Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shut the Front Door: When My Kids' Discipline Issues Keep Me Under House Arrest

Anyone who knows me knows that I have pretty normal, very young children. Therefore, I am definitely not a parenting guru. There are a few things that have been passed on to Aaron and me in these past five years of parenthood, though. One of our starting points in our journey to parent well is to call behavior what it is, instead of wrapping it up in the beautiful excuses we are so often tempted to, like "he's tired", "he's going through a phase", or "he's super special and you normal people just don't 'get' him". Rather, disrespect is disrespect, willful disobedience is disobedience, and sneakiness is lying.

My mother-in-law was a self-confessed "groupie" of a lady named Bea Moss who did parenting seminars in this Illinois area. Bea was from an older-school generation of parenting, but I really agree with so many of the things she taught.

One of these things is that when your kids are being disobedient and need consistent discipline, it's time to hunker down, cancel some plans, and do the grandest and most significant job we have been given - parenting. I concur. I do not discipline well in the aisles of Target. It took my biggest little about 22 months of life to figure that out and take full advantage of it. I do not discipline well on playdates, even with my least judgmental friends. I do not discipline well with my mom over, giving her two cents. Nothing against her two cents, really!

There are parts of being a mom that make you want to die of happiness. Sweet, sleeping infants who leave milk-drool stains on your shirt. Babies who sleep well and wake up happy to see you. First babbling words. Snuggles. This whole discipline aspect of parenting has not been one of those things for me. I think I have a pretty good understanding of this - when your little person is still babyish and a toddler, it's totally tempting to put off the unpleasantness of discipline. We still have the upper hand mentally, and we are really good at redirecting, coaxing, bribing, and cajoling. BUT ONE DAY, one inevitable day, your sweet, milk-drooling, easily bribed child will realize they have a will of their own. There you will stand, facing an army of un-fought battles, armed only with sweet-talk and empty threats. That's frightening, and it motivates me in the same way that watching "The Hunger Games" motivated me to start running again. Because, you know...

Carson was three when he started really hitting these rough patches, and I had to start skipping some errands and playdates until we got things under control. He was like other kids and struggled with the same things, but just because something is normal doesn't mean it's okay. I remember last summer, we were going to go to a baseball game with a bunch of new friends. We were going to pick up one of our nephews to go with us and hang out with Carson. I was excited to get to know everyone better, Carson didn't totally understand what we were doing, but he just knew he really wanted to go. It was time to leave, and I was enthusiastic that these new friends would witness one of my few good hair days! Landon's napping and nursing schedules were skillfully orchestrated. The diaper bag was brilliantly packed to sustain a months-old baby and a toddler for three hours of baseball. We were even walking out the door on time, glory! Carson spotted suckers in the bag, and asked if he could have one. We told him that he could have a couple of them at the game, but he needed to wait. I had to run upstairs for something, but I put the diaper bag up on the counter and told Carson in no uncertain terms that he was not to take any candy out yet. By the time I came down, he was running to hide a half-eaten sucker, and he looked guilty as heck. I asked him, "Carson, did you take candy?" Without missing a beat, he answered, "No." But he was caught, and as I confiscated the candy, he threw an angry fit. Sometimes I know he doesn't understand something I tell him, so I have a lot of grace. Sometimes he would throw a fit because he was completely worn out and not in any condition to handle disappointment. This time, I was just looking in the face of one willful little boy. We had been working with him through his disobedience, sneaking and angry fits for a couple of weeks, but I just knew that this was an important moment. We could scold him and go on our merry way, or we could make a statement that what he did brought consequences. It was really disappointing, but I kept him at home with me while dad took his cousin to the game. I pulled my 'good hair day' back into a ponytail and got back to the most important thing on my schedule, being a mommy who wanted to build character, even in such a little guy as our Carson was. It was a good lesson for both of us. Those were the things that helped him see that we meant business, and it helped me see that I wouldn't actually die to stay in for a night, a few days, even a week.

We want the best for our sweet boys. We know the issues kids deal with just get bigger and badder, so we want to try our best to win these smaller battles before we take on the next one. Heaven help us!