Parenting Differently From Family and Friends, Part II

Photography: kadeklerk photography

By Genevieve Simperingham

The trials of being a peaceful parent pioneer

When children cry or tantrum. A common challenge relates to how to deal with the interventions of relatives or other parents when one’s child gets really upset, cries or has a tantrum. Relatives or friends, although perhaps well-meaning, can be quite intrusive with comments such as; “stop crying”, “you’re just being silly”, “don’t be sad”, “be brave”, “you’re acting like a baby”, “you can’t always get your way”. Children can feel very shamed when they are laughed at, mimicked or mocked. Some parents freeze and lose their voice (if it wasn’t safe to stand up to their parents as a child); others react angrily leading to conflict that further distresses the child; some parents get so embarrassed or defensive that they themselves scold or distract the child and later regret not connecting, listening and empathising with their upset child. Some parents just say “it’s OK thanks, I’ve got this” and just repeat this if necessary. It can take a lot of practice before a parent can successfully tune out the other adult enough to give their full attention to their child, connect with them and meet their needs.

Gretchen shared: “Sometimes other people don’t realize that we are intentionally letting the tantrum run its course, and jump in trying to be helpful because they think we don’t know what to do. I’ve said about my daughter: If I let her get all her feelings out now as loudly as she needs to, it’ll take only a few minutes and she’s likely to be cheerful and cooperative the rest of the day, but if I suppress her feelings she’ll be in a whiny mood all day. So I’ll gladly take the tantrum.”

The mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome describes what works for her: “Because my daughter behaves very differently from the norm in cafes, etc., I’ve had to learn to let go of what other people think because otherwise I’d never socialise. It’s an ongoing process for me because I am sensitive and naturally tuned in to others. Telling my in-laws not to treat her in a particular way hasn’t been fun or easy, but it’s been necessary. I have a fridge list of acceptable ways to communicate with my daughter for family and guests.”

Having the difficult conversations. Sometimes, it’s important to courageously sit down with an adult in our lives and have that very difficult heart-to-heart to move from individual incidents to expressing a really clear boundary to let them know that they’re crossing the line in whatever way. It takes huge courage to stand up to parents and in-laws especially, but as hard as it is, if we don’t manage to get those boundaries up, we continue to prioritize the adult’s feelings over our own children’s. Even though it may create tensions, it often reduces tensions in the long run. For me, the benefits in putting up the boundaries lies in seeing how much stronger and more confident my children are at advocating for their feelings and needs, or holding those very important boundaries. And yet sometimes having those conversations is either too difficult or may be counterproductive. It’s a complex issue, one that deserves time and consideration.

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