Originally, I had titled this post 'The Darling Buds of Compassion', but then I decided that sometimes, poetry doesn't do justice to the good ole' truth. I've had a triumphant parenting moment, an oh-my-God-maybe-I-do-know-what-I'm-doing moment, and I wanted to share it.
I often find it's easy to feel the odd one out when living by attachment parenting philosophies. Mine are the children who are self-confident, passionate, loud at times, shy and intense at times, non-conformist – and our culture often frowns on that. Do you know what I mean? Perhaps when you hold your tantruming child at the checkout and refuse to shame or punish her despite the tuts of the other shoppers; when you rock your crying baby to sleep at mothers group while the other babies sleep soundlessly in their prams. During these sorts of moments, it can be easy to wonder – why am I doing this?
A few days ago, I drove across the state with my two small children: five- and two-years old. It was a long trip, about six hours. Several hours into the drive, the kids were tired, whiney and antsy. They were annoying each other and constantly demanding what the other one had, who had it first, who wanted the biggest... you know the drill. Nothing new there!
Five-year-old was bemoaning her sticker book failing to live up to her expectations. She began to cry with frustration – loudly. At the end of my own tether, I gripped the steering wheel and counted to six million, concentrating on the road flashing by at 100 kilometres per hour.
Then, under the sound of her wailing, I heard the little voice of the two-year-old, quiet and concerned. "Whatsa madda, Ads?" he asked.
Five-year-old wailed again about he injustice and inefficiency of her sticker book.
Two-year-old said, "You need a cuddle?"
I glanced in the rear vision mirror to see my two-year-old son's arms outstretched toward his sister's car seat, his head bent over, craning toward her. Quietly, his sister reached her arms across, and he clasped her hands, and lowered his cheek to her palm.
There was a moment of silence, and then, "Betta?" he asked brightly.
Of course, within minutes anarchy had resumed and all was back to chaotic normalcy. But I was triumphant. He is two. Two years old and he recognised she was upset, and offered her comfort. Don't get me wrong, my kids are often cuddly and loving with each other and with my husband and I, but this was such a remarkable moment, the two-year-old demonstrated true compassion and autonomously initiated comfort.
It's these brief moments of reprieve from the meltdowns, the defiance, and the calmly-on-the-outside-but-wild-on-the-inside working through frustrations that reassure me that somewhere, sometimes, I might just be doing something right.
Children learn through what is modelled to them. I believe that if we model empathy, respect, self-confidence, assertion and compassion, they learn that that is how we should treat each other. If we respect them and expect nothing less than respect ourselves, we show them that they are worthy – and that worthiness extends to others, too.
I'm far from a perfect parent. Every day is a learning curve and I'm certain that when my children are older, they are going to have plenty of complaints about what I've done over the years (goodness knows, they complain enough now!) But when everywhere around me, people are selling disconnect as the answer to harried parents, responsive parenting can feel isolating and unusual. And when almost half of Australians aged between 16-85 are experiencing mental or mood disorder at some point in their life at an estimated annual cost of $20 billion (1), I can't help but wonder how we can better hard-wire our neural pathways for happiness, optimism, and compassion.
So I'm going to revel in these moments. I'm going to congratulate myself, and sooth myself with them when I'm tearing my hair out, and remind myself why I'm doing this.