Corruption

Despite all of the kid-drama I’ve dealt with thus far with Brogan, one thing I’ve held my hat on is the fact that he and Beckett actually get along. Sure, they chase each other around and fight over toys, but you can tell that they really like each other.

But recently, Brogan has begun to exploit Beckett’s admiration… and it would seem that our oldest has found a little recruit to help execute his mischievous efforts. In short, we have entered the corruption phase.

Brogan spent a considerable amount of time this weekend “calming down” in a chair in the living room. And since he was physically unable to assault us, he calls Beckett over to him. “Beckett, do you know how to spit?” Brogan proceeds to spit in demonstration… not a full-on spit, just the really aggravating kind that sprays slobber in every direction. Beckett smiles and gladly follows the command. Spppttt. “Now go spit on mommy.” And Beckett happily walks over to me, grinning ear to ear, and spits at me. Freaking fabulous.

Blake and I looked at each other in disbelief. Was this really happening? Already? Brogan using my sweet Beckett to carryout his antics. It can’t be. But it was. And it didn’t stop at spit. Brogan tried teaching Beckett a new vocabulary of things to call Blake and me. “Beckett, go tell daddy he’s a poopy.” Again, commands from the “calm down” chair.

I suppose this is not totally outside the realm of normal. I suppose this is how it works with brothers (or siblings).  I suppose when you imprison one kid with a strong will he will find a way to get you back. And I suppose three-year-olds don’t quite understand the concept of ethics.

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Leading by Example

When I picked Brogan up from the sitter’s today, he was in one of those moods.  He was running all over the house, talking (obnoxiously and intentionally) loud while the sitter was taking an important call, picking on Beckett (like, literally trying to pick his nose), and not listening to anything I asked of him. And then it was time to make it to the car. Now this daily ritual is always a fun one. Beckett demands to “walk!” (one of his new words), he screams when you put in him his car seat because he wants to turn on the overhead “light!” (another new word). Then he wants to help buckle himself in. Meanwhile Brogan is typically running around the car, ignoring instruction to get in. He’s typically picking up rocks or acorns, or he’s taken off to ride the lawnmower parked in the carport. But today, he decides he’s going to drive my car. Which means he’s in the driver’s seat, turning on my lights, honking the horn, blaring the radio, buckling himself in and locking me out. And while I’m equipped with the keys, the very act of him hitting the lock button and starring at me through the window with the nah-nah-na-na-nah grin is enough to send my blood boiling.  Breath.

I finally negotiated him into his car seat, but by this point, my nerves were shot and I was highly aggravated.  Then Brogan asks (because the sun was in his eyes), “Mommy, can I wear your sunglasses?” “No.” I responded. “When you don’t listen and you misbehave, I don’t do nice things for you.” This was not the first time I’d given him this response. Previously it felt right, like a justifiable response. In the moment today, it felt good too. It was like, Ha! You don’t listen to me, I’ll show you! But after that fleeting moment of vindication, another thought occurred to me… what am I teaching him? Am I teaching him that acts of (my) kindness are dependent on him acting a certain way? Am I teaching him that when someone upsets him, he too should resort to pettiness? Am I teaching him that some part of my love is conditional? I thought I was teaching him that there are consequences to his bad behavior, but that was not the message I was left with today.  I began thinking about the parallels with a marriage. I believe that a marriage is a 100/100 proposition – each spouse should give a 100% regardless of what the other is giving. It is not 50/50.  But I felt like in this tit for tat I had going on with Brogan, I was not giving him my all.  Shouldn’t I be leading by example? Shouldn’t I show him giving, and consideration despite his rough attitude? After all, that’s how I try to live my life in other arenas. Why does my maturity wane when I’m tested by a three-year-old?  Maybe it’s because it my non-mom world, people don’t relentlessly aggravate me until I’m shouting four-letter words under my breath (typically), but it’s really no excuse. I’m the adult. It’s really mind over matter, and I should learn how to deal. In this circumstance, I was not wearing my sunglasses, the sun was legitimately in his eyes, and they were within my reach. I simply said no because I was pissed, and I wanted to make him mad too… and somehow teach him a lesson. Well today, I was taught the lesson. I need to be the example of a caring and calm adult who does not let her emotions dictate her behavior.  Funny how I get on to Brogan about not being able to manage his emotions, but I can’t always manage mine.  Funny how I tell Brogan to share, to be nice to his brother, to calm down (and take deep breaths), and to lose his smart-mouth attitude, but then my go-to response contradicts all those things I say. The good thing about today was that I had a moment of clarity that reminded me I have to show him.  Trying to be a good parent is a daily mission and I’m coming to believe it’s a perpetual work in progress. But I’m going to keep on working.

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The Bribery Debate

I bribe my kids. I typically only offer bribes in special circumstances – like when I want them to do something out of the ordinary.  Today, for example, was a no-brainer.  The boys and I were at the park with friends, and I wanted to get a picture of all four of our kids together on a bench. Brogan, who was preoccupied with gathering sticks (he’s a hard worker man), was totally uninterested in my request. I asked him repeatedly to no avail. And then I dug deep into my bag of mommy tricks and said, “Brogan, if you sit down for a picture and smile, I’ll get you ice cream.” Ice cream… the sure-fire way to get my three-year-old to do just about anything.  So of course, it worked. Brogan stopped what he was doing (now not immediately, hell will freeze over before that happens), sat on the bench and cheesed it up for the camera.  The ride home meant a stop by Starbucks for one of their chocolate chip frozen drinks (ice cream in Brogan’s book), and little dude was happy. Beckett also benefited, because there is no way only one kid in the back was getting a treat, unless I have earplugs (which I did not). But I digress.

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And Brogan’s thinking, “I’m getting ice cream, I’m getting ice cream.”

As I was posing my bribe to Brogan, I learned I was in good company with my friend Rachele, who also bribes her kids from time to time. We chuckled about it and she said, “I think it goes against every parenting book out there, but I’m pretty sure the people that write those books don’t have kids.” Amen sister.

So what is the big deal? I’ve often thought about this topic from multiple perspectives, thinking about the effect such negotiations may have on them long term.  I’ve thought about “real life” when you’re a grown up. Does the world give you ice cream when it wants you to do something special?  Wait a second, it does.  Isn’t most adult behavior driven by the prospect of some reward in return?  Close a big deal at work and you just may get a bonus.  Keep your customer’s drinks refilled and you might get a bigger tip.  Clean the house, take out the trash and bathe the kids and your wife may give you… well you get the drift.

You may be thinking that the above scenarios are simply rewards – not bribes. Is there really a difference? Is it not just the order of operations here… seems to me that if the person providing the compensation (ice cream, money, or whatever), propositions the subject with the benefit prior to the desired action, it would be considered a bribe. And if the compensation were simply an implied result of some positive behavior, then that makes it a reward. So let me ask the question again, is there really a difference?

Now I know that in a perfect world we’d like our kids to do exactly what we want them to do just because.  Wouldn’t that be awesome.  Likewise, I suppose our bosses would also like it if we showed up to work, busted our butts and were content earning a meager wage.  But that’s not the real world.  It’s not. We all operate on currency.  Sometimes it’s money or possessions or ice cream, sometimes it’s something more altruistic like helping others.  But I’m here to tell you that no one gets out of bed in the morning to do whatever they do without some sort of incentive.  Call it a bribe, call it a reward, call it whatever you want – it’s the truth.

So do I feel bad when I offer my kids a little prize for doing something extra special for me – nope. Not one bit. Do I hope one day they want to do something nice for me without the promise of a reward – sure. But I don’t think this is an all or nothing proposition.  I think you can offer them ice cream to sit still and take a picture and teach them it’s nice to do kind things for others.  But until my kids get the later, trips home from a photo shoot will likely include a detour at the closest purveyor of cold treats.

The Yes Mom

I decided to conduct an experiment with my oldest today.  I had this thought while the boys were napping… what if I didn’t say “no” when they wake up… what if I agreed to all the requests made of me for the entire evening?  What if, rather than “not now, buddy” or “in a second” or “maybe later” or “I don’t feel like it,” I just said “yes.”

If I haven’t said it lately, parenting can be draining. It requires a lot of energy and patience and selflessness.  And so when you’re already at your wits end just trying to keep the peace, keep them fed and keep the house picked up, anything extra can be too much.  Especially when you have one that’s relentless.  Mommy, can we do this? Mommy, can we do that?  Over and over and over again.  The easy answer is no.  Sometimes there’s a good reason and sometimes I’m just lazy (or selfish) and just don’t feel like it.  But each answer of no comes with a tinge of guilt.  Because, even when I can’t muster the energy to deal with it, I recognize that his requests are a cry for my attention.  He just wants me… to spend time with him… to pay attention to him… to put him above all the other things I call important.  When I really thought about it today, it made me want to cry.

So I figured, what the heck. When he wakes up, I’m just gonna say “yes”.  I’m going to get over my nightly routine and just live in the moment. Tonight, there will be nothing more important than him.

When he awoke, he called down to me. I went up stairs, walked into his room and he was all smiles. I told him I was soooo happy to see him and we hugged.  Then he asked, “you want to play up in my room with me?” …. “Yes.” And so we sat at his art table and colored. “Can you get my (washable) markers and play them with me?” “Yes.” And so I went down stairs, got the markers (and grabbed my camera, cause that’s what I do) and we colored some more.  “Can I take pictures with your camera?” Gulp. “Yes.” And I handed him my camera (with specific instruction on how to handle it and how careful he must be). He took photo after photo and was so proud of what he captured.  “Will you play tractors with me?” “Yes.” “Will you play outside with me?” “Yes.” “Can we watch a movie together?” “Yes.” “Will you read me a book?” “Yes.” “Will you read me another book?” “Yes.” My yeses went beyond the things he wanted me to do. I said yes to things that would cause a mess, get on my nerves and were just plain unnecessary (Me: “Do you want milk or water for bed?” Brogan: “Both” Me: “Sure”).

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DSC_0530Brogan’s picture of me.

Funny thing about saying yes all night… I went into it thinking that doing all of this would take up the whole evening, but it didn’t. Turns out, I spend almost as much time saying no, and then dealing with the pleadings or hissy fits that follow my no, as I did when I said yes and engaged with him. Another interesting by-product… he was really well- behaved.  I was doing so much giving of positive attention, that he didn’t have to do anything that drew out the negative attention. I had filled his love cup so much all night that when I needed something of him, he was willing to give too. I saw it in the way he shared with Beckett, the way he cooled down after getting angry. And so when I had to stop playing with him because it was time to cook dinner, it was no big deal.  When it was time for him to take a shower… no big deal. And when it was time to go to bed, no big deal.

I’d be lying if I said I was committing myself to be a 100% “Yes Mom.” I’m not. I know myself well enough to know that I can’t sustain it.  Grandparents can because they do it in small doses; I can’t on a daily basis. (And by the way, it totally clicked to me tonight why kids act better for the grandparents – because they say yes!!) But what I will do is say yes more often.  I’ll try to remember that what he really wants (and needs) is me and my attention. I’ll keep in mind that it wouldn’t kill me to snap out of my routine and just have fun with my kids. I will commit myself to try harder.  After all, he is only young once… and one day, in the not too distant future, I’ll be wishing he wanted to spend time with me.

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Oh, Beckett

Now I know I don’t write too much about Beckett. The thing is, thank goodness, he doesn’t give me a whole lot to write about. First off, he doesn’t (really) talk yet. So while I’m waiting for witty little things to come out of his sweet mouth, they haven’t yet. I’ll let you know when they do. Secondly, all of his behavior issues pale in comparison to his older brother. His little outbursts aren’t nearly as bad as his brothers were, and so we feel we’ve sort of been there, done that, got the t-shirt… no soul searching, no advice needed, no pulling-my-hair-out/at-my-wits-ends diatribes.

But I’m very conscientious about the way I (we) treat Beckett in relation to his brother. I worried about this from the day I found out he was a boy… that he would constantly be compared to his brother. Because, as is with most first-born children (especially “spirited” first children), the entire world revolves around them. Now of course we are biased, and as most parents think, our first little boy was the sweetest, smartest, cutest little boy ever And so when they said Beckett was a boy too, I prayed that he’d be able to hold his own next to Brogan.  If I’m being honest, I prayed that they’d be similar in size (Brogan was a 90-percenter), in smarts, in ability, in personality. And not similar in that I wanted another Brogan (one is enough, I assure you), but that I didn’t want Beckett to be in his big brother’s shadow.

So I started thinking about the things that I would (or wouldn’t) do with my second to help ensure he didn’t grow up feeling like he was just Brogan’s little brother… in a way these things would help set the tone that he’s his own person and we love him just as much as his older brother. And when Beckett’s older looking through family albums, he’ll swell with pride because he’ll see we did as much for him as for his brother…

  • The nursery – Just as I had done with Brogan, we went all-out on Beckett’s nursery.  And while it would have been easier to put Beckett in Brogan’s baby room, we didn’t. He got his own room, his own theme, and while we did re-use the furniture, it was definitely his room.

Beckett's nursery3 Beckett's nursery1

  • The birth announcement – I felt like Beckett deserved his own announcement. Rather than use a picture of both boys (which was really, really cute), I opted for a solo pic on the front. It may not seem like a huge deal, but I just kept thinking that he’s more than just Brogan’s brother, he’s his own person, and therefore he gets to be the star of his announcement! And the cute little picture of the two of them when on the back. Everyone’s happy.

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  • The clothes – Now I’m not totally crazy.  Beckett does wear Brogan’s hand-me-downs most days. However, for real pictures (the ones I pay for) and holidays, Beckett gets his own brand-new stuff.  Period.

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  • The birthday – It has yet to be decided what we’ll do when the boys turn 2 and 4 in May (their birthdays are 2 days apart), but with Beckett’s 1st birthday, he got his own party and I went all out. Perhaps even more so than with Brogan’s (really because I’ve got a disease and I can’t stop out-doing myself…)

Beckett's 1st birthday1 Beckett's 1st birthday2

  • The pictures – You always hear, “I took so many pictures of my first, but never took any of my other kids…” I am that first of four and feel bad that my siblings don’t have as many pictures as I do when I was a baby. I vowed this wouldn’t be Beckett’s destiny. No way. And I’m proud to say that (so far) I’ve made good on that promise. I really think that I may have taken more pictures of Beckett, to be honest. The trick for me is I keep my camera out. It’s always just a few feet away and so I’m always taking pictures.

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Blake has been on board with this too. He is a twin, so he has grown up trying to establish his own identity and not just be “one of the twins”.

My sweet Beckett. I feel confident that he will be able to hold his own. He is so much different than Brogan, in ways I couldn’t imagine, that I don’t worry about him like I once did. He’s handsome and funny and charming and has one of the most infectious laughs ever. He does funny things like sit on the couch and rock (a lot), and then he wants you to sit on the couch… but not next to him. Oh no, you must sit four feet away on the couch. And you must put your back against the back of the couch, as if you’re in position to rock just like he does.  And I know this is what he wants because he walks over to the spot he wants you at and pats the couch… and then pats the back of the couch. And when you comply, he contently gets back in his original position and looks at you and smiles. He is going to be just fine.

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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Say what?!?

Here’s a little sampling of all the inappropriate / interesting things my three-year-old has said to me in the last couple of days. It’s like I have a teenager in a toddler’s body. No, seriously. That’s exactly what he’s like. The smart-mouth comments are relentless.

In the car today…

Brogan: Mommy, you wear me out.

Brogan: Mommy, I have had it with you! Uggghhhh…. Gosh…. Oh. My. Goodness….

Brogan: You are not being a good listener! You aren’t getting ANY MORE presents!

The other day when I wouldn’t let him push his own toast down in the toaster…

Brogan: You just took away my sunshine.

Whenever he hurts his self (stubs toe, etc.)…

Brogan: Biscuits and gravy!!!

Feeling very independent and tired of me telling him to share…

Brogan: You need to leave! This is my house and it’s all my stuff.

Ok. Well, there’s a little truth in this one. I am, in fact, living in a house smack full of his stuff.

And about 52 times in the last week…

Brogan: Don’t touch me! I Told. You. Not. To. Touch. Me!!!

Brogan: Don’t talk to me like that!

I think I need a paddle. And some Tylenol. And a beer. Lord help me with this one!

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