|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