Update – Momminus horriblis has returned to hibernation

Last week I posted about having one of those days when you feel like the most horrible mommy ever and everyone around you knows it and thinks it too….

I got so much wonderful support and feedback that I felt comforted and embarrassed all at the same time (I’m not good at being reassured — I’m the reassure-er, not the recipient!!). Anyway, you guys are fabulous and it was greatly appreciated!

I mentioned at the end of the post that my plan was to drop Ben off first for the rest of the week to get him used to the idea. Most of my commenters felt that was a good call, and that preparing him for it in advance would help. My mom dissented, suggesting taking the “path of least resistance” and avoiding a power struggle. Now, my mom has had a lot of experience raising inflexible, headstrong children (Not me, mind you. I was perfectly pliable and obedient. My brothers, on the other hand…well, I’m sure you can imagine… and if they want to dispute that, they’ll have to start their own blogs) so she knows what she’s talking about, but in this case I felt that it was a power struggle worth having.

A note on power struggles – I think sometimes we give “power struggles” a bad name. There are parenting philosophies and experts that espouse responsiveness and equality between parent and child  but these do not sit right with me. I believe that there is (and should be) a power imbalance between parent and child, and like in any relationship in which there is a legitimate power imbalance (employer/employee, teacher/student, therapist/client, etc.) the onus is on the more powerful party to use and not abuse that power.

It is the parent’s job to guide their child’s development, encourage appropriate and discourage inappropriate behaviour, enforce safety rules, etc., just as it is the employer’s job to support their employee’s professional growth and monitor their productivity and the teacher’s job to impart knowledge and test the students’ retention and understanding of that information. Using that power in a way that violates the bounds of these relationships, such as to humiliate a child or force a sexual relationship with a student however is abuse. Finally, within these relationship it is also important for the powerful party to create opportunities for the other to experience autonomy and power over their own decisions.

I have a little bit of an obsession with child development reference books – one that I acquired a while back (long before I had children of my own) was The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross Greene. This is an excellent book and well worth a read. Dr. Greene gives good advice for parenting and for life (and agrees with my mom) when he posits

inflexibility + inflexibility = meltdown

and outlines a framework for choosing your battles. He suggests figuratively placing your child’s behaviours in 3 baskets: Basket A contains decisions that must be enforced and are worth enduring a meltdown over (power struggles worth having); Basket B contains behaviours and decisions that are important but that you are willing to discuss and problem-solve with your child (opportunities for compromise); and Basket C contains behaviours that you are willing to simply ignore (opportunities for your child to experience complete autonomy).

Dropping Ben off first was a Basket B issue – I had decided that it needed to happen, but was willing to discuss with him how it would happen. When I picked Molly up at lunchtime on momminus horriblis day, I had a quick word with Ben’s teacher to explain the situation, and she agreed to be at the door to help bring him into the classroom if necessary (and I agreed to be on time!).

On the way home that afternoon I explained to Ben (this time calmly!) that sometimes I would have to drop him off first without him getting upset, so we would be doing that for the rest of the week to get him used to it, and once he was not getting upset about it, we would take turns dropping him or Molly off first. Then we talked about why he likes dropping Molly off first  – it makes him feel special to be the one to bring her to her classroom and kiss her goodbye – and what he could do that would be special when he gets dropped off first. He decided that he would give her hugs and kisses for her pocket (I give him hugs and kisses on his hands to put in his pocket before he goes into his classroom so he has them during the day if he needs them).

The next morning I reminded him again in the car what we were doing when we got to school, and it all went perfectly smoothly. Naturally, I assumed it was a fluke, but Thursday went well too, so I think we’re on a roll! Momminus horriblis has returned to her cave to hibernate indefinitely, and this particular issue seems to have been resolved successfully. I will remember in future to examine my Baskets A, B and C regularly, and I have learned that with a situation like that, in the moment it’s probably best to toss it into Basket C and deal with it in advance next time.

~ karyn

Of course, several days of pathetic sickie children has made it all the easier to banish momminus horriblis and welcome back momminus cuddlius protectivus on an indefinite basis!

Sickie Ben

Pathetic sickie Ben
©PicklesINK 2013

Sickie Molly

Pathetic sickie Molly
©PicklesINK 2013



7 thoughts on “Update – Momminus horriblis has returned to hibernation

    • I always forget about that book until something like this comes up, and then I remember the basket analogy and how great the book as a whole is. I think I am lucky in that in general Ben and Molly are not truly inflexible (at least not in every situation) but certainly the odd situation arises in which I discover that Ben especially is seemingly irrationally, inexplicably inflexible, and I have to remember that “inflexible + inflexible” equation and remind myself that I am the adult and can be the one to choose to be flexible and not have a tantrum myself. It all sounds good in theory after the fact, anyway!

      • What sold me on the book is that my dear husband picked it up, read the first few anecdotes and remarked, “that’s describing me!”

        A part that’s broadly applicable is that frustration tantrums occur in a high-motivation state, and sometimes up’ing the motivation will precipitate or aggravate the tantrum. We’ve seen cases in which a wholly positive incentive-style motivator sends the situation off the rails.

        (I suspect that in your drop-off time example, the time pressure inherent in the situation was fueling it – he may have been thinking “if I stop crying right now I can go into my classroom” which would push the internal motivation up.)

        I would not work through “Plan B” with an adult equal, but, “what could we change to reduce motivation?” is sometimes the answer.

  1. For Denton, the drop-off time rigidity was that he liked to give me precise driving directions, and tell me exactly where to park. If I couldn’t follow the route he had planned, or park to his specifications, he went kaboom. Talking through it helped a lot, though even a few years later, I have to repeat, “mommy can take you to fun places, but part of the deal is that you need to be gracious about it when she doesn’t park optimally.”

  2. FWIW, I’m someone who sometimes has a bad case of “I’m crying because I’m ashamed of crying” and I really wish I’d gained insight into how to handle it, at a younger age. Around ages 10-14, I was asking adults “what can I do to fix the fact that I cry so easily” and was firmly told “some people cry more easily than others and that’s normal” which wasn’t even close to a useful strategy.

    I think describing precisely what one’s own triggers are for tears is a step along the way – unpacking that shame, sadness and anger can all trigger tears but that these things are different. (Not little kid stuff, but your description of his “I need to take a deep breath” really stuck with me.)

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