The premise of respectful parenting, as I understand, is that children are people and they should be respected. Their bodies, words, thoughts, emotions should be respected. When my parents raised me, this philosophy was not prevalent. Most relevant to me, it was not practiced in my house at all. Children were to listen, not to be listened to. There was a lot more toxicity that existed in my childhood home that we will not go into now, but suffice it to say, a big personality like me who consistently did the opposite of what they were told did not feel loved and welcome in a home that only praised compliance.
I hold nothing against my parents and truly believe that they were doing the absolute best that they could. As I have grown and become a parent myself, I believe that I can do better.
I had to think what does that look like for me? After doing a ton of reading, I resonated with respectful parenting so much. There were some things, I don’t subscribe to, but the premise that my kids get to be respected across the board was obvious to me. Regardless of if they behaved, or listened, or “were good” they deserved to be respected. It was pretty much what I wanted, no, what I needed, my entire childhood.
James (and Sage) do not “get away with murder”. They are taught to not hit and bite. They learn not to scream at people. They learn that their voice matters. They are taught healthy ways to release their anger (note: screaming is a healthy way to release their anger, just not at people). They stomp, and squeeze their fists. They breathe. They cry. They get some space. Through it all, they feel loved and respected.
As James goes to hit her friend with a stick because they have a toy that she wants, I quickly grab her hand to tell her, “I can’t let you do that. We don’t hit our friends. That’s not safe”. When she comes at me with fierceness in her eyes, ready to hit, again I grab her hands and give her space to break down without letting her hurt herself or me in the process. She will often scream and cry. The tears are so real. She is truly so upset. I don’t belittle her emotions by telling her she has one thousand other toys to play with. Instead I stay with her as she releases. I affirm her by staying with her without judgement. I don’t try to solve. I just stay.
Mind you, I do all of this in a perfect world, in a perfect moment, in perfect timing.
I have hit James’ bottom before. I have yelled. I have aggressively brought her to her room and locked the door so I didn’t hit her. The first time she spat on me (yes I say first time because this went on for weeks), I hit her mouth. She cried. I cried. I knew I didn’t want to hit. I knew she didn’t mean to spit. It all happened so fast. I have hit her a few times in her short life, and each time it is not ideal. Each time it’s a mistake. Each time is followed by an apology. Every time I yell (which is the most infrequent) or just act differently than my ideal, I apologize. I tell her, we do not hit. I tell her I am sorry. Mommy should not have done that.
She is quick to forgive as kids are. And I hold my guilt and rebuke the shame. I give myself grace. I remind myself that I am trying my best. I remind myself that James is trying her best. I share my story so my shame dissipates. I create a plan to not find myself in that situation again. I decide to wake up earlier to get some more space. I turn on the TV for J and listen to a parenting podcast. I write an IG post to release the shame. I drink more water. I meditate. I snuggle. I read my latest parenting book. I put James in her room so I can get some space. I make plans to do what I need to do to be the parent I want to be.
It doesn’t always work but it does most of the time. Mostly I try to be proactive. I listen to my parenting podcasts regularly to remind me that what she’s doing is developmentally appropriate and to give me the strategies when mayhem arrives.
Respectful parenting is my goal. It is my ideal. I want my kids to feel respected. I want them to know that their voice matters. And it starts here, at home.