“Remember you are not perfect, and your kids have free will.”
These precious words, uttered by a soul sister in Christ, have saved me time and time again!
As a young mom I held fast to the erroneous belief that as long as I parent well my children will behave well.
Time and time again, the advice I often heard was:
Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it. Proverbs 22:6
While the exhortation from Proverbs does carry the weight of Scripture wisdom, I believe that it is not meant literally. It is definitley NOT a guarantee!
It is rather, a clarion call to do everything in our power to set up a real moral framework within which we can teach, guide and discipline our children.
Here’s the rub, you are not perfect, and they have free will.
You will mess up sometimes, do the wrong thing, hold fast too tight, say the opposite of what you want to say, discourage, and fight with your kids over stupid stuff. In turn, they will not listen to you, do what they want, fight with you and their siblings, on and on…
That’s me and my family to a tee…
In my blog post about discipline and the more recent one on changing behavior, I talked about where obedience comes from and how to improve behaviors. (You can hit PAUSE and go read or listen to those right now.)
The first step in achieving harmony in the home, and I mean not perfect harmony, but a grace-filled harmony, is first and foremost derived by a deep desire to share your LOVE of Christ and a thanksgiving for the children he has loaned, oh so briefly, to you!
Having been at this parenting thing for over 35 years I have arrived at some very real axioms, practical tips, that have proved successful.
I call them the Discipline Dozen!
1. Remember delayed obedience is really disobedience.
No counting to three, dear mommy. This advice was given to me early in my parenting and I am sooooooo grateful. It really makes sense. When we give our kids a chance for extra attention, they will undoubtedly take it! Every child wants their parents undivided attention and will get it one way or another.
2. Actions have consequences!
As a scientist, I love this! Yes, Newton’s 3rd Law states: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This goes for bad behavior too! When a child misbehaves, doesn’t listen to mommy or is defiant to a parental rule then there has to be a consequence. Period. It is so hard to keep up with this one, that the answer lies in being prepared. Which bring me to the next axiom….
3. Have punishments ready!
Seriously, have them thought out ahead of time. Arguments and dealing with disobedience occurs in an emotional heated state for both parent and child. Recognize that. You want to dole out a consequence, aka punishment, that suits the child’s temperament, age and is doable. For example, I had essay topics ready for one of my sons who would talk back. There was no dialoging, reasoning with him, no! He had to sit in his room (which worked to also give him time to cool off) and write a three paragraph essay on a prepared topic, one I knew you could write about.
4. Consistency means seeing it through, no back pedaling.
More than anything, trust and respect come from consistency. I always regretted the times I gave in. Yup, we all do it. ( I would say especially when we do not have punishments ready.) However, it is so important to be consistent in what we expect in terms of behavior, listening to our requests, obeying family rules, our language. This one is sooooo very hard when we are just so darn tired that to give in seems easier. I always did an emergency novena, or left the room when weakness set in to give myself the space to stand firm. This is also leads to the next axiom…
5. Spouses need to agree…in front of the kids.
This is a biggie! The kids are smart enough to play you two against one another. A unified front is essential to family harmony. Yes, you may disagree about the path, the terms, the approach to discipline BUT speak to each other about these differences BEFORE you deal with the children. Most likely you both bring a history of discipline behaviors from your own childhood. These could cause tension and misunderstandings. Talk about them frankly with your spouse. Help forge a new united approach to discipline that is complimentary to both of your views of discipline. Our kids know the line well, “We are of one mind on this topic.”
6. No passing off your authority as parent.
My daughters see this one happen often at the local children’s garden where they work. Parents do not believe in their own authority over their own children. They constantly point to others in authority to make their children behave. “See that lady running this place says you need to behave.” Why can’t they just demand it themselves? Trust in the authority handled to you by God as their parent.
7. Bending a bit for a small battle may win the war (or choose your battles carefully.)
My late mother-in-law said it best, “Give your child a way to save face.” Yes, sometimes especially with our teens, we need to take stock of the current struggle. Is this a moment to bend a bit to win the war? That big war, that lure of the worldly view of entitlement is real. As parents we can bend over the small stuff, in order to make the big stuff stand out from the noise of the world and the selfishness of the individuals.
8. Talk over the important stuff, don’t assume they know!
Not exactly under discipline per say but worth adding to the list. Please don’t wait to have that all too important conversation. Trust your gut on this one! Your instincts that your child may have stumbled into adult content while searching on the web, or the realization that they lied to you about what they watched at a friend’s house, can be TRUE indicators to invite them into conversation. Sometimes you just have to ask them into a private room in the house and invite them into discussion BEFORE they come to you!
9. It starts at a young age, they will get it in time! Set the standard right away!
It is so easy to feel burned out with the constant bickering, fighting, and general not listening! Please remember that it takes time. Notice I did not say patience. I truly believe that we tend to take ourselves way to seriously. When I look back at my younger parent self, I can see clearly that I was attributing my child’s not behaving to flaws in my parenting, or in myself. Granted there were definitely things I should have done better or more consistently, that’s how I learned these discipline dozen tips. But more than that I expected instant improvement. What the heck was I thinking? It is a labor of love to be a parent, a labor of giving until you feel completely drained, and then giving some more! Anything worthwhile, like raising amazing, caring adults takes lots of time. Yes, set the standards, repeat saying them over and over and over again. But know your children will get it eventually.
10. There is no need to talk and talk to get obedience.
There is absolutely no need to engage in lengthy conversations with your children to get them to obey you. All too often we forget that children actually desire a framework of moral truths in which to govern their behavior. Yes, we can muddy the waters by thinking we have to speak volumes on the benefits of the expected behavior to get them to behave. Nonsense. Say what you mean and stick to it. I suspect this is a remnant of the pop parenting “talk them to death culture.” I can’t tell you how often I see parents of toddlers going on and on about why a child should be behaving. Please stop talking. Slow down and breathe! Say what you mean quickly and clearly!
11. Don’t use we, it is them.
Heard this one? “We don’t talk with a loud voice.” or perhaps this one, “We say please and thank you.” Again, like tip 6, we are undermining our own parental position. Call it like it is. The child is using their loud voice, the child forgot to say please and thank you, not you! You are not winning a popularity contest when it comes to setting morality and behavior for your children. God granted you the honor of the gift of your children, He also gives you the grace to be the parent in all its demands and responsibilities.
12. Don’t give your children bribes to get them to be quiet or behave.
This one came from our dear, departed, spiritual director Father Paris, when we first were married over 35 years ago! There is no doubt that children will desire our undivided attention. They not only want and desire our love but they also want us to see only them. They will get our attention with either good or bad behavior. Remember tip 1?
Whenever I used a bribe to get my child to behave, it would inevitably backfire. They quickly made the connection and revved up their bad behaviors. Bribes ultimately undermine our parental authority. Kids are learning all the time, and pick up the direct consequences of behavior quickly.
Rewards are great! After all don’t we all want to merit heaven, our ultimate reward for a holy life? But bribes are different in that they make an instant behavior change, not the steady progress needed to form virtuous habits needed for a holy life!
Please know I NEVER did this perfectly! I am still a work in progress as I learn to stop parenting my adult children and move towards my relationship as their loving parent. I now spend much time delighting in watching them navigate the parenting waters! Woo-Hoo!
You got this!
Be gentle with yourself and know you are surrounded by the BEST family ever, The Holy Family!!
Keeping you all in my heart and prayers!