Recently, someone complimented me on what a good mother I am and I replied, “Thank you. My sons make parenting easy.” Another friend pointed out that in answering that way I’m doing myself and others a disservice. My children are not good because of some innate goodness in them. My sons are fantastic because I’m a FANTASTIC parent.
I don’t have the sort of career where my salary denotes my skills or where bonuses or reviews reflect the level of my job performance. The many compliments I receive from strangers, friends and family are my job review and I should receive them as such and not give the credit to “luck.”
Some of my friends may remember my sons as babies and toddlers. Buddy was a difficult baby. He was difficult to feed from breast or bottle. He cried if he wasn’t being held and when he was being held he wriggled and climbed and tugged and pulled on every body part in his reach. When tired of being a human jungle gym, I’d put him down and the wailing would begin. I don’t remember too much trouble from him as a toddler. I know there was correction and discipline but, smart boy that he is, he only needed a consequence to happen once (maybe twice) to set the boundaries and expectations of our household.
Bug was…something else. I’m sure my friend Amy recalls his stubbornness. She was a former teacher who ran an in-home daycare in our neighborhood. She taught me so much about how to redirect him and how to implement consequences. He didn’t take to it quick like Buddy. I had to repeat, repeat, repeat words and actions until he got it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t intelligent. It was a battle of wills. There were fits, screams, hitting and biting. Real full on battles with that boy especially around age three. I called it Throw Me Under The Car Threes. Amy encouraged me to stick with it and I firmly believe that it is why my current parenting years are a cake walk.
I used to babysit a little girl (age 5) when we lived in Missouri. She was a nice young lady but she had zero manners. She would make announcements to me of her wants and desires. “I’m hungry!”
“May I have a snack please?” I would reply, demonstrating the more respectful way to ask for what she wanted. After giving her the snack, “Now what do you say?”
“I don’t know…” she answered honestly.
“Don’t you say please and thank you at your house?” I asked.
“Um…no. I don’t know?”
And so we began a lesson in when to say please, thank you, and you’re welcome. She was genuinely thrilled to learn it! I was so surprised because her mother was one of the sweetest most lady-like women I knew. How was it that her 3 daughters didn’t know BASIC manners?
Using baby signs, I had taught my sons their manners before they could even speak. Buddy showed his gratitude through sign language to my sister for a gift she gave him and he didn’t know how to say more than “mama” and “dada.” Bug on the other hand…didn’t pick up on signs. He once dropped the sign for “more” and started to snap (yes SNAP!) at me when he wanted more food. I could have allowed that for a supplement sign but I refused to jump and serve when snapped at. (Interestingly, he lost the ability to snap and had to be re-taught when in grade school.)
Once I was cleaning house in preparation for company. Buddy decided it would be fun/funny to take every toy, every Lego, every train track, every book, (you get the picture) and dump it out onto the floor. I wanted to scream! I wanted to give him a scolding he would never forget! I had just read a book about natural consequences and allowing kids to reap the results of THEIR choices. I told Buddy that he would have to pick the whole mess up himself.
“What?! But I’m too little!” he argued. “Will you help me?” He was 4 by the way.
“No, Buddy. I won’t help and you are not too little. You are big enough to make the mess yourself and you are big enough to clean it up.”
He burst into tears and continued to ask for my help.
“I’ve got the whole house to clean before our company arrives tomorrow. I’m sorry that you chose to make such a big mess. Now get it cleaned up quick so you can do fun things!”
It took him the rest of the day and part of the next but when he was done he was so PROUD of himself and he even thanked me!
It was a lot to ask of a four year old and it was hard for me to not intervene but what a lesson he learned! That day and half consequence stuck!
Experiencing a consequence is important and it’s also important to let our kids struggle. It may not be easy for them to clean up a spill or to tie their shoe or take walk instead of ride. One thing you can guarantee though is that at sometime in their life they will be in a struggle. Let them struggle over the little things, with you along side them so when life is hard they know that they can get through it.
Mealtime. If the kids didn’t want to eat the food I offered, I didn’t get mad or raise my voice or act hurt. I just said OK and let them skip the meal. They could not make something different to eat and I sure as hell wasn’t going to make a separate meal for them. When they cried and argued about that, I would calmly remind them that they CHOSE to not eat the food I prepared. I’m saying this because a lot of parents believe that it’s important for their kids to have choices and I entirely agree. However, they don’t get to make ALL of the choices. I choose what to make for dinner and they choose to eat it or not. Whatever they choose is fine with me.
“My child is so stubborn though that I worry they’ll never eat.”
Besides Amy, another big influence on my parenting was my friend Janice. She had 13 kids. (I say “had” because she has even more than that now.) Watching Janice with her children I learned that even though your child may not have the ability yet to speak much, they understand what you are saying. One time her one year old dropped a wrapper on the kitchen floor.
“Pick it up and throw it in the trash, please,” Janice directed.
I was amazed as the one year old bent down to pick up the wrapper, toddle over to the trash, lift the lid and toss in the wrapper. I filed the lesson away as her diaper swish, swished while she toddled off to play.
Janice also had one hour a day where all of the children went to their rooms. They could read, nap, or play quietly but for one hour she did not see, hear, or attend to a child. I can guarantee you that not all of her children were “easy.” She established rules and consequences for breaking rules early on.
Did I say she had 13 kids? Because that’s something to remember too. I’m often told that my kids are good because I only have 2. THIRTEEN! Just saying. I know plenty of only children or 2 sibling families where the kids are little terrors.
If you are a parent of infants or toddlers I encourage you to implement the rules of your home while they are little. The hard years of parenting for me were when the boys were under the age of 5. After that it’s mostly been about table manners, spirituality, relationships, etc. I rarely have to correct my sons anymore. At least not in a large way. There have been times that privileges are revoked but there isn’t a blow out over it because they know that when you make a bad choice there is a consequence. They know that because as Littles that is what happened.
I have friends who tell me that they can’t do that or their child will get really angry.
“You don’t understand. She’ll have a fit and make living with her difficult for everyone.”
Right. Because my kids never did that. I was “lucky” and gave birth to little angels.
I get that it’s MUCH harder to start consequences when you didn’t do it at a younger age but it’s never too late to start! It’ll be harder for you and your child but it’s not too late!
Also, so what if your child gets mad. That’s life. It’s not our job as parents to raise happy children. It’s our job to raise healthy, happy, functioning ADULTS. Children who learn in the safety of their home and parents arms how to cope with disappointment and that their behaviors have a cause and effect will be good adults.
The book that saved the lives of my children was called How To Get Your Kid To Mind Without Losing Yours. I bought it because I was so exhausted (and depressed really) and just at my wits end for how to get my children to behave. I didn’t want to be a mom who yelled all of the time. I didn’t want to be an angry mother. That book really gave me an understanding of the importance of our children having consequences for their actions and for teaching them that their behaviors are THEIR choices and not the fault of someone else.
So thank you, salesman at William Sonoma for complimenting me on what well behaved and well mannered sons I have. I’m sure you cringed when you first saw them walk in unattended. Thank you, waiter at the fancy restaurant for complimenting the boys and I on their lovely manners (still working on using those same table manners at home…) Thank you to my aunt who said she’s never met such a respectful teenager as my Buddy.
It didn’t “just happen.” I didn’t get lucky with magical babies. I worked very, very hard. It was physically, mentally, and emotionally draining but I busted my ass to create the sort of children I have today. Their father too. I could always call him at work for him to have a “talk” with his sons if need be. I know we are not done. I know I still have time to royally screw them up, but so far so good.