I’ve been thinking a lot about different ways of parenting, especially since there was so much emphasis on it during the penalty phase of the trial. You know, I think that there is widespread misunderstanding of exactly what discipline means. Discipline isn’t force. It isn’t fear, either. You don’t want your child to fear you or to resent you. You will never have a relationship with them in later life if they do. The way I see it, the point of discipline is teaching. Every minute you have with your child they are learning and you are teaching. Your goals are to keep them safe and to raise them to be good, happy, responsible members of an extremely complex society. That’s hard. Sometimes it’s the hardest job in the world, but it’s oh so necessary. We struggle along blindly, and we all make mistakes. Some of us struggle alone, with no elder tribe members to ask for advice. So, for what it’s worth, here are some of the things I reasoned out that helped me when I was raising my own kids.
I always told my children and grandchildren that the most important thing is to tell the truth. All kids lie sometimes, but you have to make sure that you encourage truth telling and that the punishment for lying is worse than if they had just told the truth. It’s hard to stick to that some times but it’s important. Think of it this way: if you make it comfortable for them to come to you with the truth when they broke a window, they will be more likely to come to you with the truth later in life when they make mistakes with much greater consequences. Truth matters.
Don’t make stupid rules and then feel you have to stand by your guns no matter what to keep your child’s respect. Children aren’t dumb. Remember when you asked your own parents why and they responded, “Because I said so.”? It was a lame answer then and it’s a lame answer now. Much, much better to take a moment to tell them, “because I want you to be safe,” or “because that will cause me to spend more time cleaning it up instead of reading a story.” If the rule isn’t stupid, the explaination won’t be either. Relax a bit and fight the important battles.
Admit your mistakes and don’t be afraid to say that you’re sorry. Setting yourself up as infalable is only going to lead to disillusionment, because you aren’t. You’re going to mess up. When I had a fight with my kids, I would usually apologize first. It’s hard to be the first and you should show that you are willing to do so. It makes it easier for them to follow suit. If nothing else, I would say that I was unhappy with what they had done, but that I was sorry I had lost my temper. That helps them see that losing your temper isn’t the right way to go in any relationship. Emotions are hard to get a handle on, even for adults. You are the example in the appropriate use of emotions like anger for your child. Make it a good example. And have a little tolerance when they mess up, because even you lose it once in a while. Tantrums are usually a sign of frustration at an emotion and situation they don’t know how to handle (or a sign that it’s naptime). Calm in the face of a tantrum is essential. I once took a series of photos of Ian having a tantrum, and showed him how it looked later. It isn’t pretty is it? So for heaven’s sake, don’t have one yourself. If you are calm they will eventually calm down, and then you can talk about the reasons for your decision, whatever it was. And give them a hug to show that you love them no matter what they do. If they are still have full blown tantrums when old enough for school, it’s a sign you may need help in teaching them to handle their feelings. It’s ok to get help when you need it. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness.
Always listen. We get busy and constant questionning can get annoying. Remember that they are trying to learn. Devon was the king of questions. He always came to me with his questions, because he knew that whatever it was I would try to give him the answer he needed. He would even ask me questions he had already asked other adults, because he liked to double check his data (very logical and scientific child). Who do you want your teenager to go to with questions? If you want it to be you, you had better answer his questions when he is six. My son came to me with questions that I never imagined fielding, ever. It was uncomfortable sometimes, but I am honored that he trusted me enough to do so. And that Devon felt he could ask me how babies got out of a mommy’s tummy. And that Ian had complete faith that if I said there were no monsters under the bed, then there were no monsters.
It was a wonder watching Neal father his boys. He told them my stories and sang them my songs. He repeated things that I had said to him, that I thought went in one ear and out the other at the time… about the importance of truth, and why you shouldn’t hurt others. I was looking forward to seeing how it all turned out, and meeting the men my grandsons were destined to be. What an adventure!
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I guess the grandmother in me just has to break out sometimes. I want to help. I want to make it easier. Perhaps I just need to pass a bit of me along just to show that I was here. A footprint. A trail. I need to Oma someone and today I guess that someone is you. Take it with a grain of salt. It’s an emotional year drawing to a close with an emotional season filled with sappy commercials and endless parodies of Dickens. My emotions are emoting around the edges. Monkey.