The Fire Within. Or Not.

courtesy of flick user matthewvenn

I am a huge proponent of Attachment Parenting.  I am a certified Attachment Parenting support group leader, and I have taught seminars on the topic.  I believe in gentle, respectful and loving relationships between parents and children, and I am convinced that this is one of the cornerstones of Humane Parenting.

With my son, I feel like I usually put my money where my mouth is and I am able to have a somewhat reasonable response to his tantrums, obstinacy, and other assorted and sundry three-year-old behaviors.  But my daughter – she’s a doozy.  She pushes all my buttons, and when she’s done she pushes them again.  Even with all the reading and research and training I’ve done, all the counseling I’ve given other parents, I often find myself reduced to tears, or yelling, or at least snarkiness and sarcasm.  Parenting her takes everything I have.  I go to bed the same time she does to reload my energy reserves enough to make it through the next day.

A recent article in one of my favorite blogs, Rhythm of the Home, was about the four temperaments as understood in the Waldorf educational tradition.  For those who aren’t familiar (I wasn’t), these include sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic.  Sounds kind of medieval, right?

Well, this particular article really spoke to me as a parent.  In it, the author describes her choleric daughter:

When she is happy she jumps and screams and when she is sad she wails in agony. She embraces her friends and family with love and hugs, but often does not understand when that same energy is not returned to her. And as often as those around her feel inspired and energized, they often feel burned-out, as if they have stood too close to the fire within her.

Yes!  YES!  People, young and old alike, seem to be swept up by Bess’ energy and enthusiasm, and yet I often feel exactly that way – “burned-out” – by spending a day with her.  She is a person of, ahem, emotional extremes, and I am someone who tolerates such drama very poorly.  Steiner would probably call me melancholic.

It is difficult for me to be strong and stable in the storm that is Bess’ daily inner life.  One moment she is off-the-wall excited, the next she is reduced to gut-wrenching sobs, the next she is into some new project, and I am left wondering what just happened.  I know that what I should do is simply stand by and offer comfort, and she will work through her emotions and be on to the next thing in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.  I am aware that I need to be the port in a storm that gives her the solid grounding she needs to find some sort of balance.  I am even aware that her way of dealing with emotion – feeling it and moving on – is far healthier than my own system.  I know that I have to accept who she is and support her as she becomes her own independent person with her own particular personality.

Yet…knowing and doing are often two vastly different things.

Her constant chatter and motion can be unbearable for me.  Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the strength of her feelings and I can’t catch my breath.  I try to counsel her while she is in the midst of a meltdown – she can’t hear me, but I do it anyway – and then I get frustrated when she “ignores” me.  She needs a lot of physical contact and she experiences it as rejection when I ask for some personal space, but sometimes if she sits on my lap for one more second I’ll scream.

So here I am, publicly stating my intention to practice bearing quiet witness to the turmoil, and being my daughter’s safe haven as she navigates the turbulent waters of her life.  I will make an effort to appreciate the positive aspects of her choleric personality, and help her to gracefully manage its challenges.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Kari O’Driscoll

    Oh, my. I have one of those. She just turned 9 and it is a roller coaster ride, to say the least. Have you read Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s “Raising Your Spirited Child?” About a year ago, prompted by my naturopath, I printed out a checklist for symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder (don’t get me started on ‘diagnosing’ kids or putting them into pathological categories – I can’t stand it) and I was astonished at how much it described my daughter. Despite my aversion to labeling her, it has given me a lot of insight in to how to help her calm her body and deal with the sensory input she receives on a daily basis.

    Thanks for your kind words on my blog. I appreciate your perspective.

    • Anonymous

      LOL – I read that book when Bess was, like, sixteen months old! She definitely also has sensory processing issues, she has gotten better over time but still, things bother her in ways that seem to everyone else to be way out of proportion.

  • Erin Wallace

    My 4-year-old son is a mixture of choloric and and resistant to change. I am resistant to change, but a totally laid back person who doesn’t really “get” tantrums, endless screaming, so I din’t have very much tolerance for it. I’m trying to teach him how to put himself into a time out when he’s feeling himself getting worked up, but it happens so quickly that I think it’s beyond him to feel that he’s headed in the wrong direction. So I find myself taking quite a few mommy time outs (while he’s in time out) to get back to my unpushed buttons state.

    • Anonymous

      Yes – LOTS of Mommy Time Outs! I am trying to teach my daughter to also put herself in “time out” when she feels herself getting out of control so she can take a few deep breaths and regain her center, that works well for her but sometimes by the time she realizes she needs it she’s already too far gone. As she is getting older it’s getting better though. I also have taught her to take “pizza breaths” (smell the pizza/in through the nose, blow the pizza/out through the mouth), and that helps as well. Unfortunately she shares her room with her little brother, so private space is often hard to come by!

      I am reading Simplicity Parenting now, and the author talks a lot about Soul Fever when kids are just too overwhelmed and they need a break. Bess is starting kindergarten in a month and I think she’s really feeling overwhelmed by that, so the outbursts have been fast and furious these days!