Follow-through fear

I was talking to a good friend of mine about setting limits and she said, “I remember letting my 3-month-old cry it out at bedtime and being so afraid she’d wake up in the morning pissed at me for it. But she was all smiles as usual and I was so relieved!”

There it is — the fear of the follow-through that starts when they’re babies and doesn’t go away. It crouches in the back of my mind as I hold my ground and brace myself for the tears, anger, discouragement, and, sometimes, revenge.

I hadn’t seen revenge in a while, not since the last time Charlotte was left behind from the drive to school and she drew on the wall while I was gone:

When I saw it, I was puzzled at first and then when I realized it was a little slice of revenge, I was just surprised that it wasn’t a frowny face. Then I said to Charlotte, “Hmm, look at that. That’s new. Ok, here’s a sponge. Let’s see, I’m betting that most of it will come off, but you’ll still be able to see it faintly on the wall. What do you think?” Overcome by curiosity, she took the sponge and started scrubbing. All done. We never spoke about it again.

But soon after that we had another episode. Charlotte hadn’t been late for bedtime in a while, but on this night she was procrastinating more than usual and she had a lot do to on her contributions. To make a long story short, time ran out and she didn’t get her cherished bedtime visit from me. She cried. Hard. And begged. I practiced my firm and kind voice and calmly ignored the tantrum — no need to be angry when I’ve got the follow-through working for me. And no need for the “Well if you had just done what you’re supposed to do…” lecture (which does nothing but disrupt the learning process and damage our relationship). Ah, freedom.

Eventually she went in her room and I went in my office. But later I discovered she had come back out to make sure I got the message: She took all the pillows off my bed and hid them in the closet and hid my book under the bed too. Then I found my little earring dish placed behind the bedroom door, and I still haven’t located my favorite lip balm. But the crown jewel was the note placed carefully next to my bathroom sink:

Parenthood is not for wimps. It’s not easy to watch your child lash out. To see the frustration and feel the hate aimed right at you. I use lots of deep breaths and self-reminders that she’s counting on me to be reliable, predictable, consistent, and CALM. Her screams of “I hate you!” are really saying, “Show me you mean it! Show me you deserve my respect! And that you love me no matter what! Show me what you’re really made of! Show me!!!!!”

Just like the baby who cries it out at night and still smiles the next morning, Charlotte’s tantrum was gone as quickly as it came. I quietly put the pillows back on my bed, focused on connecting with her the next day, and that night she earned back her bedtime visit.

Follow through, stay calm, and hold your ground. The unpleasant part passes quickly and the other side is all smiles. Remember, they’re just making sure that you mean it.

Explore posts in the same categories: Weeks following: Miscellaneous

12 Comments on “Follow-through fear”

  1. Shalagh Says:

    Love it Catha! I agree they are always all smiles – never remember. Really like the part about SHOW ME!
    Thanks for the great info!
    S

    • flockmother Says:

      You’re welcome, thanks for writing! Speaking of smiles, Charlotte saw me working on this post and with a big smile she said, “Oh, you took a picture of that? That’s when I was really mad!”

  2. Slawebb Says:

    I totally needed this this week. It’s been rough for us. Just last week I had to walk away from my almost 8 yo dd. I picked up the baby and headed for him room to barricade myself in. She knew what I was doing and was 2 steps in front of me. I had to push her out and sit against the door, comforting the baby the whole time. I just screamed that she hated me over and over. Told her little sister I hated her, too. Once she settled down and I came out we had dinner. I opened Izze sodas and all were smiles again. But man, it is so hard to listen to all the hateful words aimed at me. Thanks again!

    • flockmother Says:

      I know. So hard that sometimes it physically hurts to hear it. I’ve had times when I had to close myself off like you did and actually go into fetal position to kind of shield myself from it. Phew.

  3. Debby Says:

    I am so impressed and inspired by your self-control. Had an incident just last night where I lost my temper, to no good. Drawing on the wall would send me through the roof. I try to imagine how these interactions (locking the door, etc) will feel to the kids in retrospect when they are adults – will it fade behind the calm consistency, or become their image of how we relate to them? “Show me that you deserve my respect and that you love me no matter what!” – will try to keep this in mind!

    • flockmother Says:

      Hmm, what will they remember when they’re adults? And what do we hope they’ll say about us? That’s powerful stuff. I already hear my girls saying, “Dad yells a lot.” So there it is — do you lose it a lot? Or just once in a long while? Nobody’s perfect. So frequency can be the deciding factor in how they’ll remember you. I remember Vicki saying, “So you say you value kindness, but do you DO kindness? Every day?” Geez, kids don’t let you get away with anything! 🙂

  4. vicki Says:

    You are the bomb. Let me just say here ladies and gents, that although the outbursts are far and few between at my house, they still exist. And I can tell you that a strong, capable 18 year old senior can cut deep and swift with both words and actions if they want to. The amazing part is this – they don’t want too. Oh, they want me to hurt for a minute. To understand their pain of the moment. And I get the message, loud and clear. But staying strong, staying consistent, loving them even when they are at their worst is what makes it possible for everyone to regroup quickly.

    I think I am just now seeing the real pay off in terms of my relationship with the kids. Their yelling or lashing out is less vicious than it was when they were 7. Huh! Something is working here.

    So keep with it. Stay strong. Remember you love them. Remember it’s your job to hold steady so they can learn to hold steady.

    Big love Catha. You are helping so many moms, including me.

    • flockmother Says:

      You always help me see in the long term. Somewhere along the line I got this mantra from you: “Change happens over time, change happens over time…” When I get that two-steps-forward-three-steps-back feeling, I chant that to myself and it really helps! Big love right back 2 U.

  5. sally Says:

    Thank you so much for writing your blog. This post, like so many previous ones, has encouraged me on my parenting journey. I’m constantly referring people to Vicki’s program and to your blog for them to read an ongoing insightful honest real-with-all-the-emotions account of the program applied. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  6. Amber McCracken Says:

    I just sent the link to this post to myself via email with the subject line, “read when things are really hard”…I had a hard time with my 5 yo son this morning…and it didn’t even include hateful words…if this morning was hard I’m going to need to stay strong when it gets really, really tough – and with this approach I know it will before it gets better – so I’m counting on your words to bring me back from the brink. (That was quite the run-on sentence…that’s why I’m not the writer and you are! Ha!) I’ve been devouring your blog over the past 2 days and really want to thank you for detailing things so clearly…it’s really helping to give me vision at the beginning of this journey which can be very exciting, and yet very intimidating. So thank you!

    • flockmother Says:

      You’re so welcome. It’s been over three years since I wrote that post and I’ll tell you what—we have gone through it and come out the other side. Hang in there. It is soooooooo worth it. I mean, the bumps never disappear entirely, but compared to where I started, it’s a smoooooooth ride. Hang tough.


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