By Lisa Stadler
Ok, so…one of the things I have most consistently been told about raising kids, is “Be Consistent!”. This was an easy model for me to follow when Zoe was a baby, as I was a lot more patient and open to the follies of a baby than I seemed to be once she hit school going age. There were a few times, where I would say something to her, as a toddler, and I would regret it immediately, because it meant I would have to leave the store we were in if she “did that one more time,” or “didn’t stop doing that right now!”. At least once, I had to leave a full grocery cart behind, because my screaming child wouldn’t stop screaming, and she had already been issued her warning. Admittedly, she learned quickly, (as did I, when it came to what consequences I would issue), and tantrums became a very infrequent thing for us.
Once Zoe hit school age, things shifted. She could do something, and receive her warning, and then when it came time to actually follow through, I wouldn’t want to do whatever it was I had threatened to do. I wanted her to be able to spend the night out, have friends over, go to the movies, have access to the things that entertained her. I like these things. I like the breaks I get from having extra kids over, I like going to movies, I like being able to give her things that are fun for her. I also trusted, my very smart, and clever five year old to change her ways, even if I gave her back the privilege I had threaten to take away. This made me less smart than a five year old, and created a pattern that wouldn’t be broken until TMS.
As Zoe aged our discipline dance became vastly more complicated and volatile. We tried and failed, repeatedly to redefine our sense of structure. I never wanted to be in a roll of dictatorship. I wanted Zoe to at least have the illusion of choice, I wanted her to learn how to bargain, and negotiate. She learned these things, but I think I also gave her too much power, too soon. Both of us often forgot that she was five or six or eight or eleven years old. I often forgot that she wasn’t as lived, wise, or educated as myself, where she often believed she was more so of all of these things.
I think it’s important to remember that I have anxiety. I have it and I was, until TMS totally unaware of it.
The definition of anxiety didn’t match what my brain thought it was. My idea of what anxiety is, covered a very minute corner of it. The vision I would conjure up when I thought of the word, was a shaky, mousy lady who felt nervous about everything. I’m not like this, in a stereotypical way. I do worry about things. I often put so much more thought in to things than are necessary, but I don’t “feel” nervous. To be fair, before TMS, I didn’t “feel” much, so my idea of anxiety, was, in fact, very stereotypical. I had never looked the word up. I had never considered that anxiety isn’t just worry, it also can create irritation, agitation, and impatience. That is me, or was.
I would become irritated with a situation that concerned Zoe, and I would say, “Stop A, or B will happen.” Being the negotiator and bargainer I had taught her to be, Zoe would start to dig her heals in. I would become irritated by this, because now I guess I DID want to be a dictator, and I wanted her to follow orders. We would go back and forth until she would lose all of her electronics, friend privileges, movie rights, eating out…etc….all because I instilled a value in her before either of us were ready to handle it.
We would yell, I would send her to her room (for her safety), and she would refuse to go. I would threaten to break her iPad or stop paying for her phone, she would still refuse to go (knowing, I would never break something like that, anyway, because it cost me money and I don’t like to waste money). She would pummel me with words and phrases of anger and desperation. You don’t love me! You don’t want to see me happy! You are just taking everything, and all I did was…! Small things became big. I often snapped back at her, in immature ways. We both said things we didn’t mean, the difference being, I was the adult, the guider, the protector. I often failed.
At some point, we would tire of our dance, and we would disengage, and actually begin to work things out as a team. I would have to apologize, she would have to apologize. I would have to remove about 90% of her punishment and work from there. It was exhausting, but somehow it seemed worth it because once everything was over, we would experience a sort of euphoria that comes from working through a difficult event. I can see why people stay in bad relationships, as there is a sort of emotional vomit that can happen through fighting, that creates a happiness (once it’s worked through), that doesn’t seem to accompany even-keeled living.
Only a few days into my TMS, I started noticing that things that would agitate me so readily, no longer mattered. I started understanding anxiety, what it was, and what it had been doing to me. The absence of it, in and of itself, taught me how riddled I was with it.
I like to think I am a fairly self aware person. But, oh. my. gosh! I was so completely unaware of this part of my life, of how it was effecting me, and anyone who had to deal with me.
As my mind began to process how afflicted I was, relief washed over me, along with guilt. Knowing a thing, can truly be half the battle. However, it doesn’t always change the past. Luckily, in the case of Zoe, it has redefined our future. I am still human, I still get agitated by things, as does she. However, I am able to step back. I am able to keep my cool. I am able to not make threats, randomly. Its creating this transition period for us, which is good, but challenging. I am having to keep my consequences in the realm of reason, and she is having to learn that if I say it, I will do it. The trade off is, not nearly as much agitates me. Zoe has a much wider berth when it comes to the path she walks, and as we walk, down our road, we are both learning, that if I say it, I mean it!