I got no game: child discipline

The more I parent, the more I wonder how anyone does it well. And what "doing it well" means anyway. When my children were baby-toddler people the last thing I wanted to do was read a book about how to be with them better, because I was home with them and had minute-by-minute compare/contrast experimentation going on. Will this work? Today? Might it work tomorrow? And most important of all questions: What part of this is me projecting? Is this about my own hangups and resentment toward my mom (still active, still trying to let go). How can I get my own self out of this scenario as much as possible and respond the best way to this child's needs right now?

This approach -- refusing to read anything about parenting, mostly because exhaustion -- was different from my full-time working mom friends who, as they themselves reported, let guilt drive them every day while commuting to read books or listen to podcasts about being a better parent. I now regularly ask them for book advice.

Maybe it is because I'm working again. Before, when they were tiny (one and three), I let an entire small business go, and with it my vision of being able to do it all as a leader-woman-business expert plus mother and wife (of a guy who travels for a living) (buh bye, 1980's feminism). So I've re-calibrated. And I'm happy. I appreciate my life on so many levels, and I love being a parent. I've learned to forgive myself. Crucially, I've also learned to notice when the self-criticism starts to seep into the brain, like dye into water -- when I parent less than well. If this isn't yogic mind, I honestly don't know what is.

But then this morning, for example. It's Monday and it's time for school. Both kids were still groggy and hungover from their Saturday night sleepovers. Both reacted with groans and complaints over their breakfasts. The eggs weren't just right. They are five and seven. My husband just left on another trip. To Africa. And I lost it a little bit. I got upset, offended at their having some specifically negative response to something they eat almost every day. I started saying things about children that don't eat good breakfasts, and I went from there to children who don't eat breakfasts at all, to how hard we work to buy food in the first place and then to cooking it and serving it as healthfully as possible. 

It was too much. But was it? How do you teach gratitude? How do you teach a child to say "thank you for the breakfast, but could we change it a little?" Or just to be calm in the face of an egg that isn't friend quite right? I mean look at it from their perspective. They can't fry it, they have no control over it except how or whether they eat it. Which is what I told them in the end. We can change the eggs: It's not what you say you want, but how you ask for what you want. And a little gratitude goes a long way.

Which then leads me to discipline. Was this a discipline moment? I basically said their reactions were "unacceptable." I called their reactions that word. I feel as though modeling best practices in behavior and life for your children while steering them away from -- and simultaneously recognizing -- their own individual pitfalls and problems is the way to go. Because we've all got them. I just don't know what discipline means in a case like this. Control of reaction to a situation that is different or other than you want. But then, was I disciplined in my response? Did I really model right response?



Kim Weeks