I was reading in Lesley Britton's Montessori Play and Learn about the Montessori philosophy of how children acquire a large part of their learning through watching others, their parents in particular, a type of learning sometimes known as "modeling." Aside from encouraging parents to do things very slowly and carefully in front of the child to facilitate copying, Britton also warns parents against being aggressive but also against being gently and friendly all the time at whatever cost.
This brought to mind an article on "constructive" or "conscious" complaining that I'd read last fall in the September issue of whole living. Writes Karla McLaren; "constructive complaining is especially helpful in a life of striving, good works, and personal growth, where complaining is considered less than saintly," because if you never make time for "kvetching, moaning, whining, and complaining, your psyche will become flat and barren. You'll deteriorate into perfectionism, and you'll have no fun at all."
I want Lilly to grow up with a healthy sense of the validity of all of her emotions; I don't want her to be afraid of anger and frustration the way I was as a child because of the unpredictability of my mother's mood. Sure, she struggled with mental issues and anxiety, but even more so, I think, she was completely out of touch with her anger, because frankly back then, and perhaps to a large extent even now, good girls and moms aren't supposed to get angry; they're supposed to be sweet and gentle and kind. So she would strive to be all those things and then suddenly just lose it.
It's an ongoing process for me learning to be okay with my anger and express it constructively. And now there's also the urgency to model this to Lilly. Struggling with the toddler's lack of impulse control, she's prone to frequent screams and outbursts these days, and while I don't want her hitting, throwing stuff, or yelling at me, I also want to show her empathy and provide her with alternative ways of expressing her frustration.
I suggested she hit a cushion or the floor or the wall when she feels like throwing or hitting something, and that she goes to her room when she needs to scream. I tried guiding her hand to the floor when she was in one of her hitting moods, causing a startled look on her face as a result from the physical hurt. So, we haven't gotten much in terms of results from either suggested outlet and it struck me the other day that it might be for lack of modeling.
I like the idea of getting your emotions out without hurting others, creating a "complaining shrine," as McLaren suggests, where walls or furniture or the ground take the brunt instead of people, but truth be told, I'm more prone to let it all out on my husband Leighton instead. Not too different from my mom, I too am afraid of facing my anger, incapable of dealing with it in a mature constructive way.
The other day I decided to try to follow McLaren's advice. I told Lilly very slowly and carefully that mama has to go into her room now, close the door, and have a good scream. I did so while she waited outside of the door. I think she found it all just a little strange to say the least though I was very calm and reassuring to her afterward, explaining how this is something she could do too in her room when she felt frustrated, and that it can feel good to get it all out like that and then be done with it.
It's taken some processing for her, with her saying she needs to go into her room now to scream some, upon which she'll go into her room and stay there for a second, but exit shortly after without having screamed, telling me it's a little funny.
I don't know if I freaked her out or scared her, or if she's now just trying to figure out how to model her behavior on mine; if anything it was a very new thing to the both of us. But I feel okay about it, maybe even good, at least better than after one of those "arghhhs!!" that I've been letting out more frequently lately. Like McLaren says, when you've had it all out, you don't feel worse, you feel better because then you know exactly what the problems are and just how hard life can be. "This practice doesn't bring me down; it lifts me up, because it clears all the complaints out of my system and restores my flow."