Today I got a call from a friend, asking me for parenting advice. Apparently her child has been disrespectful and refuses to follow the rules. She doesn't know what the problem is, she's counting to 3 like the books say and then putting her in time out, what could be the issue?? So I have to step in and say, "The issue is that you're following a book, dear."
Don't get me wrong, I love books, and when I say love, I mean LOVE. I have literally thousands and I collect first editions and classics. I read books over and over again until the covers fall off and I'll read anything you put in front of me, anything- Harlequin novels, WWII history books, self help, religious texts, mysteries, true life crime, college text books (for fun!), I even own the report of the Warren Commission, and, yes, even parenting books- anything and everything. I don't think I'd live without books, and I'd probably save them in a fire before ever thinking to check on my hubby. I love, love, love them, BUT, they are not the be all, end all, and they do not contain the answers to all of life's mysteries. Do you know why? Because each book contains one person's point of view, and one person alone does not have all of the answers. Kind of a no-brainer, huh?
Does that mean I'm the type of parent who flies by the seat of my pants and makes shit up as I go? Absolutely not! I am not nearly that brave- I need a plan, a schedule. I have taken tons of classes, read hundreds of books, and I've learned one thing. Nothing is right all the time. Parenting requires a tool box and each and every "tool" you pick up goes in that box. Some jobs call for the hammer, some for the screwdriver, but none of them will work in all situations, none are suited for all jobs. (By the way, that last part there, I stole it from a Love and Logic course I took last year.) And now I'm all side-tracked...
Back to my friend. She calls today and asks me what she should do with her unruly daughter. Keep in mind, this woman has watched me parent for years, she may not know all the ins and outs of how I do it, but she must have the general idea, you'd think that nothing I would realistically say at this point would come as a shock. You'd be wrong, as was I. I told her that what she needed to do was stop with the chances. Stop counting. Stop warning the child and not doing anything. How scary does this sound? "That is your number one. You can throw that toy at me two more times, but then you're going to be punished." Do you think how you should immediately straighten up? I bet not. Hell, even I start thinking how awesome it is that I get one more freebie! No parent actually says those words verbatim, but let's just assume that our children aren't complete morons and can figure out the basics of 1, 2, 3, shall we?
Here's how that scenario would play out in my house: The child throws a toy at me. I immediately tell said child to march to time out while I think of a punishment. The child sits there until I ask this question, "Are you ready to talk about it yet?" They always say yes, we discuss, and a punishment is handed out. Typical punishments in this house include, but are not limited to, extra chores, early bed time, loss of tv, being grounded to your room, losing game privileges, and the punishment changes according to child. My son would die without tv but doesn't care about being grounded to his room. My oldest enjoys extra chores but can't stand being in her room. My youngest hates going to bed but can live without games. You have to hit them where it hurts, NOT literally, if you want them to make any changes. They're short people, not stupid people. Am I motivated by someone telling me that if I say that again I won't be allowed to do laundry anymore? Nope. In fact, that kinda makes me want to make up a song using nothing but whatever offensive word I've said. (In all honesty, it was probably 'motherfucker' or 'little pussy bitch'. Any song writers here?)
Anyway- Yes, my children will go to time out on their own without dragging their feet and without being yelled at and will sit there quietly until I tell them to get up. That in and of itself was borne from many times being carried to time out kicking and screaming and having time start over repeatedly if they weren't quiet and still. I wasn't handed well behaved children, I worked for them. And for about 18 months I worked really, really hard and I was spit at, kicked, hit, called names, battered and bruised,.. you name it, my kids did it. However, since my kids aren't idiots, they caught on and learned that it's easier and quicker to do as you're told the first time, cause what happens when mom has to tell you more than once is that mom gets angry, and when mom's angry, the punishments get sooo much worse.
So I tell her that that's what I would do and she is shocked. Genuinely shocked. And she says, "Wow. That sounds really mean. I don't think I could be that mean to my daughter." That kinda knocked me back a bit. Am I being mean to my kids or am I holding them to higher standards? Am I crossing a line or showing them where it is? I felt like she had kicked me in the stomach and I started to worry. After all, what's the difference between 'mean' and 'controlling and domineering'? I would prefer to think that my kids make their own decisions about their behavior and I'm just motivating them to make good ones, but am I wrong?
I sat on the couch for about 20 minutes thinking this over, at one point with teary eyes, when suddenly it occurred to me. The difference between my friend and I is that I am not looking for more friends, and she desperately wants them. She wants to be the fun mom, the one who never says no, she wants to be a friend, and I don't think that there is anything inherently wrong with that. I enjoy having fun with my kids, but really I don't care about any of that friend crap. I have the rest of their lives to be friends with them, and if history is any indicator, we'll become friends only after they move out anyway, so right now what I need to do is be their parent. I can't parent them and direct their decisions when they're my age and out on their own because that's my time to be a friend. Right now I can't be a friend because it's the time to direct so that when they're my age and out on their own making decisions they won't need a parent.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that different things work for different kids. My parenting style works in my house, but apparently wouldn't in her house. If I took on her parenting style in this house, I'd be a sitting duck. Just because something isn't going to work in your house doesn't mean you shouldn't listen. You never know how you could modify someone else's idea to work for you. Besides, listening is just plain respectful and modeling correct behavior to your kids is just as important, if not more so, than telling them what the expectations are. Parenting.... Tool Boxes... make sure yours is filled with lots and lots of stuff so that you'll never be in a situation that you don't have a tool for. And THAT last part came right out of the mouth of my father.
(See, Dad, you were right after all!!)