This past Saturday, in the middle of some rambunctious play, Grace ran up to me and bit me in the leg. Shocked, and aware I had to discipline her immediately, I picked her up, repeating “No biting!” loudly and forcefully, and put her down in the middle of her room. “You stay there for one minute,” I said. “You need to calm down.” I retreated to the doorway between our bedrooms and stood there, hands on my hips, looking stern.

Her lower lip trembled. Her eyes grew all teary. And then she let out the wail of the abused, the tortured, the misunderstood – the wail of the toddler who wants to do exactly what she wants, when she wants to, without regard for anybody or anything else.

“I should go hug her,” I said to Ian, who by all accounts is the firmer disciplinarian in the family.

“It hasn’t been a minute, yet,” he said, thumbing through a magazine. “You need to do this. She bit you in the groin, and that is not okay.”

Okay, yes – here, it is important to note – my daughter did not bite me on the leg – she bit me in the groin. I just find groin a sort of a vulgar word to begin a blog post.

I managed to wait out the minute despite wanting nothing more than to comfort Grace, to assure her she and I were totally okay, and go on our merry way. By the time the minute was up, however, my daughter had decided she had quite enough of me thankyouverymuch and marched over to Ian for comfort. Glaring at me from the safety of her father’s lap, she said “Grace is fussy with you, mommy.”

Disciplining Grace is not my forte. As it turns out, I sometimes have to be physically withheld from spoiling her rotten. My good friends and even family members are more strict with Grace than I am, and I can tell the gentle way they prod me, that I am leaning toward becoming a much too indulgent mother. For instance, recently she stole another child’s “lovey” from school and ran away from him. This wasn’t a big deal to the teachers, or even the other child – Grace’s behavior was corrected and she hasn’t taken anything from another child since. My first reaction, though, was to berate myself for not giving her enough stuffed animals to hug.

Not enough stuffed animals to hug? Are you insane?” Ian asked. “This is how she’s going to end up over-indulged, dropping out of school and ending up on some reality television show, not knowing how to read maps for the challenges!”

It’s true. My initial insticts, in mothering Grace and in my own life, run toward the passive. I don’t like confrontation, and I struggle to stand up for myself in the work place. I desperately want to protect Grace from any sort of hurt or lack of kindness – I want her to always know I am delighted to see her, delighted to know her. It’s sort of hard to keep that attitude up, though, when you’ve been bitten in the groin.

I’ve been momentarily surprised, and then instantly grateful, when other people have been more stern with Grace than I am – from my girlfriends to my mother to her teachers, but I also recognize discipline is part of my role. As we move forward I will have to become less of a friend and more of, well, a mother. My best friend thinks I might be overcorrecting because my own mother was so terribly strict with me, and our relationship was often fraught but I think it’s more a personality thing more than anything else. I don’t feel mad, very often – nor do I ever really feel strict. Want to strip your clothes off and finger paint, but with your entire body? I’m cool. Angry for no reason I can understand, and need to throw your drink? I’ve been there, girlfriend. Temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store? I’ll wait it out because no WAY am I going to sacrifice all the shopping I’ve done and leave right now.

But as far as I can tell, two-year olds aren’t much more than mini-psychopaths – adorable, smoochable, hilarious ones who try to put high heels on the dog but still, mini-psychopaths. I need to teach her how to behave in this world, how to move through it with gumption and grace. I don’t mind, so much, that other people seem to think I’m spoiling my daughter, as long as I know it’s not true, but lately even I can recognize my acts of overindulgence could eventually be harmful.

Short time-outs and stern (albeit brief) discussions aren’t something Grace is used to from me – they aren’t things I’m used to giving. I guess I finally understand what it means for a parent to say “this hurts me more than it hurts you.”

4 thoughts on “holding

  1. One of the little sayings I remember from my past is, “More discipline now means less punishment later”.

    Another lesson all of us have to learn is that there are limits in life. If we’re lucky, we learn the lesson within the warmth and love of the family. Those who aren’t so lucky end up in jail, or dead, or in dead-end jobs or relationships.

    As for that need to toss a drink across the room? I can’t help but think the tantrum-thrower in the grocery store who got me with a can of corn hurled in anger a few years ago started his throwing at home, and was allowed to get away with it.

    So many people think freedom means no restraint at all, either internal or external. But it’s the people who’ve learned how to restrain their impulses, who have developed self-discipline, who move through the world with the most gumption and grace. Eventually, I had to undo the effects of my own mother’s indulgences. I’m much happier now.

  2. This is such a difficult time. But if you don’t do it now, it will be so much harder later. It’s true that kids want rules and structure. There’s a time for spoiling and a time for time outs. Don’t follow up a time out with an all is forgive hug unless that’s really called for. Grace should have been fussy w you for punishing her but she has to learn that she can’t punish you for her biting and that she has to expect that you WILL punish her be wise there are consequences for all of our behaviors. Hang in there. You’re a good mother. :-).

  3. I think you’re on the right track here. You know it’s best to provide structure and limits and you’re doing that. One of my supervisors used to say that it’s the parents’ job to survive the tantrums. Not shame the toddler for having those urges but to help them learn to control them. Our little one has full-blown meltdowns and when she does I really wonder whether she isn’t disturbed in some way. I sent her to the naughty corner and that backfired since she stayed there for about 10 minutes and wouldn’t let us fetch her back! I’m a bit worried to try that again to be honest. And she regularly tells us in a very stern voice to “Go away!” I like your description of toddlers as adorable, cuddly mini-psychopaths. Leah can shout at us and throw a full-blown tantrum but she can still melt our hearts with a little smile and an “Ah Dada / Mama”.

  4. Shoreacres…wait…you were hit with a can of creamed corn? That is awful – it must have hurt! I know you are right and that discipline now will make for a happy, well-functioning young woman down the road…like I said, it doesn’t come naturally to me but I AM doing it!

    Anne…what about the “we’re all good hug,” though…just to acknowledge that she was punished, she took her punishment, and now we can move forward? That’s really what i meant…is that out of line, do you think?

    Pete – the tantrums can be upsetting but I just go with the idea that they are probably normal. My daughter gets upset about things llike ice melting into water -0 there is no way to comfort her about that! They certainly have strong wills though, and this year is definitely a trying one!

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