The Witching Hour
Most parents think of the witching hour as the time of night when newborns suddenly begin wailing for no apparent reason. It usually happens toward the end of the day right around suppertime. The Witching Hours also refers to the notion from folklore as the time of night when witches, demons, and ghosts are thought to appear and to be at their most powerful and when supernatural powers are at their most effective.
If you were a fly on the wall in our house last night, you might have assumed the witching hour had begun in our house.
All three kids were hungry, the dog was restless and I had consciously completed all of my self-assigned parenting roles. I had patiently helped both of the big kids with their homework, we played outside in the backyard together as a family, all kids had been given quality snuggle time and they had been bathed. The table was set and I was on my A Game.
Then, in the one second while my back was turned, my two year old discovered how to open the bottom refrigerator freezer. I looked over from the stove to see him gleefully dipping his chubby little fingers into the ice cream container and then licking them with reckless abandon.
Meanwhile, hot olive oil was splattering from the stove, the dog was trying to get at the ice cream, too and the big kids were asking, “When’s dinner going to be ready?”
While I appreciated my son’s great mischievous feat, self-serving ice cream before dinner was NOT on my list of Mom approved activities. So, I stopped what I was doing to tend to him…insert violin music here: I looked him lovingly into his green little eyes and I said, “I know you really want that ice-cream.” I gave him a sweet serving of empathy and I calmly said, “You can have a little after dinner.” Then I closed the freezer.
According to all of the peaceful parenting books, that’s what I should do in order to build connection and emotional intelligence. And boy, was I working my empathy muscles.
It sounds so easy, right?
But no matter how much empathy I had for my little guy, he still wanted that ice cream. He proceeded to try to push me out of the way and pull the freezer door back open. With my hand on the door, I continued to repeat “I know you really want that ice cream you can have it after you eat your supper.”
We went back and forth like that for a while, with me giving him empathy and guidance and he, pushing me, to get back at the door.
I really wanted to get supper on the table before the other two decided to join my little guy in his meltdown so, I brilliantly went and found our 25Lb kettle ball and I placed that in front of the freezer.
I, once again, started to fix up the chicken nuggets. Then, he muscled that kettle ball all the way across the kitchen floor and far, far away from the freezer door. In a second, he was back to his toddler tricks.
When I looked at him, he pointed to the kettle ball, then, pointed to me and then back to the kettle ball, stomped his foot and wailed, “NO!”
He had drawn a line across the kitchen and he did not want me to cross it.
All parents, no matter what practice of parenting they have, will eventually find themselves, if they haven’t already, in a similar predicament.
According to my last Google keyword search check, there are over 292,000,000 results for the topic of parenting (November 24, 2015), over nine million personal parenting blogs and literally thousands of parenting experts out there not only are the experts online but they are in line everywhere…at the grocery store, the bank, the schools, the parks…every one seems to be an expert on how to raise children especially someone else’s.
In that moment, I could have sung the “Uh OH song” and then given a consequence as is often suggested by Love and Logic who offer: “simple and effective strategies for parenting.” They “specialize in solutions to challenges ranging from tantrums to refusing to do anything.” Or I could have counted 1 – 2 -3 and then if that didn’t get him to stop going for the ice cream then put him in time-out. 1-2-3 Magic would address this with their “foolproof method of disciplining by means of three easy-to-follow steps.”
I did try just about every simple positive and peaceful strategy and several of the more complicated ones but no matter what I did, he had his own strategy that he was dedicatedly employing. It was the “I am going to get that ice-cream no matter what that woman tells me strategy!” After several failed attempts on his part, he threw himself on the ground, invoked the forces from within and began to scream and kick his feet. I attempted to comfort him but he was now on a new mission: to release the floodgates and let the feelings go.
While sometimes so called “simple” strategies are effective in getting our kids to comply and certain situations do call for a quick fix such as when we as parents don’t have the emotional energy reserves to handle the flooding of feelings that are coming at us from all directions. Strategies like “time out” or other forms of punishment may feel like they help us in the immediate situation to maintain order and obedience, they do not provide a long-term curriculum for building emotional intelligence, empathy or human connection.
When we give punishments or consequences to children when they are flooded with feelings, we leave them at a time when they need us the most. Punishments only address the outward expression of emotions without considering what is happening beneath the surface.
In parenting and in life, sometimes a band-aide, a time out or a prize will provide temporary relief so we can get on with what we need to do but they do not provide the long-term essential elements that are necessary to teach children strategies for finding effective strategies to meet their own needs.
Quick Fix parenting strategies are marketed in such a way that makes it appear as if a child is “throwing a tantrum” because we are parenting in the “wrong way.” They don’t consider the inner workings of the human brain, the nervous system or the body as a whole. There is a major misconception of reality that if we, the parents, consistently follow these simple strategies then our children will always be agreeable, happy and “good” children.
Conscious parenting or Enlightened Parenting is about considering what we want for our children in the long-term. It involves seeing the whole child and then, attempting to the best of our abilities to project them and ourselves into the future. Then with that intuitive wisdom we can be more fully present with them in the moment.
We consider the wellbeing of their emotional, psychological, physical, mental and spiritual needs. Enlightened parenting is a way of being with our children and raising them in such a way that nurtures the nature of the individual child. Parenting with connection and empathy provides opportunities for teaching an emotional vocabulary, an awareness of feelings and attention to the places inside that hurt.
I don’t believe there is anything EASY about holding such awareness and attention. This type of parenting is not for the Faint of Heart but I do believe it is a worthwhile pursuit and one that will more likely get us an invitation to come over for supper when our kids have kids of their own.
While in the case of the “toddler ice cream thief” he most certainly was not being agreeable and he did try many tactics to get what he wanted. When he realized that no matter how hard he tried he was not going to get what he wanted…and believe me he was working it. He was devastated. He felt upset because he couldn’t get what he wanted. He was not crying to get me to give it to him. He was crying because he was disappointed, sad, angry, and on top of that he was already hungry and tired because it was suppertime. He was crying because his nervous system was flooded with big feelings and in this case, he was crying because he was feeling so deeply that he made like Elsa and “Let it Go!”
Behavior is an attempt to meet a need. When we can see it from this perspective it helps us to stay objective, connected and concerned. As parents, it is our role to help our children learn how to meet their needs with effective strategies.
People often confuse Peaceful Parenting/Enlightened Parenting/ Non-Violent/Democratic Parenting…call it what you like parenting… as Permissive Parenting. We do not permit the behaviors that are not appropriate. Rather we work through them with our children to help them to understand the experiences that they are having. Often it doesn’t lead to immediate compliance but the goal is to build the intrinsic awareness and desires to do the right things when we are not around.
While the intensity of trying to cook supper, supporting children through big feelings and keeping our own big feelings contained may feel like the Witching Hour is upon us and the forces of the Supernatural invade our sense of humanity, the truth is these huge fluctuations of feelings are part of what it is to be human. There is no “simple” parenting method that blocks and prevents our kids from trying something new…like getting ice cream out of the freezer. Stuff is going to come up. Sometimes, no matter what we do our children and we will have moments like these.
So what do we do at the end of the day when we have moments like this?
We still set limits, guide and direct. The difference is; we allow our children to feel what they feel and we as the leader, practice being the calm during the storm. We recognize that sometimes there is no simple solution (other than getting rid of the ice cream). We can sit with our children and assist them in finding the vocabulary to articulate what they are feeling in an effort of integrating the feelings and finding solutions.
For many, these concepts may be new and challenging to implement especially at the end of the day but with practice anything is possible.
My parenting win last night was that I was able to stay in a positive place of connection for my little guy. I gave him time and space to cry and to let out his frustrations. When he was ready, I picked him up, snuggled him in close and then talked to him. I said, “You really, really wanted that ice cream, didn’t you?” He began to sob a little bit more and then nodded his head yes. I snuggled him in more closely and said, “And you were really mad because Mommy would not let you have it?” He cried softly and nodded his head again.
Then we took a few minutes like that, me holding him and he sniffling out those final big feelings. Then I said, “I really want you to eat something healthy because I love you.” And I asked, “Do you understand?” After he felt, felt, and heard what I was saying, he, at two years old, was able to understand what I was attempting to do for him. He nodded his little toddler head, I finished up the supper, served him and the rest of the gang all the healthy stuff and when it was all over and done, he got to scoop his very own ice cream.