The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
The sharp scream of pain echoed through the house, startling me. I hurried my pregnant self to where my 15 month old daughters had been playing happily just seconds before. I was shocked to find one daughter with her mouth clamped down tightly on the forearm of her twin sister. In disbelief, I growled out a loud "NO!" and firmly squeezed her cheeks and jaw. Finally, her mouth opened, and when she surfaced I saw a nasty bite mark already swelling up on her sisters' arm, the deep indentations remaining there. I was furious. I scooped up the injured, howling baby who had tears flying off her cheeks and held her as a completely helpless feeling washed over me. "I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO RIGHT NOW!" sounded like an alarm in my mind. Where was the confidence I'd had as a former nanny, family therapist and all around child loving person?
Determined to stop the biting, I poorly reacted my way through the following weeks and months. I mostly over-reacted, but also tried the opposite. From yelling to clapping and shaming and blaming to ignoring and stewing, I tried it all. Nothing worked and the biting kept getting worse. As strange as it sounds, I felt a twinge of relief when my other daughter started biting her sister back! Each day my thoughts accused me though, "What kind of mother are you?", I would hear inside my head, "Your kids are biting each other and you can't even get them to stop. What will people say when they see your children covered in bite marks?"
Defeated, I turned to the internet. Sitting spread-eagle in front of the computer, one daughter atop each of my extended knees, my growing belly like a beach ball between them, I discovered the online open support forum of The Twin Coach (Gina Osher). A few days after I'd typed my story of utter parenting failure, Gina and the other parents started responding. "You're a good mom", read one of the first comments. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I read the empathic and wise replies. "You're doing a great job. My twins did the same thing. " Relieved, I wondered, "where is the blame, the harshness and condescension?" I felt my fears dissolve and a blanket of warmth surround my broken heart. Could it be that real life parents had heard my real life story and instead of shaking their heads in disapproval, had shown me love?
At their wise suggestion, I plunged myself into the vaults of online information about connected parenting. An entire population of people existed in this foreign land of Connected Parenting. Compelled by both their hearts and conclusive brain research, I found countless parents disciplining their children without punishment, grasping to understand the intricate behaviors of children and putting aside their need for perpetual control. My reading informed me that aggressive behavior such as biting was a symptom of fear. In other words, I could punish my child until I was blue in the face,but the underlying cause of fear would create aggression in other areas. Supporting my child through her fearful feelings was the only way I could stay connected with her and also deal with the behavior.
I was skeptical at first. Integrating these ideas with my own children seemed impossible compared to how easy it had been to support struggling parents in my former play therapist role. I'd become a counselor on my way to repairing my own childhood wounds. I'd been defeated by the same belittling and disrespectful methods that I was now repeating in my own parenting. And yet, what if it didn't work?! I imagined my friends and family laughing at me, mocking me for straying from my hard and fast authoritarian ways.
But, my daughter's biting each other landed me in a puddle on the floor (a spot I still find myself from time to time) and taught me that being determined not to repeat the past was only the beginning of change.
So, through trial and error, I started changing my methods. I started reaching out to other parents, taking classes online, reading articles and books. After all I'd discovered, I had little choice. It wasn't just the fact that I was desperate for guidance, which I was. And it wasn't just the logical response to sound research based facts, though those are amazing. It wasn't just the tools I found in the online classes or the practical articles or the helpful books, though this was a life raft. No. It was love that pulled me in. It was the love of those real life parents after my (first of many) real life confession on the online support group of Gina Osher's facebook page. It was the unrelenting message that I was good enough. The promise that control was an illusion and deep connection with my children was possible. Before I knew it, I was facilitating in a quarterly parent support group as well as managing my own online resource page for Connected Parenting.
Today, connected parenting is teaching me how to love and be loved. I've learned about the kind of love that can discover a furious toddler with her teeth clamped down on her sister's arm and look past that to see the child's fear. Each day I am surrounded by parents who remind me that I am doing my best, and that my children are too.