Parenting is such a funny thing.
When Rosie was a baby I had definite ideals about how I would raise her–especially regarding discipline.
I read a lot of books. A LOT of books.
It was going to work like this: There would be no spanking, no time-outs, and no praise.
(I know the praise thing confuses people–I mean no “good job” or “good sharing” crap, anyone notice how it’s way over used? Doesn’t mean you can’t ever say, “Wow I love the way you colored that rainbow, it’s beautiful!” You know, making a genuine comment instead of insincere automated, “Good chewing with your mouth closed Johnny!”)
It seems so simple when they are small.
And then they get older, and it’s anything but simple. There are all kinds of extenuating circumstances. Are they over tired? Over stimulated? Hungry? Sick? Is their developmental level appropriate for my expectations? So much thinking.
I still think Super Nanny is a crack pot. Children are not machines that can be automatically trained to behave. Well, I guess they can be trained to behave but not without internal damage.
The thing is, I don’t want to train my children to behave. I want them to be free thinking, healthy children who are able to make the right decisions for intrinsic reasons rather than for fear of a consequence. By no means do I think they should be allowed to run wild, the most important thing I can teach my children is to respect themselves and those around them, and that includes having good manners.
Now here’s the trick: How in the world do you instill all of these qualities in a child? By nature children are impulsive and selfish. Not because children are bad, but because they are naturally so inwardly focused on themselves as they grow and develop. As parents it’s our job to open their eyes to the world around them.
Discipline means “to teach” and not “to punish” right?
Do you teach someone by punishing them? Wait, no…that would be bullying in any other setting.
Convincing someone to do what you want by emotional coercion or physical force…what does that define?
Yeah. Awkward silence.
I’m a parent, not a bully.
So let me tell you: Being in tune with your kid is hard work. As a baby and toddler it works out pretty well, at least it did for me. As she’s gotten older we’ve hit some very rough patches. She never does horrible things in public–but at home sometimes all is not well.
I decided to test out punishments. Is this terrible? No, I don’t think so. (Well, maybe a little considering I am firm in my beliefs that punishment is not the answer.)
First I tested time-out, Super Nanny style. That was ridiculous, over dramatic, and didn’t do anything except create prolonged discord in my home. Sitting down and wailing teaches her nothing except to not let me catch her being bad. She is absolutely not sitting there thinking about what she did wrong. I know, because I sat in time-out as a kid. I was thinking all kinds of angry thoughts, not one single bit of remorse.
Time-out…fail. Though I will mention that sometimes when Rosie is out of control she does need some time in her room to cool down and recenter herself–this is different than a forced time out spot with a forced apology afterward.
One day I decided to test out spanking. Yeah, I really did. Pick your jaws up off of the floor.
That was interesting.
I felt like a horrible person.
Rosie told everyone we saw for like two weeks that I spanked her.
“Hi little girl, I love your sparkly red shoes!” “My momma spanked me.”
Oh gosh. Why Rosie, why? Embarrassing! What do you say in that situation? Walk away quickly!
The spanking experiment taught me two things.
1) You now have a huge power over your child. If you take on a threatening tone your child will cover their butt and back away.
2) Spanking makes you feel like complete scum as a parent. At least it did me. It’s embarrassing for you, and it’s embarrassing for your child to know that their loving parent hit them. Hitting someone scares them into doing what you want them to do. Again…what does that define?
So where does this leave me, discipline-wise?
I have found the answer.
One night when I couldn’t sleep (I have horrible insomnia) I decided to download a Bible for the iPad. It was impulsive. I wanted to read something and I saw it on sale for 99 cents, so I clicked “buy” and there it was.
I know as soon as I say the word BIBLE then half of the people reading this will run away and hide in a corner with tin foil hats on. Sorry.
You know, people always say the Bible is pro-spanking. I kind of think that’s a load of donkey poo. Sure, in the Old Testament they stoned people and other horrific things. But not in the New Testament. A shepherd never beats his sheep with his rod, he guides them with it. (Have you ever seen a sheep before? I can’t imagine beating one. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the Bible uses so many sheep/rod/shepherd comparisons.)
Anyway, what I was going to say before I got distracted by the thought of beating innocent fluffy sheep was that I randomly found the answer to my dilemma in the Bible.
I downloaded the Message Bible on my iPad. I opened it and there was that famous bit about love, you know the one in 1 Corinthins 13? Except the Message version sounds a bit different than the fancier Bible versions.
I had parenting on the brain, and this is what it said to me:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
This is like a summary of my parenting goals. I couldn’t believe it. It’s like instructions for how to be a mother.
I guess what I’m trying to say is…it’s ok. It’s ok to just love your kid.
It’s ok to say no to things if you have a good reason. And it’s also ok to say yes as much as possible.
How do you teach children to be compassionate, respectful people capable of critical thinking? You set an example for them, and you give them reminders over and over until they get it. You show them how to forgive mistakes rather than belittling or bullying.
But most of all, you just love them unconditionally without fail.