mind.
A young mum was pushing a pram with a toddler trailing behind her, wailing. The Mum was looking ahead, seemingly deaf to the noises her child was making.
I had been a parent for three weeks, and at that moment I vowed that no child of mine would make that noise.
And so it began. The Judging and the Shame of Feeling Judged.
It was probably only a month later that I mentally apologised emphatically to that unknown mother. I knew by then that a snapshot of parenting tells an audience nothing. That parents need more support, and less judgement.
It was years later that I discovered support that truly helped me.
The complex nature of parenting means that it’s not even just what has been happening in the hours leading up to ignoring our wailing child. Sometimes it’s what went on years before, when we ourselves were parented.
Our brains are amazing things, recording and storing experiences for future use, should we need them.
So, when our child shouts and cries angrily about getting in the buggy, our brain might jump to Emergency Mode which will instantly scan for what it knows of children shouting and being angry. We might not have been in a situation like that since we were the angry child and we were being parented. Our response might be the response we were given as a child, which might have been the response they were given by their parents.
It’s a hard cycle to break sometimes.
And made ten times worse by being watched and seemingly judged.
“ARGHHHH, I HATE YOU” my boy screamed at me. We were in the middle of the park. After school. In full view of lots of other parents.
I might have told him off. In the past the idea that others might overhear (and he was ROARING, so everyone could hear) might have been enough to ensure that I be seen to “deal” with his behaviour.
But Hand in Hand Parenting has taught me a bit more now, of what is going on in his brain, and mine.
I knew that this was the first week of a new school year. My son gets scared of new teachers, not knowing what the rules are, what’s going to happen, what it’s going to be like.
And I now know that fear turns to aggression like sugar turns to caramel.
His rage at me wasn’t a reflection of my bad parenting. It was all the fear and nervousness, stored up during the first week of school bursting out at me, the safest person.
It was also why when his aggression split over in the park towards his best friend (also one of his very safest people) I didn’t berate him, instead I caught him and swung him round till he giggled. And then, when he continued to charge at me roaring like a rhino, I caught him and swung him round again. So, he could laugh again and get rid of a bit more fear, and feel more connected. Until he was back to being my beautiful boy.
Goodness knows WHAT the parents watching thought. Maybe that I was being permissive? That I would end up with an aggressive, spoilt child? That I was making rod for my own back?
At times like that I could also feel MY brain being affected by the judgements that may or may not have been made by those watching.
My brain wanting to instinctively react to being screamed at. I might have felt myself fill with rage as well. And, a while ago, I might not have been able to stop myself reacting with a harsh word, or five. More often now, thanks to Hand in Hand Parenting, I can check in with myself and override it.
But it’s taken a lot of support.
One of the tools Hand in Hand Parenting teaches is Listening Partnerships. They are a safe, non-judgemental space for parents to vent and heal, laugh and cry, and figure out what is going on for them and their children. And they have made a transformational difference to my parenting.
I know that I am not permissive. I know my son needs to get rid of those built-up fears, in order to be able to be light and co-operative again. I have spent time in listening partnerships working on my fear around what others might think of me, and my children, and the way I parent. And it’s helped me with my guilt around the times I was harsher than I’d like, when I didn’t know or couldn’t remember what was going on for my boys.
Most of us are parenting with less support than we should have, and all of us are doing the best we can. Even if sometimes we feel like a Goggle Box star.