What kind of “not”?

Today was a rough day with Brogan. He tested every limit, he pushed every button. He didn’t listen, he defied, he lied, he hit, he back talked, he kicked, he screamed. He got me to a place I rarely go – a place of absolute rage. We’ve had a good run of positive reinforcement induced pretty good behavior, and December brought us a “Santa scared straight” good little boy. But today was so bad that it necessitated straight punishment. He was sent to his room (and told to stay in)… and he walked out. I closed his door (and told him to keep it shut, or he was in there all night)… and he opened it…. and then proceeded to dump his entire hamper in the hall. I told him he could only get out of his room to eat dinner, and it would be back to his room for bed after that. But, surprisingly at dinner he was quiet and polite and ate really well (and I calmed down), and I said to him, “I’m going to give you a second chance, because I’m really proud of your attitude and for eating such a good dinner. But, you need to settle down and be a good listener or it’s back to your room.” Well, it only took about 3 minutes before he was running around like a mad man again. And he really crossed the line when he, who was unprovoked, intentionally head-butted Beckett. I scooped him up and took him to his room, plopped him in his bed and told him he was there for the night. No bath either. I stormed out. A couple of minutes later (like clockwork), he asked me about a drink and snack. The angry person inside me told him no snack. No way. But then he cried and said he was so hungry and his tummy was grumbling, and please, please, please can he have a snack. So I caved. But in an effort to maintain some sort of control, I gave a caveat to my gesture, I told him if he was not in his bed when I returned with his snack that I was NOT giving it to him. And then he looked at me and asked, “what kind of not?” What kind of not… That’s one of the moments as a parent that is like a cold bucket of water over your head. What kind of not… let’s think, the kind where I mean business or the kind where I’ll cave. The one that’s for real, or the one that’s an empty threat.

I know better. I know better. I can’t go around setting ultimatums that I know I won’t keep. And I know  I’ve done it as soon as it leaves my mouth. I also know that if I say it, I should mean it, even when I don’t want to. He needs to know when I say he’s “not” going to get something, he’s not. Parenting fail. But the problem is that when you lose your cool, it’s really hard to do all the right things. The adrenaline gets the best of you. The thought that “I’m the parent” get’s you thinking all no-nonsense and black and white and you say things that you “should” say. But I should know better than to say those things.

And then my husband (moments ago) sends me this article, Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child. Wow. Pretty much everything that I did today I shouldn’t have. The power struggles… pushing him into opposing me… not discipling through punishment… not offering him respect… I could have really used this perspective about 4 hours ago. The good news is that the things this child psychologist suggests jive with my soul. Not to get all corny on you, but I think there are some things when it comes to parenting techniques that feel right and some that don’t. Spanking, which I’ve done and still do occasionally, doesn’t feel right with my soul, but I do it because frankly I just don’t know what else to do, and I feel like it’s what you’re supposed to do when you have a really disobedient kid. I feel like sometimes I parent like I’m on stage being judged by society and so I must “do the right thing.” And while the tide is shifting and spanking has turned “taboo” – the evil stare in the store with your screaming kid affirms that there are many still in favor of corporal punishment. But I digress.

I need to stop parenting like I’m supposed to and start parenting how Brogan needs me to. And then when I figure out what Beckett needs, I need to become that parent too. I need to control my anger and my thoughts that I’m the parent and what I say goes, period, and start doing a little more listening. I need to stop feeling like I need to punish him for all of his transgressions. Maybe I don’t.

And so starts another chapter in the How the Hell to be a Parent handbook. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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