Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Parenting Outside the Box

We used to be very punitive. Poor Lily. That child got a spanking if she took her barrette out of her hair. If she took off her shoes. If she resisted getting into the car seat. If she did anything we didn't want her to do. Anything. At the time, that seemed appropriate. We had an us versus them mentality. Children were to obey their parents. Clearly, we needed to punish for disobedience. So we did.

Then Darcy came along. And some point, it just felt like we were spanking her literally, all the time. She was so hard-headed. So unrepentant, it seemed, that we just kept on spanking her. Except what those books said would happen, didn't. She wasn't thankful for our correction. It didn't bring us closer. No way would that child lay still and "take" a spanking. It was UFC to give her a spanking. My heart started feeling burdened about the number of spankings we were giving and how they were not working. I started questioning the brand of parenting we had been using which was hard because we basically loved the results we had in one child, and couldn't figure out what we were doing wrong in another child.

What we didn't realize until later was the results we loved in Lily, were only the result of her deep-seated need to self-preserve. Not really what we intended at all. She didn't see the problem with disobeying Daddy's rules when he was at work because he "wouldn't know".

For years we have struggled with issues like this. Wanting to do the right thing, but really having a hard time knowing what that would be and what it would look like in this family. What a hard lesson for me to learn. Kids and families are not cookie cutouts. Even if my kids are (which they aren't), I most certainly am not. Most people would not describe me as warm or open or even sweet. I laughed recently when a friend actually admitted to telling someone else I was "sweet". She thinks I'm "closet sweet". Learning that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to ANY problem is something I'm trying to keep in mind when I hear people managing their lives in a way that's different from what I would do.

A couple of days ago, I managed a bedtime/naptime issue very differently than I ever have before. I still have children who need a nap, but are at an age where they can just play around for a few hours and then naptime is over and they didn't have to take one. Bedtime is a battle. Up and down, up and down. Thirsty, need to potty, wants hugs and kisses. A nearly imperceptible injury. Scared. Et cetera. We might handle this variety of ways. We might spank them and hope that would settle them down enough to go to sleep. Maybe we would make them stay in their bed until they actually took a nap. None of these solutions were ever consistently effective. But Sunday, I went another way. Instead of trying to keep them in bed, I let them out.

I told them we were going to stay up and not go to bed! When the other kids went to bed and they were able to stay up, it hardly seemed like a punishment. Seemed like fun! Then 11pm came and our little people started getting cranky and whiny and heavy-lidded. Every few minutes, I would ask in a loud voice, "You guys aren't going to sleep yet, are you? We can't have that!" We finally let Darcy go to bed at midnight and Lily at 1245am. People who don't want to go to sleep, don't have to! Surprisingly enough, naptime and bedtime on Monday went off without a hitch. It just took a small reminder from Mom that if they weren't ready to go to bed, they could always stay up with me. I like staying up late!

Consequences of actions seem to have a better result than punishment. It takes me out of the middle and makes them responsible for their actions. This can only help them as they get older. I'd much rather my children pay a smaller price now and learn lessons than to pay a higher price later.


The Savage said...

You might appreciate Danny Silk's book Loving Our Kids On Purpose as his main approach to parenting (ripped out of the "Love and Logic" stuff) is all about giving kids choices--which empowers them to be masters of their own destinies in a less-than-constantly butting heads with mom and dad way. We still control what choices we give them (go to bed when I say or stay up and clean the garage is one of his favorites), but involving them in the decision making process takes a lot of the antagonism out of the parent-child relationship.

That link is to a review my husband wrote (he wasn't particularly impressed with Mr. Silk's theology, but his ideas were practical), and I tagged in a review on Amazon that gives a good "spoiler-style" overview of the book. Silk is not quite so "do it my way or your kids will be reprobates" as the authoritarian stuff we've read from those books. *smiles*

I'm trying to drag the punitive out of my own parenting style... it's just so knee-jerk. *sigh* This you said??
Consequences of actions seem to have a better result than punishment. It takes me out of the middle and makes them responsible for their actions. This can only help them as they get older. I'd much rather my children pay a smaller price now and learn lessons than to pay a higher price later.
SO true!!! Good thoughts. Gives me much to chew on.

Georgia said...

I am a fan of the Love and Logic, well, logic. On the whole, it works here. (Here being my house!) I've read and implemented the punitive path and I find it doesn't really achieve the results I'm interested in. After reading your husband's review, I have to say, I don't want my children to be afraid of me because I don't want them to be afraid of me. It has nothing to do with scripture. I have felt burdened to be the kind of parent the Lord is to us. A loving, kind Parent who allows us to make our own choices, but then to allow us to suffer the consequences of those actions. I don't believe or agree with a position that says God "punishes" us. There will, however, always be consequences for sin. We live in a fallen world and that's not likely to change anytime soon.