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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What to do, what to do…

My son. Where do I begin. He is a charming, loving, intelligent, ball of fire… who happens to be manipulative, disobedient and slick. Oh, what a combination! Now I love my son to death, but I’m not one of those parents who thinks they have a perfect child. No, I’m the kind of parent who looks at the other parents who are forming judgements to themselves and agrees with them (audibly)… “yeah, he’s bad.” And I don’t say this because I’ve given up or I think it’s acceptable, I say this because I feel good in my skin when I am authentic. And I truly believe that my kid can be a bad kid sometimes. And other times he is sweet and he listens and he melts my heart. But typically I’m only around to see those moments. So anyways, I set the stage to get to my current dilemma – school.

Shocker, but the kid who does not listen at home also does not listen at school. And the kid who talks back at home also talks back at school. I get fun little notes home from his teacher, like the one last week informing me that when he was being reprimanded, he told his teacher she got on his nerves. Yes, that’s right. A couple of things go through my mind on this one… 1) Well that’s embarrassing (I think parents get desensitized to the things their kids tell them, but when they then do it to someone else, it is a hard pill to swallow) 2) Thinking back… do I say this?!?! 3) A mixed emotion of pride, that he can articulate his feelings so well, and a lot of head shaking because his execution was so inappropriate.

So as I’ve shared in a previous post we’ve been going with the “on the couch all night” method of punishment lately. I’d like to say it works because he absolutely hates it, but on the other hand, it does not curb the behavior at school so I’m just not sure. But nevertheless, in the name of consistency, if Brogan does not get a smiley face on his behavior chart each day, he gets to sit on the couch (with nothing) the whole evening. But here’s the thing. Brogan has learned that the consequence to his misbehavior is the couch. He gets warned daily of the punishment. He gets asked each afternoon how he was at school, and when he responds that he wasn’t a good listener, he says, “I have to sit on the couch all night, right mommy?” So he gets it. But he gets it only so far… because when he’s in the moment and he gets into one of his manic states where he cannot listen to save his life, there’s no stopping him and he just will not behave. So while I know the mommy gene is partly to play here, I ask myself (what I feel is a legitimate concern), is it fair for a kid, who should be outside playing and interacting with the family and getting tons of positive interactions, be punished every night for something that he shouldn’t be doing, but that I don’t think he can help? And he’s also starting to get a negative opinion of school. He started saying that he doesn’t want to go to school. And when I ask him why, he says it’s because he doesn’t like getting bad notes home.

And tonight, in the car ride home from the sitter’s, fearing another bad report, I asked, “Brogan, how was school?” Brogan responded, “I don’t want to talk about that.” And that would be because he didn’t listen (again), was playing in the bathroom (again) and this all resulted in a frowny face assessment.

What to do, what to do, what to do??? Any veteran moms out there have suggestions?

Brogan school photo 2013

And ironically, he appears so well-behaved in his school picture. Go figure. 

The Email from School

The email from school… similar to the call from school – the heart drop that follows seeing the school’s name on the caller ID – it’s not what a parent wants to see in their inbox.  So today’s email from Brogan’s preschool director went something like this…

I told Brogan I was going to email you to let you know about his behavior today walking to and from the library.  He was refusing to acknowledge whether or not he heard us talking to him, calling his name, etc.  On the way back he was walking across an area closer to the road so I called his name to stop.  He didn’t respond so I called it much louder (Brogan!) while moving over to stop him.  I told him it was very dangerous to ignore people when you are walking down the sidewalk because he could get hurt.  I love Brogan.  He is a sweet child who wants to please people but he also has been stubborn recently and refuses to acknowledge us when we talk to him.  Could you please speak to him about working on that for me? 

I’ll tell you, it’s one thing when they don’t listen to you… but it’s another when they don’t listen for others.  Although I shouldn’t be surprised because this is the same Brogan we are constantly trying to wrangle.  It is upsetting and it’s scary that his disobedience could really get him hurt.  During the car ride home, I started the conversation of disappointment and scolding, to which Brogan responded, “I don’t want to talk about it!!” (Is he 16??) But talk we did, both Blake and I until we felt he finally listened.  And then it was time for the punishment… and since nothing has seemed to work, we went back to the drawing board.

Blake’s (mastermind) punishment was that Brogan had to sit on the couch for the entire evening.  No playing outside, none of his TV shows, no toys, no helping mommy cook.  He tried to push the boundaries, but Blake was firm. Blake stayed in the living with him the entire time to make sure he wouldn’t get one over on us.  And despite Brogan’s pleads and trying every possible angle he could think of to get off the couch (pretending to fall off, needing to throw something away, extending his leg just so far so that his big toe would touch the ground, etc., etc.,), that kid stayed on the couch.  When dinnertime rolled around, I have never seen him so excited to eat.  And subsequently, I have never seen him so excited to take a bath, and then to go to bed.  What a turn of events. These “transitions” from one nightly routine to another are always difficult, but I suppose for an active 3-year-old, when the alternative is sitting on the couch, anything else is fun.  Brogan was begging for bed 30 minutes early, but we made him stick out the couch confinement until his normal bedtime. And to continue the antagonizing, Blake insisted that he be the one to bathe Brogan, dress him and take him to bed (all things that only mommy can do on any normal night) – and we continued to explain that this is what happens when you don’t listen to grown-ups.

And in a last-ditch effort to butter me up, Brogan drops a couple of lines on me right before bed.

Brogan:  Mommy, I love you. Did you know that?
Me: Yes, buddy, I know, and I love you too.

Brogan: Mommy, you’re a great mom!
Me: Thank you, buddy.

Brogan: Mommy, you are a hard worker-girl! You work so hard, but you don’t have wear a hard hat like the hard-worker men.

This kid just makes me smile sometimes, even in the midst of all his shenanigans.

I emailed the teacher back, apologized for his poor behavior and ensured her that we spoke to him, punished him, and that we were trying.  Any notifications of misbehavior at school will mean the couch for Brogan. Crossing my fingers and saying a prayer that some part of the tot-torture he endured tonight will sink in and he’ll start listening. And if he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long, long week…

Brogan on the couch

Leaving the warm and cozy den of ignorance

Sometimes it would be easier to live in ignorance – to be oblivious. Much easier than dealing with reality, especially when the reality is that you have made some serious mistakes as a parent.  Before I was a parent, I felt certain that I would be no-nonsense. I would be tough. I had a clear vision of what was right and wrong; what was acceptable and not acceptable. With clarity like that, it should be easy to be consistent, right? Well it’s not.  Before I was a parent, I knew things like “no” would mean no, period.  That you don’t coddle, that you don’t give in. That you see right through their manipulation and just don’t fall for it.  Respect would be demanded, and talking back would not be tolerated. But wouldn’t you know that I have not been able to follow my own sound advice.  What I didn’t count on was the endurance needed to be a good parent who stays consistent all the time.  The bottom line is you just get tired. It’s flat out exhausting.  I want to compare it to a marathon vs. a sprint, but it’s beyond that.  It’s like you’re running a marathon, but in the middle you have to start sprinting.  And the marathon takes you 18+ years to complete and the sprints happen multiple times a day.  See, kids don’t listen the first time. They don’t ask you just one question. They don’t make it easy. There is a constant power struggle going on and they refuse to go down without a fight. They prey on your weaknesses and exploit your exhaustion.  So when I tell my stories of my misbehaving son to my friends, about how he didn’t listen, he talked back and he did something extravagantly wrong, and they ask, “so what’d you do?” I feel like my answers are inadequate. Because if my pre-mom self had listened in on the conversation, pre-mom me would have thought, well if that was my son, he wouldn’t have done that! But the part of the story that is missing is all that occurred in the days/hours/minutes leading up to the episode that left me beaten down and ill-equipped to handle my son. 

So my reality is that Brogan is a pretty consistent misbehaver.  And while I think part of it is his extremely active, attention-seeking, daredevil personality, I think part of it is my fault too.  I’ve taken my head out of the sand and see the situation for what it is.  We knew pretty early on that he was going to be an envelope-pusher, but it is only more recently that I’ve taken personal responsibility for the extent to which his defiance has gone.  Don’t get me wrong, I do punish, and frequently, but the part that I am failing miserably at is consistency.  And there are always excuses about why I can’t be consistent (sometimes they are legitimate and sometimes they are not), but the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter.  Brogan has realized that it takes a lot to really set me off, so he has numerous opportunities to keep on misbehaving before I’m actually going to do something about it.  So of course, he uses them all.  And then I finally put my foot down, and it’s a desperate pleading of “one more chance, mommy, one more chance!” And the odds are 50/50 that I’ll give it to him.  I know, I know.  What I’ve found is for someone who is a “feeler” (like me), it’s really hard to take your emotions out of the decision making when it comes to punishments.  My logical brain has it all figured out, but then my emotional self empathizes with him.  But not always (remember, I’m inconsistent).  Sometimes, when I’ve really had it, he could cry and call my name and apologize and ask for another chance and act all charming, but I will not fall for it.  Period, the end.  I just wish I could do that every time. But I’m trying. I’m hoping that my newfound enlightenment will help.

So yes, ignorance is bliss. But when you’ve returned from la-la land and realize that it’s time to take responsibility and make some tough changes, it’s a hard pill to swallow.  I am optimistic because that’s just who I am, but I know it’s going to really suck getting back on track.  But here we go.

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Crime and Punishment: The Age-old Parenting Dilemma

We’re facing the age-old parenting dilemma – how do you effectively punish your children? How do you strike that balance between teaching them boundaries, respect and the difference between right and wrong, but at the same time, not make your home a no-fun zone where you are the dictator?  Theoretically, we know what we’re supposed to do.  You’ve got to be firm and consistent.  Be loving and nurturing.  We’ve been taught to count bad behavior – we’ve read 123 Magic – we’ve actually got the book and the DVD.  But philosophical guidance does you no good when you are toe-to-toe with a three-year-old, and you are unwilling to let him win.  It is the execution of these principles in the real world that is the hardest.

So the trend in our home is Brogan is pretty consistently disobedient.  He is in trouble just about every night for one or more (or all) of the following:  talking back, not listening, playing with his food, not getting ready for bath, splashing the bathwater, pushing his brother, taking his brother’s toys, crying, whining, screaming, not picking up his toys, not wanting to go to bed, and the list goes on.  Typical three-year-old antics.  So what do we do about it?  We’ve tried counting to three leading to a time-out.  The problem with this is that you can’t always do a time-out.  If we’re in the car, it’s not feasible.  If we’ve just gotten in the bath (and it’s just me and him and Beckett), it’s not feasible.  If we just sat down for dinner, it’s not feasible (we’ve tried sending him to time-out during dinner, and this is a sure fire way to ensure he will not eat his dinner).  So what are the other options?  Taking things away! Brilliant!  So we do this – we take his guitars, the stuffed animals on his bed, his tractor Youtube videos, doing fun things (park, pool) etc., etc.  This bothers him more than time-out, so we feel like we’re making progress, except… the behavior doesn’t change.  Ever.  We keep going through the same routine, and he keeps misbehaving.  He knows he’s doing it.  He shows remorse.  But it’s almost like he’s unable to stop the behavior pattern.  And so here is my dilemma – are we setting him up for failure when we know he can’t behave?  Is it wrong to say, “if you’re a good boy and pick up your toys, we can go to the pool” if, based on past behavior, I’m pretty certain he can’t complete the task at hand?  Obviously there are those things that are never acceptable (hitting, for example), but are there some things that we need to let go of?  Or do we ride him hard until one day (he may be 16), it just clicks and he listens?  One of my biggest fears as a parent is contributing to the “wossification of America” by raising an entitled child who has been babied, has had excuses made for him and sheltered from natural consequences all his life.  But I also don’t want to make all fun experiences contingent on him, at three, being obedient.  How do you remain consistent without punishing for every indiscretion?

I know there is no right answer.  It’s a shame you can’t just reason with them.  Sit them down and say, “Hey, here’s the deal. If you do what I say and don’t throw a fit, don’t whine and don’t hit, you won’t have to go straight to bed. You can keep your stuffed animals and we’ll even go to the pool tomorrow!” and their response be “Thank you mommy for explaining it! That makes perfect sense! Of course I’ll be good!” Oh, if it were only that easy.  But it’s not.  So as parents, without a rulebook, or a handbook, or an instruction manual, we must figure out what in the heck will work for our kids – hoping that we find this magic potion before they’re grown and we’ve screwed them up.  And the unfortunate fact is that we may never get it right.  In the end, they are unique individuals with personalities; each with a different set of circumstances and needs.  I guess all we can do is try our best to solve the riddle, to break the code, to guess the winning numbers.  So I’m hopeful, yet realistic, about the prospect of getting this right.  But I’m hoping the odds are in my favor.

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Discipline Sucks

Discipline is the worst.  Why can’t kids just come out of the womb obeying all the rules?  The old adage “it hurts me more than it hurts you” is so true (as a kid I thought this was total BS).  It’s such a contradiction – you want to punish kids so they stop their bad behavior, but then you don’t actually want to punish them. Ugghh!

Brogan is and has been quite the little button-pusher.  The threat of discipline rarely deters him – we actually have to follow through.  Admittedly, my husband is better at this than I am (so while he may be a participant, he is definitely the enforcer!). It’s not that I let Brogan get away with murder, but I think I empathize with him when I can tell he is really remorseful.  A typical exchange goes something like this:

Me: “Time to take a bath – go take your clothes off and put them in your hamper”
Brogan: “I don’t want to take a bath”
Me: “Well it’s bath time”
Brogan: [running around like a crazed lunatic, not getting undressed or putting his clothes in the hamper]
Me: “That’s one [trying to implement the 1-2-3 Magic technique], if I get to three, you’re going straight to bed”
Brogan: “I don’t want to at all!”
Me: “That’s two. I mean it, if I get to three!”
Brogan: “Never!!”
Me: “Alright, that’s three. You’re going straight to bed after your bath!”
Brogan: “No!!!! I want to be a good listener. Please, please mommy! I don’t want to go straight to bed!”

It doesn’t end here.  It turns into a spiraling tirade of screaming and crying, where in an effort to stop that bad behavior, we count down the loss of all his favorite bed things – his big dog, his little dog, his special blanket, and one of his pillows. He misses a snack, extra cuddle time and his door gets closed.  You could insert my husband for me, and the scenario is similar (except that Blake is a little more efficient with his ones, two and threes).  Brogan is pitiful – and it just breaks my heart.  But the little guy just can’t control himself when the tantrum starts.  All the chances in the world and he only finds remorse when it’s too late.  I know it’s the right thing to do, and part of him one day being a productive member of society is hinged on us teaching him that there are consequences to bad behavior.  But right now, when my little guy is upstairs, crying my name, telling me he needs me, my heart just breaks.  So like I said before, I don’t actually want punish him.  But I have to and it sucks.  Parenting is not easy.

Brogan and Mommy