Parenting is difficult at times. Especially when it comes to discipline. Trying to find the right balance between letting your child be a child and teaching them acceptable behavior, that’s difficult. That’s really difficult. It can be even more difficult if you have someone standing off to the side telling you that you are wrong, whether that person is a friend, family member, or stranger.
Here’s my thought process on discipline. You have to be clear about the rules. You have to be consistent. And you have to, HAVE TO, no matter how much it sucks, follow through. Otherwise, the child learns that you’re just spouting empty threats and there are no consequences to their actions.
A few weeks back, I was very excited to take my daughter out for her first ice cream cone. But she misbehaved all day long and wouldn’t “put on her listening ears” as we call it, and was being defiant and acting out. So David and I decided that taking her out to ice cream after a day of behavior like that was not only a bad idea, but a terrible one. What would that teach her? It would teach her that misbehaving led to sweet treats. And that’s not a message we wanted to send, so we told her we would have to go out for ice cream on a day that she felt like using her listening ears. I honestly think that David and I were much more disappointed than she was. Being an adult can suck sometimes. Being a parent can suck sometimes.
We got that ice cream cone the following weekend, and she had a blast. Delaying it because of bad behavior didn’t scar her, or hurt her, or cause anything other than a few minutes of sad tears.
Sometimes, following through means leaving an event or get-together early, whether you want to or not, and no matter who gets upset about the early departure. Sometimes, this means missing out on something you were really looking forward to.
Yesterday, my daughter didn’t get to go to the park because she chose not to listen to me after repeated warnings and a final “you have one more chance to behave.” We also missed out on a family dinner. I was upset, but I had to follow through. I could also see that she was tired, and trying to take her to a restaurant and then to a park would only result in more misbehavior and tears. The parent has to make that call, right? Right. But someone got upset with me, and it ended up making me feel defensive, when I had nothing to be defensive about. As the parent, I needed to make the call. And I did, and it was the right one. My daughter was asleep almost before we left the driveway, and when we got home 45 minutes later, she woke up long enough to eat and get changed into her pajamas, and then she went to bed half an hour early and slept straight through the night.
But because someone questioned my decision, I spent the entire drive home rehashing the situation in my mind, going over it again and again, wondering if I had made the wrong decision. Wondering if I should have done it differently. Had I overreacted? Was I too harsh? Did I not let my little girl have any fun?
In the end, I knew I had made the right choice, and I was glad I stuck to my decision. Before I had backed the car out of the driveway, I had asked my daughter “Do you understand why we are leaving early?” She answered “Yes, mommy. I didn’t listen and I was not being nice.” And I said “I’m glad you understand.” And then we moved on to music selection, and then she fell asleep. She wasn’t traumatized. She wasn’t hurt. She didn’t even cry.
She understood. Which is what tells me I am doing something right.