I know some of us roll our eyes when advocacy for children is discussed. We don’t like to think of little humans with big egos and huge self-respect. We don’t think that our actions can affect kids and possibly traumatize them into not trusting adults ever. Before admonishing a child in a way that destroys their self-respect we forget that we don’t have that right on anyone except our own selves. Even for our own children I refer to Kahlil Jibran’s poem “Your children are not your children”.
It may sound like I’m holding onto some baggage but I remember every adult who made me feel crummy when I was a child. Every adult who took advantage of the age difference with me and the established hierarchy that came with it. Every adult who misused that hierarchy. Every adult who didn’t use their vantage point to inspire but rather to scare. I remember all those people.
Some of my most intense and profound memories are of people who were particularly crummy to me while they were supposed to teach me religion. To a kid who is 8 or 10 or 13 or even 18 and is essentially a kid with immaturity about ideological beliefs like religion, that attitude tainted religion for me. I saw all the keepers of our religion as short-tempered, hostile, aggressive if I made mistakes, and insulting.
The result? My Quran tutor became a nightmare. I was scared of him and cooked up plans to get him fired. I was obviously imagining his reprimanding a lot worse than it actually was but it affected me a lot when he showed his displeasure in a very distasteful manner. He would yell and scream and threaten to physically hit me if I didn’t get it right the next time. If you don’t know what’s worse than physical violence, it’s being threatened with it.
But he never hit me. What he did was a series of threats. Threats about how he would hit, how he would tell my parents that I was a lost cause, how he didn’t trust I would amount to anything. He was the worst person to teach me Quran.
He quit after my parents saw him being loud and obnoxious. I also communicated to my parents how I wasn’t able to learn anything because he was so abrasive with his words.
Was he the one and only teacher who had a negative impact on me? No. Was he the only adult who didn’t treat me with kindness and compassion? No.
Years later when I became a mother I was over the moon. I had so many ideas on how to raise my kids and how to not ever hurt their ego and their soul.
Minha came when I was in residency. I had very busy days and nights. And Minha has always been a bad sleeper. I would sometimes stay awake the whole night along with her nanny in attempts to put her to bed. It was rare but I had to stay up some nights every month to help her nanny.
One night as we were attempting to put Minha to bed I could see that her nanny was tired. I was tired too. I snapped a few times while rocking Minha and I think my nanny sensed that I wasn’t feeling it that night. She suggested that I go sleep and she’ll take care of Minha. I felt bad for my nanny because she was a wonderful woman who did way more than I paid her and was always there for me. It was unfair to her that she’d have to be there during the day and also during the night for my child. But I was tired too and so I snapped a few more times. One time I snapped a little too viciously and Minha, who was barely 2 then, started to cry. My nanny immediately took charge and told me to leave the room and take a nap. She wouldn’t hear anything. I tried to reason with her but I knew that I didn’t have the energy to argue with her or sit next to Minha any longer. I went and slept.
I woke up the next morning and left for work. When I came back I saw Minha and my nanny playing together. I asked her if Minha slept at all the night before . She said yes.
“Sorry, I got so angry last night. You probably saw how tired I was. Thanks for sending me for the nap”.
“Sonia! Don’t mind my saying this but I’ve watched a lot of kids. This has been my job for twenty years. I didn’t send you away because you were tired. I sent you away because you were scaring Minha”.
“I know. And I don’t want Minha to remember me like that ever”.
“You’re a nice person. No parent wants their kid to remember them losing their temper. But a lot of kids watch their parents yelling, screaming, crying. Sometimes all of this is directed at the kids. It can be very traumatic”.
“I just lose it sometimes. What do I do in the moment?” Then I said half-jokingly. “You’re twenty years in the business of training kids to be independent. May be start some parent training too”.
“Parents can’t be trained. No two parents have the same circumstances. We all wing most parenting. The conscious decisions in parenting aren’t a luxury that we always get. Don’t give yourself any grief over losing it sometimes. Parenthood is stressful with no instant or short-term rewards. But I can give you a tip. Any moment that takes over you is a bad moment. In any such moment when you’d displace your anger and frustration on a child, walk away. Simply walk away. Don’t scream, don’t curse, don’t scold or yell. Just simply walk away. Get your thoughts together. Give yourself time and then come back to the child and see how you can help them”.
This advice is simple, right? But it has helped me immensely. Especially with my homeschooling an autistic who has significant challenges of cognition and language. Any time Minha isn’t getting it, I talk her and me through the process. I walk away if it becomes too much for me. I stay away for as long as I need to. And invariably, when I come back, I’m rejuvenated and ready to tackle the problem from a different angle.
This actually became my mantra in life. Walking away from an inflammatory, toxic, disturbing, emotional problem if I’m not able to handle the heat. I walk away.
Anytime someone is yelling at me and I don’t want to yell back. I walk away.
Anytime I am in a verbal altercation with my siblings. I walk away.
Anytime I don’t feel like I have the energy to fight my toddler over meals. I walk away.
This has done a world of good to my well-being. It has helped me keep my relationship with people happy and friendly. It has worked for me and when people have seen me do it, they’ve adopted it and told me that it did them a load of good too.
So this brings me back to my opening line. I remember every adult who was crummy to me. I don’t want to be another such adult. I want to impact my kids positively and lovingly. I want my kids to remember me with loving passion. I don’t want them to associate me with a bitter impression of a woman. And when I say my kids, it’s all the kids who come in contact with me. My own, my siblings’, my siblings-in-laws’, my neighbors’, the kid who broke the grocery line, the kid who ran over my foot with his scooter, the kid who pushed my child in the playground, the kid who suddenly crossed in front of my car, the kid who brings me my meal at a restaurant. I try to extend my adult grace to all my kids.