Ready for a laugh? Here is how I thought the perfect parenting formula would work. I thought I would establish rules, and my kids would mostly follow them. Naturally, they would do this, because they love and respect me and I am wiser and bigger than they are. And if they didn’t follow the rules, I would simply give them a disapproving look and speak firmly. If necessary, I would impose a punishment or revoke a privilege. Consistency would be the key. Lots of articles and some books (including New Kid By Friday) reassured me that this formula would work.
On the flip side, I believed that if other people’s children were out of control, it was the parents’ fault. Wild kids were obviously the result of overindulgence, giving in to whining, and failing to establish boundaries.
Some moms of compliant, “easy” children may be nodding their heads right now. But moms of “spirited” children are probably thinking that I was the kind of woman who needed to get a serious reality check. You can smirk now, because I got that reality check. My second child, a girl, responded well to my formula. But my first child, a boy, showed no interest in following any rules that did not suit him. He did not seem to be impressed with my age, wisdom, or size. If I wanted him to hurry, he would freak out about putting his shoes on. If I wanted him to be quiet, he would shriek. If I was stressed out, he dug his heels in on whatever I needed him to do. He tested things (like toys and his little sister) by seeing what would happen if he whacked them.
I tried timeouts, and I got dents in the wall where he expressed his opinion about those. I tried giving him a big bear hug and talking gently till he calmed down. But to this, he just yelled, bit, kicked, and pinched until we were both in tears. I know there were some parents who thought he was a candidate for a good spanking, and I am sorry to say, I tried that, too. But I came to realize that all the force and coercion wasn’t working. It was only proving to him how wrong I was.
And how wrong I was. Lucky for me, he was a child who did not fear me. His stubbornness forced me to find alternatives to my intimidation-based discipline strategy. But that meant that everything I believed about parenting was falling through, and I had a huge gap to fill. If that was the wrong formula, what was the right formula? Like a mad scientist, I searched for years, reading everything I could get my hands on. I’ve slowly discovered that parenting is more like a recipe than a formula. There are many different ingredients, and you improve the mix over time through trial and error. Different parents use different variations to suit different tastes. Sometimes you have to change it up a little just for variety. I don’t have one perfect recipe, but at least now my parenting doesn’t leave such a bad taste in our mouths anymore. Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will outline the stages I went through during this process.