Times That Call For Tough Parenting

I think both of my children are adorable. Since the day they were born, I have seen them as the cutest mini-people who ever walked the Earth. Nearly everything they do, even some of the bad, can leave me wanting to scrunch up my eyebrows and say, “Awwww.”

Unfortunately, not everyone in the world sees them that way.

I first realized that when Olivia was a little bit less than one year old. Introducing her to an acquaintance, I held my bundle of joy up and did the whole high pitched, “Say hi! Hi!”

He then turned to me with an answer to a question no one asked.

See? That’s why I can’t do the baby thing. All the snot and everything. It’s just too much for me.

pout.jpgI hadn’t even noticed how runny her nose was…and her eye was…and, well, whatever else was smudged on her face. Crayons? Cookies? Whatever it was had become invisible to me. These glaring flaws were swallowed up by her wonderful qualities. To outsiders, though, those flaws were on full display.

As my kids continue to get older, the ratio of people who find them cute versus those who don’t greatly diminishes. Rarely does a judge look at a defendant of any age and say, “You definitely deserve jail time, but you have sweet little dimples. Sing me The Wheels on the Bus again.”

That’s why I walk the discipline tightrope every single day. I try not to over-parent or under-parent. I parent. At least that’s the goal.

For starters, I rarely yell. That’s not to say that I’ve never raised my voice, but when I do, they know it’s something important. Maybe you yell and it works for you. In my own experience, it just works me up. It works them up. And, it feels like when you go down that slope, then the next time you get angry, you have to yell even louder to get the same effect. By the time they’re 18, you’re shattering the china with your high-pitched shrieks to a set of rolled eyes. So I try to be diplomatic and get my point across while keeping my heart rate down to a dull roar.

Bed time is a common stage of battle for this approach. Olivia hates it and will begin the slow whine up until tuck-in time. Even if she’s already blown past her nightly curfew, she’ll still grovel for more and roll around in melodramatic agony. So rather than make a big thing, I get pretty matter of fact.

Here’s the deal. You have to go to bed right now, but you can also roll around all you want. Roll around for hours. I honestly don’t care. But every minute past your bedtime that you’re not in bed is a minute earlier you go to bed tomorrow. Right now, you’re going to sleep at 8:58 tomorrow. Should we keep going?

She’s usually halfway up the stairs and mumbling her disapproval of me before I even finish the speech. Now here’s the big secret, I personally don’t care at all how late she stays up. I’d love to keep her up until midnight eating gummi worms and watching Saved By The Bell. It’s not about me, though. Discipline never is. In this case, it’s about making sure she’s not yawning her way through school the next day. In a more general sense, it’s about training your kids correctly and making sure they don’t grow up thinking that rules don’t apply.

As long as she realizes why she’s being punished and learns from it, I’ll let myself be the bad guy in her mind for a few hours if it makes her any less likely to grow up to be a dipstick.

I’m sure some people think that my non-verbal son, due to his Autism, isn’t involved in this discussion. A common misconception is that any misstep Lucas takes must be due to a lack of understanding. Nope. He breaks the rules on purpose too. In fact, when he does, he’s also not very slick at hiding it.

fedupHis food-stealing can be categorized there. Lucas loves to eat. If we let him, he would just eat all day and night. Sometimes people will see him scarf down his lunch and coyly ask, “Wow. Where does he put it all?” I know where. In his mouth – two handfuls at a time.

The moment before Lucas will swipe food from a kitchen counter or another person’s plate, he’ll look over at me and then, with the quickness of an alley cat in a Looney Tunes cartoon, he’ll snatch whatever is waiting there and swoop it into his mouth with one motion. Of course, he’s running like an NFL Hall of Famer as he’s doing this and I’m wishing his physical therapist was around to witness it.

When he’s finally caught, he gets the usual “no, no, no” lecture and, in some cases, lifted up and carried to his room. If I’m being honest, my natural instinct is usually to cheer him on and warn others with, “Go Lucas! Ya’ll have to protect your dinners around here! This is Lucas’s house!”

I mean, why should I have to make him mad at me because he stole someone else’s burrito from under their nose? Right?

Oh yeah. Because I’m the Dad.

Yup. This is all on me. I know it may not change his behavior over time. He might try to grab random cookies and iced coffees from people eating near him until he’s a foodie-grubbin’ old man. But at least I know I did my part to teach him that it’s wrong when he was still learning the ways of the world.

That’s the thing about being a parent. Sometimes the heaviest punishments we put on our kids are punishments we have to endure too. No one wants to go from beloved mommy or daddy to mean old people in a matter of minutes, but that’s part of the job. Laughing through time-outs or sitting in the corner with them reading stories sounds sweet in theory, but doesn’t correct behavior. If you don’t have at least a few moments in life where your kid really dislikes you, then you’re dropping the ball. Before you know it, those few naughty moments that were rare deviations from their sweet personalities are the rules rather than the exceptions.

There are two different tones a person can take when they eventually tell your child, “Your parents did some job raising you.” How you raise your children now determines which one they’ll hear later. No matter who says it to them, one thing is certain. They won’t think your kids are as adorable as you do.