Updated: Apr 10, 2020
"They are MINE! I've had them forever and YOU CANT TAKE THEM AWAY FROM ME!" She shouted and then collapsed into a sobbing heap on the bathroom floor.
"Your toenails?" I asked, puzzled at the sudden outburst and subsequent tear-fest.
She unburied her face from her arms enough so she could look me in the eyes and sob "Yeeesssss."
I had to suppress a laugh.
She didn't want me to clip her toenails. Even though they were long and sharp and causing her pain.
When you are a little person who has been tossed around by the decisions of adults your whole life, and life feels scary and out of control...you grasp to control whatever you can. And one thing you can control, you should control, is your own body.
Its also why we give food options for dinner time instead of having the "Its what's for dinner so eat it." policy that I probably would use if I wasn't parenting kids from trauma backgrounds.
Its also why I let them dye their hair whatever colour they want. They now look back at old photos of their purple hair and moan and ask me why I ever let them do that, haha! It gave them a sense of autonomy over their own body at the time.
Here's the thing...
I want the tantruming girl on the bathroom floor to sit still, not put up a fuss, and let me clip her toenails. But more than that....I want her to listen and respect me when I ask her to do seomthing. I felt frustrated when she didn't. My internal reaction when she threw a fit was not compassion, but a flash of anger. Anger is not my default setting, so it surprised me.
So I took a breath.
When I stopped to examine the potency of my emotions, I realized that I felt threatened by her behaviour. I couldn't get her to do what I wanted her to do. It felt threatening because I couldn't control her. And I wanted to control her so that I could feel safe. Just like how she wants to have control over herself so that she feels safe.
I could tell her to stop being dramatic, they are just toenails.
I could demand obedience.
I could threaten grounding and command the respect of compliance.
And she would eventually give in.
She would, against her wishes, begrudgingly allow me to clip her toenails if I used my stern voice.
But I see the little one sobbing on the linoleum floor,
and I see that the tears are not about toenails,
and they aren't about fighting me,
they aren't about disrespecting my wishes,
they aren't about toenails at all,
but they are really about something much bigger, much sadder, much more devastating that was taken from her.
So instead of using my parental position to grab control and force my way
I say nothing.
I take a breath.
I acknowledge my own fears and desire for control,
and I let go of the toenail clippers.
I pick the sobbing girl up off the floor and into my arms until the tears stop.
Then we make a snack.
Because melted cheddar fixes everything.
The clippers can wait.
My desire for control can take a back seat.
The stern voice can remain silent.
We're doing something more important right now.
We're making grilled-cheese sandwiches.
With slices of pickle on top.