The right dose

8 Feb

My hands are full caring for two children these days. My baby boy is now six months old, and he is a placid, friendly child, with a ready smile and an easy temper. He is soft, like a pillow, with a tasty double chin and the promise of a dimple on his right cheek. He has learned to miss me when I leave the room, to cry loudly when I take a toy away, to sit up and to raise his arms when he wants to come to me. I am very grateful that he is healthy and happy, and the evenness of his temper allows me to care for my daughter with attention that is almost undiminished and unchanged by his arrival into our family circle.

Most of the time motherhood is a joy. It is very satisfying to feel that I am doing a good job, that my children are growing up in a healthy, stable environment and that I am giving them a happy childhood, but as much as I enjoy parenting, I am facing a challenge that is causing me much concern. My daughter, who will turn five in a few months, is a lively, intelligent little girl, eager to learn and happily exploring the world around her. She is also fearless, headstrong and very determined to have her own way and that is where my problem lies.

My approach to discipline is based on the idea that I am teaching my children how to live, and that every action I take regarding their upbringing should be a conscious decision. I believe in correcting bad habits and reinforcing good ones. I think children should be told when they do something wrong, but I always explain my thinking when I scold. I believe that teaching our values starts from the cradle, and so does the learning, because I don’t think unruly toddlers will suddenly turn into obedient, respectful young people.  I don’t spank, but I do raise my voice when nothing else will do, and I’ve used the naughty step with some success, at least to instill a hard-won sense of regret.

I am realistic enough to know that I shouldn’t expect obedience one hundred percent of the time, but I would like the limits that I have set to be respected and acknowledged. I want to be in charge,  and my daughter fights me for almost everything. If I tell her not to walk without shoes on the cold tile floor, I have to say it fifteen times a day and more. If it’s time for the t.v. to be off, there are tears and tantrums. Proper food was a daily battle until I gave up making myself miserable over it, an episode that deserves its own post.

My daughter questions everything. Every rule I set is tested, and although as I write this and she sleeps peacefully within view of my computer I feel I could be overreacting, I do not exaggerate when I say that every time she pushes the boundaries I have set, and every time she defies me, and every time I lose my cool over her disobedience, I am filled with a feeling that I can only describe as heartache.

How do I know when to let her be? How much should I expect from a child of four? Am I being unkind by setting so many rules, and what should I do when she breaks them? How much discipline is too much? And what if she cries? All these questions assail me and make me doubt myself.

Sometimes her tears break my heart and I feel awful, like a heartless witch who is stealing her childhood away, but then my instinctive response is no, I care too much about the kind of person she will turn out to be to let her grow up unchecked and without guidance, and I say to myself that I am doing the right thing and that I will give her the benefit of my advice, regardless of how hard it is for me to bear.

My greatest fear is that I will trade her obedience for her love and that by being the one who sets the limits, I will destroy my relationship with my daughter. Nothing prepares you for parenthood, not even wholehearted dedication. It is a constant, never-ending effort. I liken it to some ancient craft that takes years of minute, painstaking, repetitive labor. It’s the true bit of ivory.

I feel that essentially I am right, that limits are good, and that maintaining standards of behavior is important, but after much thought and internal debate I realize that my daughter may respond better if I am gentler in my approach, softer in my delivery and more tender in my expression. I express my love for her all the time, many times a day, but finding the right dose of discipline will be my main focus in this new year. She obviously resists me when she thinks I am too strict, and perhaps I am, so I have decided to let some things slide and rethink my priorities regarding some issues that are relatively minor. I remember a woman I knew who used to say that her daughter couldn’t pick and choose when to obey her, but with a strong-willed child like my little girl, I have come to accept that less conflict is more important than total submission. My goal is not to control her and simply make her do what I say, but rather to teach the principle behind the rule.

I should not forget that there is love in discipline and that I should allow it to come through, even when I scold. I will try not to forget that I am the adult, and that it is up to me to set the tone of my relationship with my children.


11 Responses to “The right dose”

  1. pastfirst February 8, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    You seem to be on the right track.
    As mothers, we can never be 100% right 100% of the time. We can only do our 100% best.
    There is more than one correct way to bring up kids. The most important thing is LOVE. Cherish them, guide them, and teach them right from wrong.
    Spirit is an important part of the human personality so don’t break your daughter’s, but she has to learn the importance of discipline.
    You’re doing fine.

  2. kaeryn February 8, 2009 at 7:45 pm #

    I think if you are even questioning yourself, you have a better sense of awareness than you give yourself credit. I agree with the above comment that you don’t want to break her spirit, but part of parenting is helping your child to be a positive contrbiutor to society. Sounds like you are doing just that. I know someone who gives into her children’s every whim because she feels bad if they cry. My response to that is that I feel bad too when my daughter cries when she wants cookies for dinner, but that is just not an option. I guess I always try to trust my instincts and prioritize what I think is important. Clearing her plate at meal time is not something I push, but holding my hand in the parking lot is non-negotiable.

    It sounds like you are doing a fine job.

  3. natalian February 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. I can clearly remember my mother saying after disciplining me “This hurts me more than it hurts you!” As a mother I understand those words now. My Eldest is a strong willed child and one who has a very high EQ – he will tell me that I am hurting his feelings when I scold him which can make me feel even worse. However, after time out, I always go back into his room, sit flat on the floor facing him and I explain calmly the reasons for his time out after which we hug and carry on with our day. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out in such a ‘controlled’ manner but the love always outweighs the discipline. From what I have read, you are doing your best, just like the rest of us moms, and as it always comes from a place of love it can only be the best way for our kids.

  4. Monster Librarian February 12, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    I think you are doing the right thing, by doing the structure thing early. Some battles however, as I think you said, aren’t worth it. I think you should prioritize what is important and what you can be flexible on.

    You sound like a lovely mother. Just keep on keeping on!

  5. lvmg (Lizzy) February 13, 2009 at 11:42 pm #

    Thank you all for the encouragement. It means a lot to me.

    I’ve been thinking that one of the hardest things about parenthood is that we dedicate a large part of our lives to raising our children, we give them love and attention unconditionally and endlessly, while the ultimate goal is to see them go and lead their own lives. We are in fact training them to leave us.

    Pastfirst, I think definetly doing our best is the most important thing. There’s no sleepwalking through it.

    kaeryn, I always hoped that I would be the kind of mother who can see herself from afar, to judge her actions objectively. Parenting is by nature a very emotional endeavour, and so it’s easy for our judgement to be clouded by our deep emotional involvement. That’s what happens when I’m less successful, I fear.

    Natalian, my daughter tells me I hurt her feelings too, although I think she borrowed the phrase from me. Sometimes she’ll say “I don’t like your feelings”. I don’t think she intends to say it like that, but as very often happens when children speak, it’s exactly what she means.

    Monster, thank you. I’m not sure if I feel like a lovely mother most of the time. There are flashes throughout the day, and when they happen it’s pure happiness, but raising children is hard work. It’s courage, dedication and sacrificing your own needs and desires, and sometimes it’s a heavy load, but there is nothing that can compare to the connection you have with your children and the family of your own making.

  6. Karrie February 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    Sounds like you are on the right track. Discipline is not being the authoritative adult telling kids right from wrong. We forget that discipline means to teach. I once read that children are different than us in the fact that when they are young, they are in a state of mini psychosis. We always try to respond with logic which is what a logical adult would do. It sometimes seems a futile attempt to explain why we want them to do something and often explain ourselves too much. The advice for this was to keep your explanations short and sweet. I always seem to talk too much and realize that we need to listen more to our kids and by listening will show our kids that they need to listen more and talk less. As well as try to give kids alternatives so we don’t always have to say no and let them have the decision making power. I hope that helps our kids feel empowered and to make the right decisions. Good luck and keep on posting!

  7. lvmg (Lizzy) February 18, 2009 at 9:45 am #

    Hi Karrie,

    I like the idea of offering alternatives to my daughter, because very often the word No is in danger of ruling our days. I try to give her the chance to make her own decisions, in a setting that I can control, even if sometimes it means allowing her to reject what I would prefer. When this happens I have to remember that my daughter is her own person, and that I have to accept that her taste and personality may be different from mine.

    I am not a perfect mother, but just yesterday I got some well-timed validation by seeing what my daughter is clearly not. I know a little boy who cries up a storm to get his own way. He kicks, screams and makes himself vomit until his parents give in, which they always do. His is only three, but the tantrum I witnessed yesterday, all because he wanted to sit on his father’s lap while he drove, was so obnoxious that it made me put my struggles in the right perspective. My daughter is a lovely child!

    By the way, how was your trip to Pakistan?

  8. Karrie February 20, 2009 at 7:58 am #

    Our trip was good. Confirms that it is the place for us. People in the U.S. think we are crazy for wanting to relocate. As you know, each place has its good and bad. You make wherever you are with your family, a home.

    The tantrum boy you speak of sometimes sounds like my son. The second and my challenge child. He also likes to slam doors. I give him alternatives and he sometimes doesn’t like any of them. Parenting is hard work. Like you said, you want to show them the right way and to make the right decisions, but boy it is hard to hold your cool when they are in the middle of a tantrum. And he is such a loving, Mama’s boy. One minute he is fuming and the next he says I love you Mama. Boy do I just melt and feel guilty…

    Anyway, 2 good books on parenting that I like are How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and one that will come in handy later, Siblings Without Rivalry. Both are by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. They have great ideas about how to talk to your kids as well as teaching siblings to work things out themselves aka problem solving to stop the need to referee between them. Which I feel like I am a master negotiator and referee most of the time!!

    Take care and good luck!

  9. aighmeigh February 22, 2009 at 1:48 am #

    I can understand your feelings. I always questions whether or not I’m doing the right thing with my daughter because there are times where I feel like all I’m doing is disciplining. She’ll be 3 in a few months and is so headstrong. I love that she shows an independent streak, but I will not tolerate screaming/yelling/kicking tantrums and, in order to prevent those fits, will sit her down in time out just to get her to calm down. I look at my step-sisters and see what she lets her daughter get away with and feel like a nagging, totalitarian, horror of a mother… I know I’m doing the right thing though. My daughter will have a greater understanding of her emotions and how to deal with them… at least that’s what I hope.

    I imagine you are nothing other than a wonderful mother. With the amount of love you exude in your writings about your children, you could be nothing else :)

  10. lvmg (Lizzy) February 23, 2009 at 10:45 pm #

    Hi aighmeigh,

    I sometimes think that a lot of mean, obnoxious adults were children who never learned to control their emotions and never got a ‘no’ for an answer.

    Those parents who give in to their children for everything may think they are being loving parents, but they are really not doing their children a good. Saying no to our kids is no fun, but I know that it will pay off in the end. :-)


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