A Week of No Time-Outs

A Week of No Time Outs  

My oldest daughter is the kind of kid that is interested in color theory, other people’s emotions and the point of our existence. She’ll sit in front of a sheet of math problems while happily tapping her toes through each formulation. She is so much fun and so much depth. She is also still so much five year old, her imaginary games are rich and usually feature time travel, assumed scientific theories and inventions along with some sort of princess and cackling witch. She is a real, true joy.

My oldest daughter is also the kind of kid that falls apart in the face of the unexpected. She reacts with quick and loud anger to real and perceived injustice, her righteous indignation ringing against the walls of our house and my tired heart. I’m not without perspective here. I’ve been around other kids, she is neither as extreme as some or as measured as others. She is squarely in the middle, not easy, not difficult, just herself. Unfortunately, comparisons and the knowledge that “this is normal!” rarely help mediate our reactions.

When she would begin to lose it, when her eyes got wild and her fists clenched, I would start to lose it, too. Oh, no. Here we go. How long will this last? Will it become hysteria or settle before its peak? If we were in public, I dreaded the side eye of other moms. If we were at home, I looked quickly at our windows to see if they were open - imagining the shrillness of her discontent bouncing against my neighbors houses. And then my panic would begin to match her own. I said mean things like, “You are being ridiculous.” and “It doesn’t matter.” and “You are being so embarrassing.” I reasoned unreasonably, angry whispered and, on occasion, yelled.

I started putting her in time-out. It seemed the only way to protect one another from spitting words. I thought it would give us both time to calm down, reflect on what we’d done (or not done) and start again. It was the perfect solution, except that it made our lives so much worse. She cried out and slammed her hands into the door of her room. She yelled and begged and then would quiet down just long enough to say things like,

“I wish you liked to be with me when I am sad.”

Ugh. Damn. Kids. Am I right?

In between the ever increasing time outs, we were wary of one another. We escalated to frustration more quickly and Zuzu didn’t come and talk to me in the quiet moments of the day like she used to. We were spending more time apart physically and emotionally, and not just when we needed to cool off. My plan wasn’t working.

It was a particularly desperate day, I’d carried her lengthening body to time-out three times and cried twice myself. I turned on my computer and tuned out her tears. Somewhere between Facebook and my fifth buzzfeed quiz, I found an article on Time that claimed time-outs were hurting our children. I laughed a little….there’s a new guru every minute. But then, after I put away my smugness, I realized that while I couldn’t prove the time outs were hurting Zuzu long term, I did have circumstantial evidence that they were harming our relationship now. And if there was a way I could shape her and remain close to her - well, it was worth a try. I was so converted to the effort I even bought the book the article was based on, No Drama Discipline. It took me a few hours to read it and a few more to settle on attempting a little experiment. For seven days I would follow their recommendations to the best of my ability and see if it made a difference. If it didn’t, I would always have the option of a shot of whiskey at the end of every day...naptime….snack break. (Kidding! Totally! I would never. Probably.)

The Experiment

The rules were pretty simple.

1. Taking time to connect before taking time to react. When she was freaking out because she didn’t want to clean her room, hated the way dinner tasted, had her feelings hurt by the kid next door or just generally lost her bleep for no apparent reason, my first move had to be to go over and hug her. Let her know that I was there and would be there no matter what crazy antics ensued. Create a place of safety. Establishing connection would help establish more productive communication, even when the communication had to mean consequences.

2. Work to discipline, rather than punish. As the book pointed out, “discipline” comes fromt the Latin “disciplina” which means instruction, knowledge. Another word that comes from that Latin form is, “disciple” , one who is instructed, who follows. When Zuzu stepped out of line, I needed to put my focus on instruction and change of direction rather than carte blanch punishment. After connecting, move forward with instruction. Sometimes this meant consequences, cleaning up after intentional destruction, repairing relations with her sister, saying sorry, taking away tv after she lied about cleaning her room so she could watch one more show. Sometimes it just meant a really long hug and words of understanding, because don’t we all just have bleep days and bleep ideas sometimes?

3. Switch Time-Outs for Time-Ins.  This was the hardest and, perhaps most important, change. The theory goes that isolating your kids when they are at their worst teaches them that people will only want them when they are at their best. I can see both sides of this coin and understand that for many kids this would not be the psychological effect of time outs. I can also say this was EXACTLY how they were affecting Zuzu. I suppose her girlhood makes me especially sensitive to this topic - girls tend to be so predisposed to issues of self-worth and an unwillingness to make their voices heard. I wanted her to know I want her always and respect her voice enough to train it rather than silence it. So, when she acted out I would pull her closer. A bout of hysteria would mean a long walk together, reading a few stories or an invitation to help me with dinner. I guess it is the loving version of “keeping your enemies closer”. (Oh, your kids have never felt like your enemies? Interesting. Tell me more about your amazing life.)

I set the rules into place, breathed in some courage and got down to work.

The Results

I’ve always said I could never be a scientist because I have no sense of consistency. That was a true statement in the carrying out of this experiment. I was the parent I wanted to be some of the time, better than I had been most of the time and just really backslid a little of the time. I will say that the days I clung to my rules we had more peace, more understanding and less chaos. It wasn’t until four days into the seven that I realized she hadn’t pounded on one wall yet and I hadn’t yelled once. She was more thoughtful in her apologies and more thoughtful in her actions. When I sat down she started sitting next to me again and the questions that have always so entertained and instructed me started bubbling out of her mouth once more. She wasn’t defensive anymore and I found myself saying the things I wished I said rather than the things I wished I hadn’t said. Slowly, she began to seek alone time as an act of calming and meditation, a thing I had robbed her of by imbuing it with the colors of punishment.

By the tenth day our social experiment had turned attempted lifestyle. It was then that I finally took the time to acknowledge I needed the change as desperately as she did. When I think of ideal parenthood, I think of our Heavenly Father and Mother. When I am at my worst, they draw me in. When I am angry, they offer joy. When I am heartbroken, they succor me with the balm of infinite understanding. They would never make me weep, wail and gnash alone. They would never tell me I was unreasonable, ridiculous, acting as if I was too young. They guide, teach, heal and sanctify through the Holy Spirit. They lead and walk back to pick me up when I cannot follow. I mean, my goodness, when my mortal, mistake ridden, imperfect nature made reunion with them impossible, they did not throw their hands up in despair. They asked their Son to bleed alone in an empty garden and die, nailed to a cross, alone in a taunting crowd. They have never, they will never, shut a door in my shouting face. I’m trying to follow Their example.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend this has solved all our problems. I still find myself yelling at times. She still deals with anxiety and bouts of hysterical and regular old five year old fits of anger. We are a month past my little experiment and she has been put in time-out several times since then despite my best intentions. Hell, I put her in time-out this morning. I would still argue, despite everything I’ve learned, that once in awhile those time outs are absolutely needed and the only thing that saves us from each other. But, when we are at our best, when I am at MY best, I can feel us more closely emulating the relationship I know she already has with her Heavenly Parents. And while I am nowhere close to being able to even speak their names with complete understanding, I CAN see the worth they see in my little girl. And hopefully, in treating her as closely to how they treat her as I possibly can, she will begin to see that worth, too.

Amen.

 

Gathering Place

Yesterday, Kate Kelly was threatened with excommunication from the LDS Chuch because of her agitation for female ordination. In the end, LDS people believe excommunication is an act of love. It isn't forever and it isn't punishment. I don't know Sister Kelly's heart or the many personal facts around her case. Her cause is not my cause. But her heart is my sister’s heart. After a long night, here are a few things I know.

We are all fallible.

Truth is unbending and universal. It does not refract well through the limited minds of man.

There is more to know and we are all seeking it. It is a hard thing to fault the seeker when they stumble.

The part may not represent the whole, but the whole cannot be complete without it.

Truth deserves transparency. We’ve got to be more than honest about systems, finances, fears, hopes, goals, requirement and redemption. We’ve got to be absolutely, positively translucent.

Questions lead to answers.

There is a beauty and a terror in the LDS practice of lay people administering over, and ministering to, one another. The decisions made in little rooms by men and women, who are doing their best, do not decidedly represent the gospel. It is difficult to wrap our heads around this big theology that must be represented by different people, different hearts, different rooms. A struggle even. But I've caught shines of brilliance in those little rooms, too. They have helped to make the struggle something I’m willing to survive.

Mistakes are often the fruit of good intentions.

This gospel isn’t about rules, it’s about redemption.

The role of women in both mortality and eternity has not been made clear. This is not the fault of our Heavenly Parents. The burden of revelation rests on our unwilling shoulders. Until that clarity is sought and given, the void will be filled with all the voices that are upraised in pain, hope, anger, happiness and dismay. I like that cacophony better than the silence.

There are diamonds in our past and dust in our present. It’s time to start polishing.

And finally. And most beautifully. We are ALL the church. And the best, most healing, most Christ-like thing any of us can do throughout the tempest ahead is to love. To forgive. To seek understanding. Not only of the people that we seek to defend, but also of the people we seek to defend against. We are all hurt. We all hurt.

Thank God and His Son, we are also all gathered in.

No matter what.

This is not my testimony of the gospel. That can be found here.

For a beautiful article I wish I had written about this, go here.