I don’t want to be the mommy that yells

But sometimes I am.  I wish I knew how not to be. As I start to write this it is 9:41 pm. The kids have been in bed for over an hour, and in the last few moments the upstairs has finally gone quiet. My little boys, who most days go down easily and I’m only called with one or two “Beckett’s out of bed!” calls from Brogan, really pushed the envelope tonight (to the tune of 11 trips up stairs to put someone back in bed). But the antics were not just at bedtime. It was all afternoon, really. They fought with each other – hit, scratched, bit, screamed, spanked (yes, Brogan actually spanked his brother), and closed fingers in doors.  All. Freaking. Afternoon. And they didn’t listen to me when I told them to stop. At all. Now, I don’t expect perfection out of a 2 and 4 year old, but the blatant disobedience and disrespect is unacceptable. And sometimes, sometimes, they get me to a point and I become that mom I never wanted to be… the one that screams and yells and loses her cool. The one that sets a bad example for how one should react under stress. The mom whose screaming is in vein because they misbehave despite it. But sometimes that’s me. Tonight that was me.

As I sit here in silence trying to calm myself down, it’s easy to think about how I could of handled the dozens of situations that arose tonight better. But maybe not. Would a cool voice of reason really made Brogan stop hopping from seat to seat in the van and actually sit in his car seat?? Would it have made Beckett stop biting his brother’s rear end mid-chomp??  I try the stern voice, but for me the stern voice very easily crosses the line to raging lunatic voice after only a few failed attempts. The problem is that my boys don’t want to behave for good behavior’s sake. There has to be something in it for them. Either something they’ll get if they are good, or something they’ll lose if they are bad. And I use that as ammo at every juncture as I try to get them to fall in line. But sometimes I screw up and throw out a reward or a consequence that I don’t really want to follow through with. But I really, really try to follow through. And so I find myself in a situation where I want them to behave because 1) whatever they are doing is wrong/annoying/dangerous/etc. and 2) if they don’t act right I’ll have to do this thing that I really don’t want to do. So please, son, please, for the love of God, do what I say! And now we have entered the crazy cycle. The one where I’m desperate and irrational, which makes my kids desperate and irrational and it’s a battle of the wills to see who will win. Well if there is one thing I am, it’s competitive, and this mommy gonna win. But it comes at a price. A pretty hefty one sometimes. Yes, the kids eventually did what I said. But tonight it was just not pleasant around here. For Brogan, for Beckett, for me or Berkley (the poor baby in my belly wondering what’s all that crazy going on out there?!?).  The experts who write the parenting books would say should choose your consequences wisely and you should always be consistent. I agree. But the reality is that sometimes it’s like you’re in battle and while occasionally the “perfect” tactic/reward/punishment/bribe comes across your lips, most the time it’s the first damn thing that comes to your mind and it’s not always very good. And consistency is great too. But sometimes “consistently” pulling the car over on the side of the road when the kids start screaming does not work when you’re on the interstate. Sorry, it just doesn’t. And so like most parents, I live in this world where there are all the “right” things you should do (and things you should never do), but then we’re thrust into real life with kids who have not read the memo. They don’t care. And we lose our cool and we scream and we yell because we can’t figure out why in the world doing all the “right” things isn’t working for our kids. It is a beautiful, frustrating thing, this job as a parent.

So what to do… not quite sure. But I am aware. They say knowing you have a problem is the first step to solving it. Check. But I wish I knew what to do differently. But I’ll try. I’ll take more deep breaths. I’ll try not to sweat the small stuff. I’ll try to pick my battles carefully. I’ll try to only give consequences I can live with. I’ll try to not take it personal and think that all of their disobedience is about defying me and that maybe, just maybe, it’s about them trying out their own independence. I’ll try to recall my childhood and remember what it was like to be yelled at – how it could ruin my day and make me feel sad. I’ll try to remember that maybe if I didn’t try to control so much, they would not feel the need to rebel so much and perhaps, perhaps, they might finally just do the right thing.

So this is why I write. I started this post feeling stressed and tense and remorseful. And I’m ending it feeling motivated and hopeful and positive. Perhaps in my reflection I have solved my own problem (maybe)… and given myself some perspective. Regardless, I am a big believer of one’s attitude about a situation being more important than the situation itself. So I’ll just keep drinking my own Kool-Aid. And always keep trying.

the boys

The Art of Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology… one of the many great parenting tools. If you really think about it, the reason reverse psychology works is because the person on the other end of the negotiation wants nothing more than to oppose you. That’s right. The whole thing works because someone would rather do the opposite of what you’ve asked than do the original request (that they didn’t want to do).

And while I’m fully aware of all the reasons that this tactic is not forefront in all of the parenting books, let’s just entertain the notion that perhaps it’s not all that bad. Perhaps it’s the key to getting kids to do what you want them to do… perhaps.

What went down tonight at dinner time is what I like to call a reverse psychology masterpiece. You see, our little guy Beckett hates to sit at the table and eat. It’s not that he’s a picky eater, he is just easily distracted and doesn’t like to be confined to any one place. Therefore just about every night getting him to sit in his seat and finish his plate is a serious challenge. Blake is usually in charge of feeding Beckett, and after having only ate his broccoli, Beckett declared himself done. He plopped off his chair and proceeded to the toys. Some time ago, Blake introduced reverse psychology to our dinner table. It’s how we’ve gotten him to abandon the toys and return to the table. But unfortunately, it has not always resulted in him eating much of his dinner. So tonight, I grabbed his plate and decided to take it to another level. “Beckett, no more corn for you. No corn.” And then Beckett turned around and said, “Yes corn! More corn for me.” (I’m translating here… he speaks, but I’m pretty certain only Blake and I can fully understand him at this point.) And I followed, “Okay, then come here if you want corn.” And the little guy marched over to me, opened his mouth and took a bite. Impressed by the fact that it worked, I proceeded to the next thing on his plate. “Beckett, no more chicken. No more chicken for Beckett.” And Beckett whined, “Yes chicken. More chicken.” And he walked back over and took his bite.  This continued for 4 rounds of corn, chicken and mac and cheese, and the kid who was “done” nearly finished his plate. Blake and I kept chuckling to each other because we couldn’t believe it kept working, but it did. I reverse psychologied this kid into eating his dinner.

So what does this mean? Aside from the fact that I’m obviously a genius parent, it means that kids must practically come out of the womb not wanting to do what you ask. Or in this case, do the exact opposite of what you propose. It means that kids, even those who are not yet 2, want to be independent and be in charge (of some part) of their lives. Tell them to eat their chicken – “No!” Tell then not to eat their chicken – “Yes, chicken!” I’d like to say that as we mature that this silly logic becomes a thing of the past. But no. Adults still don’t like to do what someone demands of them. Tell them they shouldn’t do something, and they are compelled to try. Driven by stubbornness and the opinion that they know it all, I hate to say it, but reverse psychology would probably work on many adults I know.

But for now, I’ll just worry about my perfecting my reverse psychology skills on my little boys (and never on my husband [wink, wink]). With the success of the trial this evening, I’m looking forward to what other necessary daily routines I can manipulate them into cooperation – getting ready in the morning, breakfast, lunch, nap time, bath time, bed time. Oh my gosh, the possibilities are endless. And I suppose when they catch on to the shenanigans we’re pulling on them, I can try my hand in double reverse psychology. Oh boy, then things will get interesting around here.


DSC_0207Mom, I can’t believe you’ve been playing me with reverse psychology!!

Things I never thought I’d say

Becoming a parent means you subject yourself to new experiences – new joys, new challenges. You often find yourself in situations you could have never, ever fathomed.  And in these situations, there are things that come out of your mouth that are just crazy.

Brogan has put me through the wringer over the past two weeks… which makes for some serious stress on the home-front, but hey, it gives me something to write about! (Although in all seriousness, these are not all things I’m happy to be writing about!)

So here are the things my three-and-a-half year old has caused me to say as he’s been testing boundaries, pushing the limits and being downright defiant.

  • Don’t lick the gum on the sidewalk!!!” Oh, I wish I were making this up. At Stone Mountain this week, he was messing with some (very old) gum on the sidewalk, when I said, “Hey, that’s gum, don’t mess with it.” I turn around and before I knew it he’s down on all fours licking the gum. Freaking disgusting. Goldfish off the ground ain’t looking so bad anymore.
  • Put that ax back where you got it!” Brogan was playing outside and I notice that he’s carrying Blake’s ax from the shed around the backyard. I run outside to address the situation, and he says, “Don’t worry mommy, I’m really, really careful with sharp axes.” Right.
  • Do not put gas cans in the back of mommy’s car!” Followed by, “and don’t ever play with gas.” Pretty unfortunate story here… In an effort to not engage him in a power struggle and not yell and not chase him around my car, I allowed him to “drive” my car when we arrived home one afternoon last week. I took the keys and went inside with Beckett. Less than 10 minutes later he comes back inside, in a great mood and being somewhat compliant. I was thinking, Win!  Fast forward to the next morning on my drive in to work. Something caught my eye in the rear view mirror and as I look closer to figure out what in the heck it is, it dawns on me that there is a can of gasoline in the back of my SUV, sitting on top of my stroller. I start the four letter words under my breath (or maybe out loud, I was by myself, after all). Fast forward about 5 minutes and all the stupid cars in front of me slam on their brakes, requiring me to slam on mine. I checked the rearview mirror and there was no more gas can. The four letter words are certainly audible at this point. Seconds later the smell of gasoline hit me like a ton of bricks. And so although it was 20 something degrees outside, all the windows went down as I tried not to get high/pass out/die from the fumes. And now a week later, my car still reeks. I’ve had the carpet vacuumed, fully detailed, tried kitty litter, baking soda, airing out my car all weekend, all to no avail. Still riding around with windows down, hoping I’m not doing permanent brain damage to my kids (or me). The best advice I’ve received was from my neighbor – she suggested I put it on Craigslist, because there just might be people into that sort of thing.
  • It’s not okay to pee in the garage!” One morning last week, Brogan, while waiving me goodbye, proceeded it pull “it” out and start peeing, right there in the garage. Holding “it” with one hand, waiving to me with the other.
  • Do not kick your brother in the forehead down the stairs!” Okay, admittedly this did not come out of mouth verbatim. Unfortunately, it did happen, however, I was too busy screaming in horror as I watched Beckett fall backwards down the entire flight of stairs to reprimand Brogan in the moment. Thank God Beckett was okay – nothing more than a bruise on his face. Beckett was wearing a heavy coat so that helped keep most of him protected as he went down. Brogan was acting out of anger towards me… I had taken a toy away and he was throwing a fit on the stairs and when I told him to be careful (obviously, because he was on the stairs) and Beckett happened to crawl up and got a shoe to the noggin. The little guy was just an innocent bystander. We had Brogan write Beckett an apology note…

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Sorry Beckett Love Brogan (squiggly lines at the bottom are the stairs)

On a positive note, the boys were really good tonight. It was low-stress, fun times in this house. Frozen pizza for dinner, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on repeat and no major catastrophes. After the last few weeks, I really, really needed it. So say a prayer for me… and Brogan… and Beckett… and might as well throw Blake in there too. Pray for listening skills, composure and safe keeping. Pray that this rash of incidents was just a blip on the radar and that we’re sailing into calmer seas. Pray that age four will agree with Brogan a little better and that we will all reap the benefits. And then lastly pray that Beckett does not pick up all of Brogan’s bad habits and that I’m not writing about the same stories in two years, authored by my youngest son. Amen.

Choices

As I was tucking Brogan into bed tonight, we were talking about his day. I was using the whole “bad news sandwich” technique… you know, the one where you start and end with something good, but the middle is where the ugly stuff comes out. Well, as I started in on some of the good decisions he made today… “Buddy, today you made some good choices, like when you picked up toys, when you put away your dirty clothes and…” He cut me off. “Not really,” he said. “Not really?” I asked… “I didn’t really make good choices in the bath, or when I was in your bed, or when I was drinking your milk like a cat.” He told me he was sorry for not listening. I told him he was right, that those weren’t good choices and that I accepted his apology. We hugged really tightly and I savored every second of that calm, sweet moment.

It was a really trying day today. With Blake working weekends, I’ve got the boys solo, and as was the case last weekend, by Sunday night the fuses (on both ends) are pretty short. (I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again, I don’t know how stay-at-home moms do it – Saints!) But I tried really hard to keep it together. I did keep it together.  But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some four letter words being said under my breath. Like, a lot of four letter words. See, Brogan’s not used to this new mommy. The one that stays calm, that doesn’t chase him, that’s not yelling at him to behave. So we’re going through a little bit of exploring of the limits. How much can I do and how bad can I be before she snaps… Well little buddy, you tried your darnedest, but you didn’t break me! Here’s his resume from today:

  • While I was bringing my food to the dinner table, he grabbed my milk and proceeded to drink it with his tongue – just like a cat. Meow.
  • I was running the bath water and went to go grab PJs, came into the bathroom to find him in full PJs (the ones we never changed out of today lol) in the water. But I got in the bath, mommy!! 
  • Using my scarves as ropes to pull his toys around. My new scarves, mind you.
  • Decided to play musical instruments while Beckett was sleeping. First the trumpet (until he made the choice to get it taken away), then the train whistle, then the drum sticks. The the tambourine. Grrrr.
  • Knocked over folded clothes on my bed, while I was trying to fold them. Not once. Not twice. But three times he scurried on my bed and trampled my clothes. You can’t catch me, you can’t catch me…. wanna bet?
  • Decided he needed to get the water hose on outside to water the plants. And in the process make a lot of mud. And was wearing his new tennis shoes to tromp through the mud. Then he took them off (good choice), but went back out in socks. :/

Probably a typical day for many “spirited” children. But what gets me is he does this all with a smile, like he’s trying to be charming while he’s being awful. He’s constantly looking for a reaction and I tried hard not to give him one.  But what I haven’t mastered is how to get him to immediately stop something (like any of the items above) without going down the crazy trail with him. I guess it’s choices, but even those can be tricky. When you’re laying out their choices, picking the right options is key, and harder than you may think, especially when you’re about to lose your mind over whatever aggravating thing they are doing to warrant a “decision discussion”. A couple of choice propositions that worked well today..

  • When faced with a mess to clean up: Would you like me to help you clean up the mess, or clean it up on your own?
  • When trying to get into the bath: Would you like take a bath or go to bed? (win/win, really)

Yep, there were only two that went well. I fumbled through the other 58. As I become an expert in this (ha!), I hope to have some more to share.

Cheese on stairs

One of the sweet moments from today. They both listened and sat still for a picture and actually smiled!  They must have known I was on the edge and needed a little something to keep me going.

Oh, and mommy got the last laugh today. I did the bath 30 minutes early and had them both in bed by 7:37 without them realizing it was early. Suckers!!!

We’re making progress

A really rough day with Brogan earlier this week had me and Blake looking for some new tactics to handle our “spirited” child.  Blake found this article Parenting Your Strong Willed Child, and since it was pretty much the polar opposite of the approach we had been taking (which wasn’t working), we figured it was worth a try.

So here’s the first status update: we’re making progress. The last 5 days, have, for the most part, gone pretty smoothly. And it was within those 5 days that Brogan took a Sharpie marker to 20+ locations upstairs (walls, doors, furniture, sheets, door knobs…).

Sharpie collage

And how, you ask, is this going smoothly? The real answer is that it’s all about perspective. And attitude. Mostly attitude. And so what I’ve focused on this last week was controlling my reaction over Brogan’s behavior. Not ignore, but control. And control myself, not him. Stop myself from getting too angry. Stop myself from doling out ultimatums, absolutes and punishments that I don’t really believe in.  Address misbehavior and let him know what’s acceptable and what’s not, but not take any indiscretion too seriously. He’s three. We’re not talking felony offenses here. What I’ve found is that this approach does not stop the bad behavior. But, what it does stop is the escalation. Things don’t turn as bad as they were. So by changing what would be a 30 minute ordeal to a 5 minute conversation, it feels like things are much better. We’ve spent much less time being angry, throwing temper tantrums, and raising voices (both of us). But let me reiterate, this has not stopped the bad behavior. He still tests the limits, he still does not want to listen. He still gets into things he shouldn’t, and doesn’t want to take a bath. But how we’ve responded to it has changed – he gets choices. He doesn’t want to clean up. Fine. He can choose to clean up and get to play afterwards, or he can go on to bed. Up to him. He can choose to listen to instruction, or he can lose the toy he’s playing with. Again, up to him. Turns out he’s been making the right decisions. Good decisions lead to positive reinforcement, “You’ve been making good choices tonight, buddy!” which leaves him beaming and proud. And while sometimes those decisions are madebegrudgingly, he says the words – he makes the decision. Whoa.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. It is totally counter-intuitive to the natural parental instinct. They misbehave = you punish. They don’t listen = you demand they do… right now.  And the louder you relay the message, the more they understand it (yeah right). But that’s what we think. That’s what we do.  And so here this child psychologist comes along and says “discipline through the relationship, never through punishment” and my first thought is, seriously?!?

But I have to say that it is liberating. Parents spend a lot of time doing what they think they should do. Well, he wrote all over my house with a Sharpie, of course he should be punished. But maybe not. Ever think about why we punish? We punish because we want them to stop the behavior. We want them to stop the behavior because we want to keep them safe and we don’t want it to lead to other bad behavior that would prevent them from being productive members of society one day. But what if punishment doesn’t stop the behavior… Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?  So if you attempt punishment, the behavior doesn’t stop and no one walks away happy, why is it that we repeat over and over and over again? Crazy, right? Just to recalibrate, I’m not talking about doing away with punishment for all kids. Not at all. It works for some. And if you’re lucky, the threat of punishment is enough to deter behavior. But not my kid. No sir. Punishment has not been working for him.

So what are we doing when misbehaves? Expressing our disappointment. Our first real test was with the Sharpie incident. I got a call from Blake on Monday when he was home with the boys, and he, who was very heated, explained that Brogan had taken a Sharpie off of our bathroom counter (which had recently been taken out of Blake’s work shirt… good husband – no one likes markers in the laundry) and gone Michelangelo on the place. Blake was calling wondering what in the world  we do now. We needed to strategize. I calmly reminded him of the decision we’d made the night before to try this out and I hesitantly said, “I don’t think we punish him. Just talk to him – tell him how disappointed you are that he destroyed things that are really special to us.” And so that’s what he did. And when I got home, I did the same thing. You could tell Brogan was remorseful. He said, “I already said I was sorry,” and each time it was mentioned later that evening, he’d hang his head and say he didn’t want to talk about it. Since then, I have, unsolicited, been apologized to multiple times. Surprisingly, I think he got it.  And then I think, what would have been his reaction if we had punished? Would he still have been sorry? Maybe. But here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about punishment – when you give a punishment, a time out or a spanking, whatever, it’s almost like a transaction. They do wrong – you punish – the debt is paid – they are off the hook once the punishment is fulfilled. But when you don’t  “make them pay” it’s almost as if they still owe you something. And while I’m certain my three year old  cannot comprehend this on a conscious level, I do think something feels a little different to him about this incident.

Think you’re up for a change in your M.O.? Here are some of my takeaways…

1) Attitude – control your own… after all, that’s all you can really do

2) Change your perspective – perhaps punishment is not always the way to go… maybe there is another way

3) Choices – give them options (you can live with) when they aren’t doing as they are told… let them make the final call (and making no decision is a decision – but it gets to be the one you want)

4) Be on the same page as your spouse – make sure you’ve got an ally, someone to strategize with and remind you when you’re straying back to your old habits

5) It’s harder than you think – it tools more conscious effort to go this route, but the outcome is much less stress

And on the attitude front, I’m going to leave you all with one of my favorite quotes by Charles Swindoll

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a compay… a church… a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes”

Happy Brogan

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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