Not-the-Last Fight With My Four-Year-Old Daughter

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The storm started in a quiet moment when I was working a puzzle with Simon in that dead-zone before it’s time to get dinner ready but after all the positive energy of the day had been spent on school and surviving the afternoon.  “Look! I found Iron Man’s hand,” I beamed because even 40-year olds need victories after a long holiday weekend.  Sadie’s fury began to gather steam by the window.  She was trying, unsuccessfully, to tape a valentine to the window.  Her solution was to stomp her feet and sigh loud enough to get my attention.

So that’s how this is going to go, huh?

I told her in my genuinely calm voice that when she was ready to ask me for help, I’d happily help her execute her vision of taping the heart to the window.  With great effort, I focused on the puzzle and let her work it out.  If this escalated, it wasn’t going to be my fault.

Of course it escalated.

Soon I was using my fake calm voice, and she was way past discussion.  My words were like a match to her flaming fury and when she spat at me, I felt my own pilot light flare and surge with blue-white heat.

I should just absorb her rage– I’m the parent, the adult, the one with the therapist.  I should not be reacting.

She ran and I followed, the air crackling with dispensed rage.  When I reached her, I held her as she squirmed like a feral animal.  My instinct was to hold her tighter– not to hurt her but to let her know that I am stronger.  I am stronger than her rage and her fatigue and her boredom and her frustration at being little in a big person’s world.   I wanted her to know she could test me with all her might, but still, even though I was angry, I was still stronger and I could take whatever she was dishing out.

I wanted her to know. I wanted me to know.

I spoke first.  Real-calm had returned to my voice.  She sniffled, unenthusiastic about making eye contact.  I touched her chin, “Please look at Mommy.”  When she did, I tossed my script about appropriate behavior to the curb.  Instead I said, “You’re angry with me, right?” She nodded.  “I feel angry too.  We’re angry at each other and we had a fight.  That’s what just happened.  We had a fight.”

She smiled.  I’d finally made something simple instead of more complicated.  A parenting first.  “It was just a fight, Sweetie.  We gotta learn how to fight fairly, though, okay?”  She nodded.

The air moved with the pulse of our newly-won peace.  “We had a fight,” Sadie said, testing the words like she tastes a new food. Tentative.  Willing but unsure.

I looked at Sadie. “It probably wasn’t our last, Sweetie.”

Two beats passed.  “Definitely not, Mom.”

I felt closer to her when it was over.  There was an intimacy to all that rage.  But I still hated it.  I want to get along with my preschooler. I want to keep my cool. I want her deplorable and age-appropriate behavior not to trigger me.  I want it to be our last fight.

But it’s definitely not.  I’m struggling to make peace with that.

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47 thoughts on “Not-the-Last Fight With My Four-Year-Old Daughter

  1. I think, I really think, that this is an amazing thing you did. There are a lot of people in the world who are never taught how to fight fair, which is a skill that is highly under-rated. Passing along the idea that not only did you have a fight, but that you will have more and you have to learn how to do it right is way more important than you are giving yourself credit for.

    • I do wish I would have learned to fight fairly. My toolbox is full of passive aggression, silent treatment, and other not-fair fighting things. Maybe I can learn with her.

  2. How have you not had a fight until now? I had a fight with a 2 year old at the park yesterday and am sporting a lovely bite mark to prove it (note to self: wear body armor before telling toddler it’s time to leave).

    In any case, you are so much more rational about fighting than I am. Good job of handling it, Mama!

    • Let me be clear, this has happened a zillion times, but I always make it harder/worse/more shameful with words words words. This was the first time I just named it– a fight– and we moved on pretty quickly. It was weird.

  3. I’m afraid to say that you’re right about it not being the last fight. The 9-year old have had some knock-down, drag-outs. Kudos to you for maintaining the fake calm voice and managing to come back down to real calm. Keep doing that, and you’ll survive.

  4. “I wanted me to know” resounds with me so much. My mother always say things like, “Angela, she’s three. Why are you letting your daughter control your decisions?” I need to convince myself I am in control too and I can be strong, even when she’s a sassy little bugger. Great post!

  5. with my middle guy, i still haven’t figured out how to fight fair/how to get him to fight fair. some people are natural fighters and they no how to push all the right buttons. i can talk my way deep breathing through the whole thing, but ultimately he makes me lose it. if i can’t beat him, i’m going to have to blame him. 😉

  6. When I have my wits about me enough to think to myself during spats with my daughter, I remember to ask them (out loud works best, but in my head is okay), “What are you, 5?” And of course, yes, she is five. That sometimes makes me laugh and breaks the grumpiness. Other times I answer myself, “Who cares if she’s only five! She should act like she’s 30!”

  7. You described my life on a moment to moment basis with my four yr old, passionate little girl. The fury that radiates from me because of the things she does is irrational but very real. I struggle with it on the daily. I have had my own successful moments of simplifying things and that always seems to work…if I can do it. The mother/daughter relationship, even at four, is incredibly complex. You captured that. Great post.

  8. Way to go Christie! Sadie is learning that home is a safe place to not be perfect. I always found that after the explosion (theirs or mine) and the thinking time afterward, the kids and I had the best conversations and connected.

  9. I try so hard to be open like this with my 4yo. I want her to know that it’s OK to get angry, upset, sad, whatever. I want her to know that no matter what I will always be here, always love her– even when she says “YOUR’E NOT GONNA BE MY MOMMY ANYMORE.” it hurts so freaking much when she gets angry with me, but it’s natural. thank you for sharing this brilliant tale. xo

  10. Four years old was our hardest year. We thought that we had escaped tantrums because we didn’t experience the terrible twos or threes. The picture you painted with your words, made me smile and want to hug you 🙂

  11. Whenever I feel the temptation to just lose it- I mean, my gosh L is insane over his clothes- and when B is mad- it’s a hopeless battle: I simply remember what fighting with my mother was like. She was unkind. She hit. She had to have the last word. She never listened or cared what my side was. She froze me out. As I got older she simply hung up the phone on me. We would go on non speaking terms for WEEKS.
    I never, ever, ever want to be like that or make my children feel like she made me feel. This is how I keep it together (most of the time).

  12. Boy, do I know how this feels. And I think you handled it beautifully. We are still trying to teach our almost 8 yo to fight fair. He’s got – dare I admit it – my temper. What you did, just honestly explaining to your daughter what was happening and how to handle it was a lesson to me too.

  13. Ah yes, I have more than a passing familiarality with the “fake calm voice”. It tends to arrive just before the “not even a little bit calm voice”, followed by the “rather loud yelly voice”. 🙂 Well done keeping your cool. I know exactly how hard it can be.

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