Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Parenting: The Thin Pink Line Between Order and Chaos

Image from here

Today I have the delight of having one of my favourite bloggers guest posting. Karen is a recovering newborn baby addict. When she is not pregnant, she is building her writing career. Mama to 3 boys, aged 5, 3 and 1, she lives by the bay in Melbourne’s south.

She blogs at The Rhythm Method twice a week. Pop over and say hi.

It all began with a supermarket pregnancy test. One pink line divided the before and the after by which our lives would be split for the rest of time. We were to become parents, and had no idea of the chaos up ahead.

Our baby boy arrived healthy in June. Like many new parents, we had no idea but fumbled our way through the first 3 months, gained confidence in the next 6 months and by his first birthday, we had been lulled into a false sense of security. Time for another baby? Why not.

Why not, indeed. As soon as Boy 1 discovered his independence, I saw the next 17 years of my life unravel like a squiggly ball of wool. The hardest part was yet to come: the real challenge of parenting would be teaching this child how to be independent, while simultaneously teaching him how to be a part of a community. Teaching him how to behave when all he wants to do is be wild and rambunctious and act on his every impulse, including feeding an entire pumpkin to the dog (true story).  And all the while trying to keep his baby brother from being hugged to death.

My understanding of discipline was rudimentary. There seemed to be two schools: hard (smacking) or soft (never saying No). Our ideal form of discipline sat somewhere in the middle: we didn’t want to smack, but No would surely play a part in our strategy. Sound vague? Here’s the scary part: you kind of figure it out as you go along.

The reality is, questions of discipline don’t always come with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Context and intent are also factors as children become older. In our house, some leniency is applied to young children who are sick, tired or in a bad mood.

Discipline also becomes more challenging the more children you have. Notions of fairness are frequently lost in the washing pile. “He hit me”, “She pushed me”: who do you discipline first? The hitter or the pusher? The older or the younger? Or do you just throw both of them in the baby jail until they’ve sobered up?  Quick! You’ve got 5 seconds to decide before the whole house falls down around you! If the older child – who should know better – is laying into the younger one, even if the younger one hit first, I would probably be harder on the older child. Is this the right answer? I don’t know, but I hope it teaches them both a lesson.

Life with children is often so busy and chaotic that some misdemeanours fall by the way side. Is it your job to be on the job of policing their behaviour every minute of every day? I would suggest some things have to go through to the keeper: if you put all misdemeanours in front of the court (such as not using your fork at the dinner table), you might find yourself acting as the Fun Police.

We are firm about certain things in our house. We don’t hurt each other, emotionally or physically. We take turns. We say sorry (even the grown ups). We have inside and outside voices. The TV stays off between 8am and 5pm. Bedtime is between 7pm and 7.30pm. Mummy and Daddy are in charge, but the kids are offered some choices too. Above all, we try to create a loving environment so no matter what our boys get up to, come bedtime they know that despite having done the wrong thing, they are still loved and cherished and they get a chance to be better tomorrow. We know they are still human ‘works in progress’. Let’s face it, as parents we’re works in progress too.

Robin Barker, author of Baby Love and The Mighty Toddler describes discipline as “not about stopping bad behaviour so much as encouraging desirable behaviour”. In other words, parents should be focussing on good behaviour as much as bad: remembering to say ‘you’re playing beautifully with your brother today’, or ‘what a great job of packing up your toys’. I think this is a wonderfully productive, positive way to think of the dilemma: far more workable than “Smack or no smack?”

Discipline is a line that you draw as a parent. Probably best if you draw it in chalk, because you might find it needs fine tuning every now and then. It might also help to come to terms with chaos and focus on those discipline matters that really matter, because it will be a long time before life returns to the tidy, black and white order of life Before Children.

How is discipline dished up at your house? What do you find most challenging about challenging behaviours?

Thanks so much for stopping by Karen xx


Diminishing Lucy said...

Oh Karen, that was a top read. I actually got my lovely husband to read it too - he laughed, and said "Is she writing about us?"!

Indentical approach.

It varies in its effectiveness - each of my three are so amazingly different - their language of love is very different, and they work for different currencies...

But we all go to bed happy.


Life In A Pink Fibro said...

Great post. My ideas on discipline have changed a bit as my children grow. We've always been firm but have realised that the line between firm and too hard can be thin. Sometimes a quiet cuddle goes a lot further than discipline does.

InkPaperPen said...

You are on fire, Karen. Yet another rocking post

This is how I aim to parent. I say aim, as sometimes things go pear shaped. On both sides of the fence. I'm also learning the different needs my boys have when it comes to discipline. Age, personality, stage of development are all contributing factors. I like the idea of drawing the line in chalk, lovely description.

House of Prowse said...

Yes, a great post on a topic that causes me angst most days.
With a 3 yo and 1 yo - we have the same battles.
I like the idea that discipline is teaching and promoting more of what you want to see than punishing the undesireable actions.
Somedays it is a struggle though....

Mum on the Run said...

Terrific post.
It's an ever evolving concept this discipline caper.
I try to have a plan or some consistency to stop me being reactive. My three year old does reactive far better than I ever could.
As always, every child is an individual and responds in their own way to different strategies.
The key is finding what works for each of yours.
And not beating ourselves up too much when we get it a bit wrong.
Thank you.

Rhonda said...

that was lovely and came at a time when i needed to read it. thank you.

Anonymous said...

My kids aren't naughty, they're effervescent. I figure I should probably just go with it, rather than try to constantly put them back in their box. I think it all comes down to choosing your battles.
Thanks for having me MM. :)

MultipleMum said...

Great post Karen! In my mind, 'no' and 'yes' are the only things they really need to adhere to. If you change the rules, they still just need to understand that no means no and yes means yes. So simple in theory, but much harder when the 'but Mum' whine kicks in. A really thought provoking post - love the analogy with the pregnancy test line. You should have seen the bright pink line when I was pregnant with the twins! It said 'you are sooooo pregnant!' x

Kymmie said...

Oh, I love Karen and her amazing writing too. And love this post. I'm always thinking about that very fine line (usually in the image of a swinging pendulum), you know hoping it will stop long enough in the middle to create some balance.

So glad Karen visited your lovely blog. Two of my favourite bloggers in one. Win-Win!


danneromero said...

thanks... i am popping over and sending my greeting...

enjoyable read...

Miss Pink said...

We are pretty much the same here. I like the kids to be able to have the freedom to make their own choices, but we cushion it and they know we have the final say. When something goes wrong I prefer methods that get the children to stop and think about why they shouldn't have done this or that and how they could behave next time.
And of course leading by example is a biggie!

Tai Tai said...

Great post indeed! I'm about to have my first in a few months time and this whole area of parenting scares the bejeesus out of me. But as you say, I guess you just figure it out as you go.... I think the idea of positive reinforcement is a great one. It's too easy to focus on the negatives in life without praising the great things going on! Thanks for all the tips ;) x

Vanessa said...

Focussing on the positive has always worked here. Of course there were time outs in toddlerhood and consequences to behaviour have remained. Our older two are ten and twelve and just this weekend we talked as a family about some basic house rules that weren't being adhered to and the girls agreed with the reomoval of "screens"for a week. They show gratitude and appreciate all we do for them, but I won't be taken for granted which they understand.

Anonymous said...

I'm yet to venture into the world of babies/children/smacking/no smacking but when I do I'll be taking some of this advice on board for sure! I'd like to think this is exactly how I will parent. Fabulous read - can't wait to see what you write next. Kath

Megan Blandford said...

Great post, Karen - things are quite similar here. Very strict on some issues (anything relating to safety at the top of the rank there) and relaxed about other things. We've certainly learnt that we have to pick our battles!

Mama of 2 boys said...

I loved this post Karen, so much of it rings true for me, as I battle through raising 2 wild boys. I love the comment about 'baby jail', priceless! It does feel that way often around our house. I do like your principles for disciplince at home though. It is such a tough juggle and I try not to always be on the older one to behave, as I know in lots of cases it's a two way street. I guess the eldest always has to be the trail blazer though. One of the biggest things I am trying (and want) to teach my boys is respect. For everything and everyone. I really believe it's the foundation for everything else to be built upon.

Maxabella said...

Love your work, attitude and approach Karen. You just plain rock you do!

As for who you discipline first - at my place, it's whoever is closest. And when I have those scary dreams about us all going down in a plane crash and having three children but only two parents with arms to put the masks on... well, I guess the only reasonable answer would be whoever is closest then too. x

Erin said...

That would have to be the best, most balanced article I have ever read on discipline. After 18yrs of parenting and 9 children I agree 100%!!

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