After a disastrous morning trying to get up, ready, car packed, cats to cattery, prescriptions picked up (which the GP receptionist had no record of), all before J-cub needed a nap (so he could nap in the car), we finally set off for Devon around 11am. It's embarrassingly been almost a year since we last visited my parents. We haven't had the funds for the fuel to get down there, and they are more than happy to come up once a month or so (they are both retired so have ample free time), and somehow a whole year has passed. The last time we were there, J-cub was very much still a baby - still breastfed, no solids, couldn't crawl or sit up or do anything much at all. It was very restful.
Obviously, I'm writing this having come home from the week with my parents, so this post is about the whole week, and how very difficult it was to stay with them.
A hyperactive toddler + parents who keep their house as though it were a show-home = NIGHTMARE.
I don't think J-cub has ever heard the word 'No' so many times as he did in the week we stayed with my parents (and not from us). My mum repeatedly told us "I'm not proud, don't worry about it", so we didn't. But that didn't stop my Dad from repeatedly saying "No no no no no no [really, won't once suffice?] don't touch that/we don't do that/leave that alone" while my blood pressure slowly rose.
To be fair, we'd been there about 5 seconds before he'd dented the (very expensive) coffee table ... but really, is putting a box of toys INCLUDING A SMALL WOODEN HAMMER next to said table a good idea?
Jamie and I dashed around moving breakables onto shelves above J-cub's height, and implored my parents over and over again not to leave their tea/coffee/wine glasses where he could reach them. I've never realised quite how child-friendly our house and our friends' houses are, until I saw how many glass things my parents kept around, how spiky some of their ornaments and plants were, and how difficult it is to keep a toddler out of trouble when you have 7 rooms on the ground floor, all with interconnecting doors, none of which are kept shut.
I did wonder at several points if I was being unreasonable in expecting my parents to make more allowances for J-cub - they did go to the trouble of getting a stair gate (just the one, fixed, for the bottom of the stairs) and putting cupboard locks on the kitchen cabinet - but it was more the fact that they expected us to discipline him every time he did anything or touched anything that they didn't want him to.
We essentially had a week's worth of tantrums and tears, with J-cub being constantly frustrated and not understanding at all why these new people are happy one minute and cross the next. It really made me think about our parenting choices, in particular the ways that we allow J-cub to explore and learn in his own way, without placing constraints which we think are important on him. As an ABA-trained behavioural therapist, I use positive reinforcement to make behaviour modifications at work. This obviously spills over into how I relate to J-cub, and although I try not to be a therapist at home, it's very difficult to get out of the mindset of saying "great building!" when he's playing with his Mega-Bloks, and never, ever using punishment.
It's probably helped that I've had 5 years of working with, at times, a very frustrating child - I've learnt mountains of patience, and how to curb my temper and my natural impulses to say "No" and to reprimand, and instead to ignore undesirable behaviour and to reinforce desirable behaviour. As part of our programme we use no punitive methods at all, which includes saying "no". We use a gentle no, said in a conversational tone of voice, to indicate that a certain response is not what we're looking for, and at times we've used a sharp "no" for self-injurious behaviour, but even that is very hard to muster when it's so deeply ingrained to remain calm and positive.
At home, rather than saying to J-cub "Stop opening that cupboard", we say "Close the door", and thank him when he's done it. It works. I'm not being evangelical here and saying that we never get cross with him, never say no and never shout. I made him cry and look at me like his heart had been ripped out the other day when his pinching (of the back of my upper arm while he's sitting on my hip) got to such a stage that I thought I was going to pass out from the pain, and I pulled his hand away and said "That's not nice" and put him firmly on the floor. And I'm sure when we get to the terrible twos that I'll be looking back on this and laughing.
But it's really important to us to raise him in a happy home, where he can do what he likes (within reason) and not live in fear. At 30 years old, I still cry if I spill a drink, and I apologise over and over again for any wrong-doing. Remnants from growing up in a house where such behaviours were entirely unacceptable, all accidents were 'choices', and where the silent treatment for any minor transgression could last for weeks.
Looking for some validation of how we're parenting, I came across a gem of a paragraph in my Birth-to-5 book:
Keep it safe.If your child is under three years old, he or she can't really understand why not to touch your stereo or pull leaves off your pot plants, so keep things you don't want touched well out of the way and you'll both be less frustrated. Time enough to learn about not touching when your child can understand why.
2007/2008 English/Welsh edition, p. 50
Suck on that, Dad.