I have been struggling as a parent.
I mean, I like to think that I’m a good Mom. Maybe even a great one. I know how to parent. I know how to raise children, even entering into the dreaded new stage with my sons and daughter. My oldest will be entering school— which now makes him cleverer than his siblings, bigger, better, and special. Not that he thinks of it that way; kids never do. He’s also an Informer, a literalist, and a rule boy. Things should be a certain way, and if there is a ‘rule’ about something and one of his siblings doesn’t do it that way… goodbye peaceful existence and hello Mr. Boss. My second son has passed out of the toddler and ‘little’ boy stage and is now Mr. Independent. Which means he is pushing boundaries and doing what he wants regardless. All of which, between the two of them, ends in turf wars, macho matches, and outright disobedience.
Now I’m normally pretty good at handling the kids. I have a chart of misbehaviors on the wall with the corresponding discipline(s) next to it. They know what to expect and I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they misbehave. Which is good, because, ashamed as I am to admit this, I have a flash temper and can get into a ‘righteous fury.’ Not that it’s actually very righteous, but you know what I mean. So the chart is good for me. I take a moment, breathe, go to the chart, calm down and remain in control, the misdeed is disciplined, and we move on.
The fly in this ointment lately has been me. You see, our daughter is teething. TEETHING. TEETHING.
Did I mention she’s teething?
I cannot recall the last time I’ve had a full night’s sleep. I was so sleep deprived a week or two ago that I was shaking, numb, stomach-achy, and had a massive headache. With little sleep at night and a sad child during many a day, my patience and ability to tolerate went way, way down. My temper became quicker. My tongue sharper. My words harsher. My volume louder. Many days I felt that all I did was scold, rebuke, and yell all day long. I was at my wits end; why on earth wouldn’t the boys just BEHAVE? The fighting over toys, the bullying of each other, the mean-teasing, and the incredible lack of obedience was wearing on me. “Why?” I would ask my Sackett Man and my mother. “Why, why, why don’t they get it?! Why won’t they just stop?!”
We went to Church this last Sunday. The sermon was part of a 3-part series we’re going through on “Doing Life Together”. And boy, there are times I am positive that God specially tailors a message or a passage just for me (or us, or you, or whoever). It was about what true forgiveness means, and how to handle it when someone does wrong. That’s the long and short of it; every point in it would take up more room than I have here! I felt like God was gently touching my shoulder and saying “Mary, maybe you need a little help. Take a look at how you’re talking to your kids, and evaluate how you’re handling them.” After Church I browsed their library shelf on parenting and found a book that has turned out to be fantastic. It was like a breath of fresh air reading it, as if all of my exhaustion and frazzled, scattered brain cells were settling and refocusing.
See, the methods we have in our home for handling our kid’s misbehavior were not bad, but I was not using them the way I should. In my exhaustion, which was legit, I began to think more about myself and the inconveniences to me than I was about teaching them what was right and wrong.
So today marked a new tactic. I began the morning with a large cup of coffee, and immediately brushed my hair and my teeth and put on clean clothes. It’s amazing the life-altering difference clean teeth and clothes make. Thus refreshed I deliberately put on a smile. The boys responded by offering to set the table for breakfast (they’re doing chores to earn the movie “Frozen”, which is waiting deep in my closet :-)). The chatter was happy, the giggles infectious. I read several Bible stories to them as they ate, plus a little Aesop’s Fable. They love being read to, so when breakfast was done they were quite cheerful. They went off and found their army guys, with some paper/foam forms (from our newly unpacked Keurig Coffee Maker) to use for landscapes and ships, and played for an hour. I made sure I looked in on them from time to time, smiling brightly whenever they noticed. I consciously made sure to compliment them from time to time, on their playing together so nicely, when one of them went out of their way to help the other, when they picked up their toys and put them away WITHOUT BEING ASKED. (I did a private jig in the kitchen over that one!) When they did misbehave, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that it’s all part of kids testing boundaries and wanting their own way. I would refer to the chart and then take the boy to their room and tell them in plain English what they were in trouble for and then deal the discipline quietly. For some things it was a time out, for others a spanking. I have a wooden spoon designated the Spanking Spoon, and when it’s needed (like when a child hits another child), I take them aside, spank my own arm (which is a great method, especially if you’re angry, to be sure you’re making the needed impression without doing it too hard), and then give them the spanking. I would then tell them I forgave them, and that I love them, and that I want them to learn God’s love, and that part of that is obeying their Mom and Dad.
Do you know what happened?
No more death glares after being disciplined. No more growls, or hiding, or weeping and wailing. They cried a little, sniffed, and crawled into my lap and put their arms around me and repeat that they loved me too. The testing and general “I’m bigger, I’m more independent” behavior hasn’t evaporated. But they are smiling, and getting along better, and learning. Their sister is thrilled. (Being the littlest isn’t always a piece of cake!) I’m no longer stressing, reassured that God has my back, will give me strength when I’ve been up ALL NIGHT and am severely lacking in my own, and that all in all… my kids are pretty great.
And I LOVE being their Mom. 🙂