Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guilt Be Gone

Disciplining my kids has got to be the most difficult parenting duty so far. Last year, I would have told you it was packing up and moving to a new house while nine months pregnant, with an 18 month old in tow. This year, it's dealing with the physical, mental and especially the emotional part of discipline.

I have a two year old. She likes to try all kinds of new things. She also likes to be defiant. It's not so much an in your face verbal rant (since she doesn't say much), it's a “look-you-straight-in-the-eye-and-do-exactly-what-you-just-told-me-not-to-do” kind of defiance.

My journey of learning to discipline has only just begun. Luckily, I feel I have some good resources to rely on, not the least of which is biblical examples. I admit my husband and I have high expectations of my children. Here are some examples of what we expect:

Our children should obey the first time we make a request.
Our children should not whine.
Our children should not cry in response to a request. (They can cry if disciplined, but not simply because they were told "no".)
Our children should be respectful towards themselves and others.

Did you make it this far without breaking into hysterical laughter? Good, because like most people who are still breathing, I realize that expectations and actual results are two completely different realities. I also believe that this is where many parents find their parenting style begins to diverge from others. This led to a parenting revelation for me, so I've decided to share what I learned.

Somehow, as parents we feel that when our children do not behave as they should, we have two options: lower our expectations or increase the discipline. Are these really our only options?

No matter what your method of choice (spanking, time-outs, yelling, etc.) a parent is the final decision maker when it comes to how and when to discipline their children. Here is an example: If I tell my child to pick up a toy, then she should do it. But when? Immediately? Before doing something else? After four warnings, counting to three, two yells, one threat and then grabbing her hand to place it on the toy in question?

I (or my husband) get to decide what is is acceptable for our family. I set the expectations for my children. I may not always succeed in reaching those expectations, but no one else is going to set them for me. And so, when disciplining, I have chosen to set the bar high. To be strict. To want what is best for my children, and to measure my expectations by biblical standards, not by what other parents are doing, or what other parents may find acceptable (or unacceptable).

I also get to exercise grace. I get to decide if my child is hungry, tired, over stimulated, confused, or just being a child - not being defiant. Strangers can look into my house and watch me discipline, and they can (and will) judge. Do you think I’m too strict? You don’t have to live through the heartbreak of watching my child make poor decisions because I wasn't strong enough to discipline them and teach them self control. Think I’m too lenient? You won’t live with the pain of a child who doesn't want to associate with you because absolute compliance was demanded at the expense of the relationship.

No one else has the same stake in my children's lives that I do. And no one knows that better than I.

Parenting isn't easy. Like most moms, I consult regularly with other parents to get ideas, track my child’s progress and generally make sure we’ve collectively lost our minds. This used to result in feelings of guilt if I felt I was harsher on my kids, or if my kids didn’t behave as well as the next. This year, I’ve finally allowed myself not to feel guilty about my parenting style.

One day you may think I'm being too easy on my child. You don't know that she woke up at 5am and has been fighting a cold. You may think I'm far too strict. You don't know that she did this exact same thing yesterday, and absolutely knows better. That's okay, it's not your job to know.

I love my kids and they love me. We have fun together. We laugh, play, joke and sometimes, we cry. It was the same way with my parents when I was growing up. When I was spanked as a child, occasionally my parents would tell me “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” Now I’m the parent, and I know exactly what they meant. I’m grateful that they were willing to bear the heartache of discipline to help me become who I am today, and I hope their legacy of respect, discipline, and love continues on in my children.

If, like me, you sometimes struggle with whether you are doing things "right", I would encourage you not to measure your success against other children or families. Everyone has different standards and personalities. Rest easy in the fact that you love your children like no one else, and honestly do the best you can - even if it hurts a little.

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