Being present in discomfort

I am currently sitting on a step outside my local library watching my son cry and pace and moan. He doesn’t like me to come close to him during his fits, so I wait nearby and watch to ensure his safety. I am ensuring my safety too, he has already pushed me once during this outburst. Every once and awhile he comes near me crying, trying to negotiate with me. This particular outburst is over a punishment I doled out after witnessing him shove M off a tree branch that he wanted to be on. He was excited to get a new player in a smartphone game, one he had saved up for, but now I’ve told him he must wait one more day. Of course he’s upset and I understand that it’s not a great strategy to deprive kids as punishment, but I also can’t let him be mean to his sister and get away with it. I am not great at punishment or discipline. I didn’t grow up with it and it makes me uncomfortable, but I craved boundaries and want to give them to my children. So I try and fail and sit and watch the aftermath. It’s an odd part of my life this sitting and watching as my son weeps, wails, and writhes. I used to worry what passersby were thinking, whether they were judging me, ‘what’s she doing? Why is she just sitting there? Why doesn’t she try to calm him down? That must not be his mother, I guess.’ I have been dealing with this behaviour for 4+ years and I have tried so many strategies. Talk to him calmly, he screams. Hold him, he hits. Put on music, he yells. Talk to him sternly, he has an even bigger fit. The best advice I’ve ever heard (and I don’t remember where I heard it) is to calmly say “I see you’re upset, I will be right here” and sit far enough away to give them space, but still where they can see you. I do this with adults in distress or grief too. Showing up and being present without being intrusive speaks volumes even though you don’t say anything. People, diagnosis or not, just want to know they have someone in their corner who won’t leave when the going gets tough. We are all afraid that the people we love will leave us when we behave at our worst, I know I do. And it’s sure easier to leave – forget this shit, this shit’s crazy! Staying is awkward and uncomfortable and can be embarassing when in public, sure, but the world is full of people who will leave when things get awkward, we need more people who are willing to stick around in the discomfort.

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