Of all the parenting challenges, the hardest for me is discipline. I’m sure it is for most parents. We’d all love for our children to be perfectly behaved and when they’re not, to just do as they’re told. That is certainly not reality, at least in our household. My children are strong-willed (willful), creative (manipulative) and, as mentioned in a previous post, outnumber me.
I subscribe to the theory of democratic parenting: respectful leadership that requires parents to be both firm and friendly. It encourages rather than discourages the child and gives them the independence to make choices while holding them to the consequences of those choices, both natural and logical. In theory it is wonderful and when I am consistent with it, it is incredible, strengthening my relationship with my children and boosting their self-esteem. But when I’m tired or just tired of the grind (which is often), I find myself slipping in the vicious circle of empty threats, bribes, nagging, yelling, all the things I detest hearing come out of my mouth.
After a particularly trying couple of weeks (first the stomach flu then being with the kids 24/7 during March Break), let’s just say that the behaviour in our house has deteriorated. The sibling fights have escalated, the talking back has reached an all-time high punctuated with curse words and one of my daughters has developed a violent streak that has resulted in bruises on her brother’s arms and back. It’s not a good scene.
After a successful (and peaceful) trip to buy new rubber boots with the kids, I thought it would be fun to cap off the week with take-out from a favourite burger joint. The kids convinced me that we should dine in instead. I figured, “Why not? It is the last day of March Break after all.” Within 5 minutes of me placing the order, the nonsense began, the unrelenting teasing, crying, shouting and retaliation. The place was full of patrons and I tried to quietly admonish the kids to behave themselves. After the third warning I sensed all eyes on me (how I wished there a whole in the floor somewhere into which I could disappear). And it dawned on me. Enough of the empty threats. I turned around and changed our order to take-out. I’m not sure who was more surprised, the kids or me.
I then had to wait for our order to be prepared while the kids disintegrated into full-blown meltdown: tears, wailing, begging, pleading. I knew that I had to stick to my parenting guns. Certainly if I backed down now they would learn that I will never follow through on my “threats” and that tantrums will always get them what they want. I did some deep-breathing, stayed calm, took our food and left with the children to join my husband to eat at home.
When the tears stopped and we had a talk, we ended up enjoying a pleasant family meal. While the “restaurant incident” wasn’t pretty to watch I’m hoping (praying!) that when I’m ready to attempt another meal out, they will know that I mean business.