It's 5am and I'm being punched in the face by my three-year-old Charlie because I said it wasn't time to get up yet. While the punch certainly woke me up, it didn't persuade me to let him get up, so he peed on his toys. Then I yelled. Then he said sorry and we had a cuddle.
Then it all started again. He spat in my face and I felt white-hot rage and extreme exhaustion rolled into one. It is a familiar feeling.
This was the moment I realised I’d lost control, and needed reinforcements.
We don’t smack in our house. That is the only parenting policy we probably have when it comes to Charlie and his sister, Violet, 5. The rest is made up as we go along. And it was not working.
What drives you to seek help from external sources when your kids have broken you? What sort of parent can’t even manage his or her own kid?
I put off the call to Karen the ‘toddler tamer’ for a week, but I finally, shakily, dialled her number. In her comforting Manchester accent, she told me that she has never met a kid she couldn't tame. In a gentle, loving way of course.
I hung up feeling hopeful. Help was on the way. This is what happened.
I’m anxious that we are being disloyal to the kids. I'm also worried that the kids are going to be angels and she will think I'm a nutter. I needn't have worried.
Ten minutes before she arrives Charlie locks the rest of us on the balcony because he bit his own finger and is angry about it. After letting herself in and unlocking us, Karen asks, 'So, is this fairly typical, would you say?' Yes, yes I would.
We all sit around the table as Karen puts Charlie in 'time-out' in the hallway because he bites his dad really hard. It's all very confronting. He has to sit for three minutes and he actually does it, quietly. I’m flabbergasted. Then Charlie is told that he is free to go or come and play. He is mad, but a lot calmer.
Throughout the afternoon, we chat about the kids and discuss triggers for bad behaviour. Karen tells me that if a trip to the shops is going badly, we are to abandon the trolley and go home. She says that everyone will suffer, but the kids will see the immediate consequences.
We talk about the right way to praise, using simple star charts, time-out techniques and getting down to a kids level. It's all common sense, but for some reason, we've slipped into a house of yellers. And we are inconsistent.
She never blames the parents, which is a relief for me, as I'm a little raw. But she taught us how to parent better and to be able to enjoy parenting again.
She also reassures me that the kids are okay. There are some boundary issues, but essentially they are happy, wonderful kids. I didn't want her to leave.
Smooth sailing. The threat of time-out is enough to keep the kids calm. I feel like we’ve turned a corner and it’s going to be love and sunshine all the time. Of course I know this is not going to be the case, but I’m on a high.
We have a good day, consciously playing with the kids on their level, praising them directly about good stuff and speaking firmly about the bad. Absolutely nailing this parenting thing.
Didn't start well. I was alone with the kids from 6am to 8pm and it was raining. We had to do a 30 minute time-out at one point when Charlie was dreadful. It felt like 3 hours.
Later we go to the shops. Usually they are like a plague of locusts at the supermarket, but not today. We survive the shops without me yelling. No one cried or ran away and we actually had a bit of fun. That has never happened.
I didn't raise my voice once today. I feel pretty good about it.
I slip a bit in the morning and feel out of control. I have to get to work and everyone is stuffing around and throwing last minute curve balls.
I get myself together and am kind but firm. My husband and I are co-parenting better.
I realise that we never have been that consistent, and why would we be? When two people from completely different backgrounds try and parent together, you really need to work out your style. We have never done this.
Everyone is buggered after a long week. We forget it all. It's all empty threats, inconsistent messages and exhaustion. I tell them Karen is coming over. That's all I can think of. We will be better tomorrow. Please pour me a schooner of wine.
I go to a sad funeral and realise how quickly time can pass us by. I want to enjoy my family and be the best mum I can be. I go home and cuddle them all. We have a great dinner. There are hiccups, but they are human hiccups and we are all doing our best. I feel lucky.
We are away from home on a lovely weekend away, but it isn’t lovely. The kids are over-tired and wild and we have the longest time-out session in history. I lose it and yell.
But then my husband tag-teams and suddenly we are doing it together and it makes me feel that we are a team. The tide turns and we have a lovely night together in front of a crackling fire, telling stories and roasting marshmallows.
In this time, I’ve learnt parenting has no quick fix solutions. But Karen has helped us to focus and put the foundations in to take back control.
It’s going to take a while, but we will get there in the end. The experience has made me realise that life is too short. Kids need boundaries, parents and carers also need to figure out ways to keep our cool. I’ve realised that when I lose my temper and yell, I’m usually yelling because the kids are yelling and no one can hear anything.
We need to enjoy our beautiful little families, and whatever measure you take to regain peace in the house, is okay.
Kristen is a regular blogger and guest on Kinderling Conversation
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