I have read many books on parenting over the years and after reading them I often felt inadequate.
Things like –
- Don’t overreact
- Don’t be overbearing
- Don’t be irrational
- Punish without histrionics
- Always keep your emotions in check
- Don’t discipline when angry – it scars children emotionally
- Tailor your discipline to your child’s personality
- ‘No one size fits all’ rule for punishing
- Every word you say must not be exaggerated otherwise you risk emotionally blackmailing your children
- Always listen to their side of the story
Oh my goodness – I have failed miserably! And that’s not even taking into account my thoughts at the time. Trying to remain cool, calm and collected when my kids were fighting, screaming, disobeying or bleeding was often beyond me.
Advice such as “disciplining when angry scars children” was something I really didn’t have to worry too much about as they seemed to be doing a fine job of that themselves. Our backyard sometimes reminded me of a scene from “‘Gladiator”. It was often a bloodbath with our kids – mainly the boys – impaling heads onto nails protruding from boundary fences, near drownings, pierced wrists from unexpected encounters with secateurs, broken arms and legs and near decapitated toes – not to mention close encounters with broomsticks used as javelins and terra-cotta pots flying through the air in retaliation for some brotherly altercation.
Controlling such boyish behaviour was something I grew accustomed to – but still feared. This fear often provoked in me an instinctive rather than a measured response in order to break up the fight and tend the wounded. Other transgressions involved hiding newspapers they were hired to deliver behind the hot water system, selling fire-crackers and chocolates on the black market at school and enlisting their minions – aka younger sisters – to do the same at their school. The list goes on and on.
I often found myself trying to be Solomon while the children shouted incriminations at each other vying to prove their innocence.
So with rising tempers, dripping blood and fraying patience I didn’t always get it right.
My emotions were not always in check as I tried to sort out minor infractions and decide on appropriate punishments. One of my sons would often say to me,
All in all I have taken considerable consolation in knowing that good parenting doesn’t always mean being in control and getting it right all the time. I found it tough keeping 7 crazy boys and 5 hormonal girls under control. At times they tested my patience, self-control, humor and sanity. From the very start, I was tough on my kids in the hope they would grow up to be strong and capable adults and be tough on themselves. I didn’t indulge their every whim and I tried to keep the bar high so they would keep their bar high too as they passed through adolescence and beyond.
For example, One day I was shopping with about 5 or 6 of the children who were then under the age of 12. Balancing groceries in three overloaded shopping carts while trying to hang onto straying toddlers and enlisting the help of the older children was an acquired art. As we neared the checkout I feared what was coming next. It wasn’t so much whether there was enough money in the account – although that was always a worry, rather it was the colourful and enticing packaging of lollies and candies displayed on the lower shelves at the checkout that was the real worry. But I was not going to give into ‘pester power’.
Drawing closer my children became mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of colourful and tempting sweets. They were beginning to salivate at the thought of chocolate melting in their mouths. I knew what was coming next and I wasn’t going to succumb to ‘decision fatigue’ so I immediately lowered the boom telling them there would be no sweets today. All except my 4-year-old son accepted my decision. Having a strong personality and unmatched determination he was not going to give in too easily. He persisted in asking, pleading then crying drawing fellow shoppers’ disapproving glances in our direction. So for the sake of peace and hoping to hang on to some shred of self-respect I bought the lolly threw it in the cart paid the cashier and headed toward the van.
With babies, toddlers and groceries sitting in carts we began the tedious process of unloading. Toddlers were lifted out of the carts first and strapped into car-seats while the older kids formed a process line passing groceries along from one to another into the back of the van.
All I could hear from my intense and compulsive four year old son was,
“No”, I replied “wait till we get home”. We arrived home. “Now, can I have it now?” “No, not until we put away the groceries” I replied. After the groceries were put away he asked, “Now, can I have it, now?” I sat him done, placed my hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eye and told him calmly, “You are not having the lolly now or anytime soon. You disobeyed, you cried and put on a show”. “I bought the lolly to save face and avoid being publically humiliated. If you ever behave like that again you will not have another lolly for a very long time.
Was this the right way to handle this situation? He certainly seemed to learn his lesson. He understood and never tried that again…well at least not in public!
I’ve researched many styles of parenting over the years and the general consensus is that the most successful parents are those who practice authoritative parenting. These parents are:
- Warm, attentive, involved and sensitive to their child’s needs
- The child-parent relationship is enjoyable and emotionally fulfilling
- Parents connect with the child intellectually, emotionally and psychologically
- They also exercise firm and reasonable control over their kids
- They use everyday encounters to explain appropriate social behaviours, self-regulation and delayed gratification
I thought I got it right on this particular shopping trip but I can assure you and my children can attest to the fact that this was not always the case. But hey I tried!
Research also shows that authoritative parenting allows and encourages children to make decisions and learn from their mistakes in a safe and protected environment. Well my husband, children and I certainly made mistakes and hopefully learned from them. Safe environment? I think they were safer at school based on how many hospital visits we made while they were on holidays!