I just love those smarmy judgy moms out there who pretend that they don’t ever freak out and yell at their kids. They live in some magical world where patience and control rein strong while their polite and beautiful children skip through golden fields of good behavior. Meanwhile, back at my house, I am having an argument with my four-year old about why we don’t lick the baby’s head, which inevitably ends with me shouting “Oh, for Pete’s Sake!” and then storming out of the room. Later on when I retell this story to my friends the plot changes slightly to become funny. The reality is that at least twice a day I just want to look my four-year old square in the eye and shout “Shut Up and Sit Down!” Instead I make futile threats about time outs and toy removal. I use my stern mom voice and bark out orders to “Please quiet down!” and “Stop roaring at your brother!” and “Don’t pull the dog’s tail!” and “Get out of the silverware drawer!” and “Stop chasing the cat with the broom!” and the list goes on.
Parenting has become an arms race between child-rearing theories and attitudes. Some parents swear by spanking. Other parents swear by never using words like ‘no’. And still others have the most ridiculous notions that one can actually reason with their pint size dictator. I swear by distractions, bribery, and Google. There have been many nights when I have found myself fueled by red wine and frustration looking up questions like this:
How do I get my toddler to listen?
How do I get my toddle to stop hitting?
How do I get my toddler to eat his dinner?
How do I get my toddler to get himself dressed?
How do I get my toddler to stop yelling?
Why are toddlers so goddamn stubborn?
Now, to read this, you might wonder if I enjoy being a mother and why have I not tried good old-fashioned discipline and consistency? The truth is, I love being a mother, and I am especially lucky – if not outright privileged – that I have the option to be a stay-at-home mom right now, but it is not this blessed adventure of happiness-all-the-time the way those smarmy judgy moms would have you believe. Parenthood is a pain in the ass most days.
Good old-fashioned discipline is not the same as yelling and spanking. Discipline is a focused method of teaching self-control. I want my son to challenge authority…just not mine…not yet. I want him to have manners, to practice kindness, to be curious and use creative solutions for his problems. What I don’t want is for him to throw down with me over my rules on table manners because he is upset that I won’t let him eat his oatmeal with a plastic sword. I don’t want him to pick battles over EVERYTHING and have me fall for it and engage in some awful cold war of stubbornness.
Consistency in my parenting style comes in two forms. First, in exhibiting my own self-control when my son is so obviously out of control. While I have had my moments of shouting at him to “cut it out!” for the most part I muster all my strength and force out a slightly quieter voice than his and I give him simple directions to control his body, or keep his hands to himself, or to sit down for a few minutes of quiet time. When that fails – because it almost always does, but I do it anyway (hello, consistency) – I just walk away to another room until his shitty attitude dissipates.
The second form of consistency in my mothering style is follow-through. If I make a threat I HAVE to follow through. My son can sniff out a bluff from a mile away. I can’t just say something dumb like “I will throw your toy away if you try to rub your boogers on my cheek again.” If I follow through on a threat like that then I’m just an asshole. If I threaten to park his butt in timeout with no hope of watching PBS for that day then the follow through is fairly easy and although my son thinks I’m an asshole, the threat of timeout is a familiar and consistent thing.
What hurts is when he hurls awful names at me like “You are a STUPID FACE!” It’s funny and I want to laugh, but also it is a bit hurtful too. My kid thinks I’m a jerk for pouring cold water on his fun time.
I am not perfect. Those smarmy judgy moms are not perfect. Childhood isn’t supposed to be perfect. Sometimes the mom has to be an asshole. And sometimes, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, kids are assholes too. It is just how this parenthood thing works. I try out different styles of boundary setting and consequences and I do it with more love in my heart than I thought possible and I hope that is enough. So, while Jr. is off terrorizing the family dog or smearing unidentified goo across the TV screen for the seventh time today, I hold my breath for a moment to stop that urge to yell. Is he going to be better off because I freaked out? Or will he be better off because I exhibited some self-control and redirected him (again!) in a kind way.
© Sarah Cottrell and www.sarahcottrell.wordpress.com and Housewife Plus, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Cottrell and www.sarahcottrell.wordpress.com and Housewife Plus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.