As you held down your children, as they screamed and fought to sit up, my heart broke for you.
As you spoke angrily at them, as if they were the trouble, while smiling and commiserating with the hygenist, my heart broke for you.
You were outwardly angry & impatient, yet your energy was sad & embarrased. My heart broke for you.
I've been there. I've been in a situation - watching, doing, responding - when nothing felt right. It feels wrong. All wrong. On many levels.
So, as I watched your struggle, and the struggle of your children, my heart broke...for you, and for me. For in my judgment of you, I felt the judgment against myself. I've been in your shoes...responding as a parent, but responding in a way that is totally wrong for my child(ren.)
And then one day, I can't recall when, I heard a voice in my head saying 'You have permission.'
You have permission to say no.
You have permission to take a break.
You have permission to question.
You have permission to walk away.
You have permission to stop, take a breath, take a walk, STOP - if it will help your child feel safe, comfortable, and respected.
To the parents that shared space with me, the other day at the dental office, I whisper encouraging PERMISSION to respect your children, and their fears, and their boundaries, and their light.
It's ok. Really. If you are doing something, and internally you want to puke because it feels so awful and wrong, than stop. Please. Just stop. And hold your children until you both feel better.
Here's an excerpt from a letter I wrote six months ago to this same dentist, regarding one of their techs. Just an example of how you can speak up and OUT for your children...and the next child.
I was in most recently on Monday of this week with my youngest children, O and D. O needed alot of encouragement as he was very shy and anxious. I do not remember the name of the hygienist that was assigned to him that day, though she was familiar and I think we've had her before. She was quite nice to him, and always spoke in that happy, sing-song voice that you seem to think puts children at ease. However, as he continued to struggle with the appointment (a simple cleaning, but he is only four, and this was only his second time there,) the tech began to use language that felt demeaning. Statements like – ‘Oh. You don’t want to be a baby. You don’t want to cry. You’re a big boy right? Only babies suck their fingers. Only babies cry when they get their teeth cleaned.’ – and when talking to his sister, since she was already finished with her appointment, quote – ‘I heard you were really good at your appointment. See, O, you want to be just like your sister don’t you, you aren’t a baby, are you? I always knew girls were smarter…’ (D is a girl, and O’s twin sister.)
Although I can understand what the tech was trying to accomplish, I regret allowing it to continue as long as I did. Quite honestly, I regret not immediately STOPPING the cleaning and respecting O’s wishes for some space. I think I was in a state of shock. I did soon stop the cleaning, and acknowledged his worry, and his valiant attempt at getting through the procedure. I found the tech’s use of language demeaning, and unacceptable, and sad, for O. In my family, we celebrate babies, and we’ve taught our children that a crying child is nothing to resent, but someone in need of help, love, and encouragement. I felt the tech was trying to ‘guilt’ or embarrass O into a less-stressful emotional state….less stressful for her, perhaps, but at the cost of my son’s natural inclination to communicate his emotions of fear and anger. He was fearful to begin the appointment, and became angry as he was being made fun-of by the person trying to persuade him. Fear is the birthplace of anger. He is such a smart boy…I’m confident that, as an adult, this tech wouldn’t stand for a person invading her personal space, all the while being ridiculed.
I hope these criticisms are taken with gratitude, and as an opportunity for some positive-language/language-sensitivity education, and perhaps re-evaluation of how children are sometimes treated in the office. As stated in the beginning, I have had very good care in the past. And my other anxious child had a very patient tech when we were in two weeks ago. And O was seen by Dr. R and she was most patient with him…even when he bit the mirror and cracked the plastic.
I plan to write another letter, encouraging more training for staff on how to encourage parents to stop, and take a breath, and respond to their children with empathy and patience. It would have been beautiful to hear the tech say, 'This young guy needs a break. I'm not comfortable with this cleaning, if it requires force to hold him down.'
Sometimes we just need to hear it.
'It's ok. You have permission.'