Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Save the NO for when it matters! My parenting rant.

Note: "non" means no in french.

What a weekend, kind-of stressful for me.  But still it was alright.

Not to say that the festival sucked, it didn't.  We heard/saw smile inspiring, foot-tapping groups from all over the world - but seemed we generally had bad timing to catch the acts.  There were 16 stages and so usually just walking around beautiful Belfort, one stumbles onto fantastic music... or the tail end as we did multiple times.  We would find some brilliant music and find a good place to watch and then "Merci!  Merci!" and then they would play the last song of their set.  We would wander off to another stage and they would be okay, but not great and so our search would go on to a wonderful band playing their last song.  This is what happened repeatedly.  But, still it was perfect weather, great people watching and we were at a music festival so that is cool.  Did catch some fine bluegrass type music, but that just made me miss North Carolina terribly sooooooo...:(

Anyway, we got to see Hicham's dad's new greenhouse and his three-tier watering system involving collecting rain water, a cistern, a well and tons of hoses going in many different directions.  I meant to take pictures before we left, but since we packed up the car and left in a hurry in order to catch some music on the last day of the festival before going home, I plum ran out of time.  What was cute though, Sabine discovering and eating fresh strawberries from the garden as she toddled along. 

Usually when we visit, Hicham's sister and husband also visit the parents' house.  Hicham's younger brother is also there, home from college on the weekend for food and laundry etc.  It does lend to a bit more of a family reunion type of feel.  Hicham's parents are really good, salt-of-the-Earth type people.  They have worked for everything they have and give generously.  His siblings are generally equally pleasant people as well.  Of course, one must acknowledge that cultural bias becomes even more obvious when children are involved.  This weekend was the weekend when my notions of childrearing would have to find it's voice amongst the Arab cultural ideas of raising children.  Disclaimer: I am not pretending to be an expert on Arabs, Arab parenting or even knowing what is Arab parenting vs just a controlling personality... BUT I read a few articles online so.... ;)

When Sabine was 6 weeks old, H parent's didn't want me to take Sabine outside.  They suggested I shave her head to make her hair grow in better.  H's mom is happy that Sabine is still breastfeeding because the Quran says to do it for two years.  H's dad didn't want her to walk around the market because it isn't safe.  And so on... BUT these people have a hell of a lot more experience with

children than I do.  They raised five!  So, I can hear what they are telling me even if I think it is silly because they have done it.  This is not true for H's sister, who is my age exactly and who has no children.  So, even though both H's parents also tell Sabine "non! non. non", it was when she did it that really irritated me... even as I was sitting right there!

I did try to get the point across by example, instead of being confrontational:  When Sabine flung open the cupboard below the sink full of chemicals, H's sister immediately said "Non, Sabine, non!"  I bent down with her as she peered into the toxic wasteland of 20 year old cleaners and said, "What did you find?"  She pointed and looked at me.   I said, "wow!" and she closed it and went to find something else to do.  Or I would say things to H's sister like, "Let her do it herself" or "She can do it" or "She is fine" etc but she seemed unable to control her need to control Sabine.

 It all came to a head because after hearing, "NON! stop picking up the napkin.  Stop hitting the sofa cushion.  Stop going in and out of the (open) patio door" when finally one more nag pushed me into a bit of a tirade.  Sabine had picked up a very large round, silver serving tray that was leaning against the couch on the floor.  She thought she had found just about the coolest thing in the room, like a big non-glass mirror with handles! Wow!  But, "non! non. non. Sabine!  Sabine!  non. non. non".  The sister starts up again, telling Sabine to stop doing whatever she is doing. and now stop picking up a tray.  I was like, "okay, listen YOU need to stop with the nos!" 

It was obnoxious as hell for one thing, it wasn't even her house and not her kid, and did I mention, I was sitting right there?  I realized that I simply had to say something because we visit enough to where it would become tormenting in the long run if I didn't stop it now. 

So, I said (entirely in French- the jig was up at that moment!) to please stop it.  I said that if Sabine hears the word non all the time that she will learn to ignore it (I mean, I would too!) and also that it is totally normal for her to explore her environment.  If it is at her level, isn't too dangerous and she can't break it, it's all fair game as far as I am concerned.  I told her it was my parenting philosophy (the whole free range kid thing) and that when she is mom, she will have her own philosophy too - but since she is my kid, back off.   I went on, since she doesn't spend that much time with Sabine she may not understand what she is capable of, but what she is doing is normal and I am sitting right there watching her. 

Yes, we come from different cultures, but my notions of "following the child" aren't exactly original.   Her response was to provide an obviously dangerous scenario (something about a knife I think - it was in French) and ask me if I didn't want her to say no then too?  I said, exactly THAT is when you should save the NON for, when it really matters!  I basically brought up the parenting philosophy bit because I didn't want her to think that I was just sitting there lazily watching Sabine put herself in danger each moment and being rescued by her aunt as I sat there mute.  Me observing Sabine quietly as she pushes the dining room chairs around the room is parenting. 

A couple of months ago, Sabine was obsessed with opening drawers and pulling everything out.  She did it a bunch of times, got whatever lessons/fun/experience out of it that she needed and hasn't done it since.  Was it a hassle for me? Yes, but I know that if turned that into a struggle there would be no winner.  Anyway, how cool is it to open a drawer and inside are tons of different colored underwear to pull out?  AND THEN, to open yet another drawer and find a bunch of soft socks? 

When Sabine throws her books, I don't tell her no or get mad.  I simply pick up the book off the floor, say "bye bye book" and put it up high where she can't reach it.  She gets mad anyway, but she is learning about real consequences, choices and self-discipline and not mommy-power-trip-you're gonna learn not to throw books because I said NO!  (Bad girl).   No, my dear little one, you are gonna learn because mommy-power-trip gonna take that book away.  She has many other books to look at, so it isn't exactly punitive - and she will get the book back later too.   The book throwing is on the decrease too.

Sabine did teach herself to stop throwing food on the floor, another common toddler problem.  At first, this was harder for Hicham to not say no instinctively.  When she would put something in her mouth and realized she didn't like it, she would fling it with some intense vehemence across the room.  Eventually, I learned to watch for Sabine's hand going towards her mouth after just putting something in.  Putting my hand out, smile on face, she would happily put the unwanted item in my hand instead of throwing it.   I would say thanks, she would beam with joy and we would go on - never threw food again.  Apparently, putting the food in my hand got the point across too.  The cool thing about that was that I could look at it and figure out what she didn't like exactly.  I soon learned that it was peelings of anything that she would reject.  Sabine really likes tomatoes, but hates the peels for example.

My point is that, not using the word no has given rise to many more productive ways of learning how to behave - without tears or tantrums.  It isn't just about manipulation either: I'll give you this soft teddy bear, if you give me that sharp object but rather, wow - that is sharp!  Can we look at it together while mama holds it?  If there is a way that I can support Sabine in learning all she can about her world and herself,  I will do it. 


Marieanne said...

Awesome! You are so on the money about "no" and desensitization. You rock! Carry on.....

Sara Louise said...

I'm not a mom so I don't have any experience with this myself, but I will say that while I'd listen to my in-laws with regards to child rearing, the constant meddling of someone else who doesn't have children would work my last good nerve

Sara Louise said...

And let me clarify; when I say I'll 'listen' to my husband's parents, I don't mean that I'd blindly obey, I just mean that I would be more apt to listen with an open mind as you do

Elizabeth Peel said...

Hey! I came across this one just now when I googled for your blog and found that this guy had written about it! I'm sure you know about it (maybe he even contacted you?), but just in case not, it was at: http://www.atasteofgarlic.com/paris/transition-kitchen/ . Anyway, just guess what I was thinking the whole time I was reading about the part about Hicham's sister, the buildup and the denouement: What did SHE say?!? (or do?) :0 You DID have where she had her comeback but you had a perfect response....and THEN what?? Was she cool? Did she understand? Or was she angry? (hopefully, she was enlightened!)

Yes, you have it right on- Sabine is so lucky to have you as a mother! Another thing you could say to folks to try to get them off your back is that she is learning SO much, more than we can even imagine (since we learned it so long ago, before we can remember), when it looks to them like she (and all children) are just messing around and being destructive...she is like a scientist doing constant important experiments! Don't get in her way! ( :) unless, as you said, it's dangerous or breakable...David's going to have a steep learning curve when it comes to that last one- doesn't like things scratched, etc. even a little bitty bit- but he says he'll be able to handle it!)

See, this is why I can't make comments! They'll end up as long as your blog!! I can't believe it's letting me go this long anyway! :) I'm going to call you later today...or, maybe I'll let you call/write me when you've read this, so I know you've read it, so I don't just repeat it in our phone call!

Oh, and btw, Lily is moving to New Orleans today!