Reflecting on the sad story of Caitlyn Matthews, a little girl with serious and permanent brain damage caused when she was shaken as a baby, my partner said, 'We should promote time out for parents'.* I understood completely, and so probably does every exhausted, stressed-out parent of small children who is simply desperate for a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep, or even the opportunity to just have a shower or go to the loo in peace and quiet.
Caitlyn's story made me remember a time when my daughter was a toddler, and still breastfeeding. She was no longer taking the whole breastfeeding enterprise seriously, and had discovered the sadistic joy that comes from biting mum's boob, then laughing as I yowled in pain. One day, in exhaustion and utter frustration, I came incredibly close to slapping her. I feel guilty about it to this very day. The things that seem obvious to someone who isn't exhausted or stressed - put the child down, take a deep breath and count to ten, leave the room - can sometimes just elude you when you're feeling overwhelmed.
This is just one reason why I'm so strongly opposed to smacking. If I'd slapped my daughter, no doubt some (possibly Christian fundamentalist) pro-smacker would have leapt to my defense, claiming that 'correction' of my child is my right as a parent. But in so many instances, as would have been the case if I'd actually slapped my daughter, what passes as correction is nothing but parental anger, frustration, exhaustion and lack of self-control. A friend of mine once mentioned to me how her father - a normally gentle man whom I like and have respect for - once lost his temper and pushed her, and her head put a hole in the wall. The line between an act of frustration and an act causing lifelong damage can be frighteningly thin.
Giving yourself parental time out - physically or mentally removing yourself from the stress - can be pretty hard to do. I'm not overly proud of it, but in moments of extreme frustration, I yell and howl like a banshee: incoherent phrases which may include expletives. My kids don't take much notice of it, but they know it means mummy needs a few moments to regain the marbles she's just lost. It's not a particularly sophisticated tactic, but I figure it's better than doing something that will scare my children, upset them or cause them harm.
What time out tactics do other parents use on themselves?
* Caitlyn's story was one of two I spied today about the plight of shaken babies. The second was about the cost of caring for those who sustain severe head injuries. I thought it was kind of odd - the fiscal consequences wouldn't be my first argument against child abuse.
Post script: Caitlyn's grandparents, who are raising her, just spoke on Campbell Live about the difficulties and many joys of caring for her, and the importance of stressed parents learning to walk away. They - and lots of other grandparents raising grandchildren in tough circumstances - do an incredible job.