I grew up in a highly volatile single-parent household. I was physically, verbally and emotionally abused daily. I grew up thinking it was normal to be hit repeatedly every day, punched, pushed around and to sob myself to sleep every night. I’d have stitches, black eyes, and bruises until she learned to hit me where people couldn’t see. My mother used the “single-parent” card as a crutch to enable and excuse her abuse. She never even tried to choose an alternative less violent parenting method.
Every day I choose not to be abusive to my daughter. Every day I choose not to repeat the same vicious cycle I grew up with. It’s not as easy as you might think –those patterns were my foundation; I grew up with that, it’s affected the architect of my brain on fundamental levels. For an adult survivor of childhood abuse, I make a conscious decision in every interaction and response not to repeat the abuse.
Tonight was a win for me. I am very proud of tonight. My daughter was being super cranky. She needed to go down for bed an hour early, but was just scream-crying no matter what we did. She’d want to be picked up but then she’d get wiggly and want down, repeatedly, every 3 seconds. I attempted to nurse her to sleep but she still couldn’t fall over that edge and just became whinier and crankier. I wanted to throw her in her crib and shut the door.
But I didn’t. I didn’t for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason was because deep down I knew she needed me. She needed me to help her. I didn’t want to abandon her. And, ultimately, I want to create positive “patterning” in her brain so her neural foundation is built on safety, security, and love. I knew there had to be a better way than just tossing her in her crib and shutting the door on her.
I laid down with her in our bed. She was still screaming, now 2 cm from my ear! I tried to sing her favorite song to her, but she screamed even louder. I let her scream for another minute, hoping she’d calm herself down, but she just got more worked up. “I’m going to count to 3” I said. She immediately stopped. Total silence. I was beyond shocked, but thrilled she understood she gets put in a Time Out for 1 minute when I count to 3. After a minute of laying together quietly she began to get restless again and squirm. I asked her if her belly button had an owie –the only way I could figure out how to communicate with my toddler to see if she had a stomach ache. Then I made it into a quiet funny game by pretending to grab a piece of her belly button with my hand and toss it into my mouth, then asking her if she wanted it back and reaching in my mouth and putting it back on her. We snuggled. We played The Claw where I raise my hand and ever so slowly lower it onto her head where my hand would engulf her head and kind of wrap around it and then I’d raise my hand back up and tell her, “It’s gonna get you again!” I don’t know why but she loved this game. We did more quiet silly things together. We gave dozens of kisses to each other (omg this was beyond awesome for me!). I talked quietly to her praising her, telling her how smart, clever and beautiful she is and that I’m so happy she chose me to be her mother (re: as a spirit before she was conceived). She lay quietly listening to me, absorbing it all. We snuggled some more. And then she was out, lightly snoring while cuddled in close to me.
It took maybe 15 minutes. Wow. That’s not long at all! I thought about the “alternate ending” had I thrown her into her crib and walked away, she’d probably still be crying, I’d be going in to take her out right about now, we’d be just starting to lay down –but there would be an emotional distance between us –me annoyed at her, and her overly-clingy after having being abandoned, yet spent and exhausted.
I am so proud of myself for choosing to listen to my heart and parent her with tolerance and love tonight. It was unrushed and beautiful, and is now a memory I will cherish.