Self-Discipline vs. the Snooze Button

Maybe the problem is that I’m pretty much okay with just good

A few weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Stuart Little 2. It’s not my favorite kids movie, but they like it and it has Hugh Laurie in it, so it gets a pass. As we watched Geena Davis make the most implausibly elaborate 7 am breakfast ever, dressed to the nines, natch, and sporting the fakest perpetual smile in fake-ville, Sienna sighed, “I wish you could be like that in the morning.”

I bristled immediately and started to reply sarcastically, “keep on wishing, kid, cause ain’t no mama like that at 7 am.” But as I opened my mouth and looked her way, I realized that she was watching the movie with this wistful little smile on her face that I didn’t recognize. I shut my mouth and watched her for a while before figuring out what it was. It was serenity.

I understood, then, that she wasn’t wishing for the elaborate breakfast or the pearls or Geena Davis. She was wishing she could wake up to a cheerful (or at least not half-asleep and grumpy) mother, who wasn’t rushing to throw cereal on the table between desperate gulps of coffee.

7 am is pretty darn early, especially when you throw a baby who doesn’t sleep reliably into the mix. Most of the kids in modern America wakes up to hasty cereal and parents in various stages of the pajama-to-clothing transformation, swilling coffee and shoving homework folders in backpacks. That was how mornings were in my house, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t scar me for life. And yet, that look on Sienna’s face made me ache a little. She may be the type of kid who needs peaceful, calm mornings to face the day. Or she may just want peaceful, calm mornings before she faces the day. Either way, it only requires some minor changes from me to make that happen. Changes I’d like to make anyway, since I’m trying that whole showing-instead-of-yelling thing with my kids.

Right. Minor.

The next day, I announced that everyone would make their beds and get dressed before they came to breakfast, and we would all eat together, and that’s how it would be every day from now on forever. I set the alarm early, got up instead of hitting snooze, got dressed, made the bed, and helped the kids get dressed and make their beds.

It was a much more peaceful morning. Sienna said, “this is nice, Mom!” I felt really proud of myself with all my maturity and self-discipline.

That was two weeks ago, and we’ve managed to repeat that performance exactly once. Self-discipline does not come easily to me. I know, I know, it doesn’t come easily to anyone. But I’m just the absolute worst about it. It’s not that hard to get up 15 minutes earlier, make my bed, and change out of my pajamas before leaving the bedroom. It’s actually pretty simple, and the difference it makes in the day is enormous. And yet. And yet. Sleep after the snooze button is too delicious to resist.

I think it’s because I’m absolutely terrible at working with myself. I’m a champion at self-defeat via internal prizefighting. Disciplined Calah will dutifully eat small portions without snacking and have two small squares of dark chocolate after dinner. Disciplined Calah will sometimes even do this for months at a time. But inevitably, just when Disciplined Calah is starting to feel like she can relax a little because she basically owns this self-discipline business, Excessively Excessive Calah will make cookies and eat a dozen in three minutes flat. After the first one, Disciplined Calah will begin to whisper warnings that will grow louder and louder with each cookie, until Excessively Excessive Calah hulks out and roars “I’LL SHOW YOU DISCIPLINE! I BET YOU DON’T HAVE THE DISCIPLINE TO EAT TEN COOKIES AFTER YOU ALREADY FEEL NAUSEOUS! TAKE YOUR DISCIPLINE AND SHOVE IT, YOU MISERABLE TYRANT!”

It’s really making me appreciate how awesome my kids actually are, though. When it comes to self-discipline, they put me to shame. The Ogre will tell them to stop complaining and they’ll just…stop. When the Ogre tells me to stop complaining I start complaining about how patriarchal he is. No matter how much I really want to just shut up already, because even I am annoyed by the sound of my own voice, my inner hulk of excess will not stop until ALL YOUR COMPLAIN ARE BELONG TO US!

Even now, I want to keep typing, but I promised the kids I would close my computer at 3:30 when the girls get home from school, and it’s 3:24. I don’t even know what else I have to say at this point, because there is no pithy realization about how I’m secretly a self-discipline ninja that I’ve stumbled upon. I just want to keep typing in case there might be, and I haven’t found it yet. But. Self. Discipline.


  • Melanie B

    Discipline. Yeah. I’m with you, sister. Part of the reason I like homeschooling so much is that I don’t have to get anyone out the door in the morning. Well, Dom, but he gets himself out of the door mostly. Sometimes I make him lunch, but he can make his own lunch. Anyway, I am SO not a morning person. Especially when the baby wants to nurse every hour all night and the four year old wakes me four times in rapid succession and the two year old needs to be tucked back in twice. My major achievement in parenting hasn’t been getting up without hitting snooze, it has been the attitude adjustment. I have learned not to grunt and growl at the kids but instead to make sure the first things they hear from me are kind and friendly. I try to make sure I hug them when I first see them or at least say good morning. (However, I’m not so good at behaving this way to adults. I often bite Dom’s head off and when my mom is visiting if she tries to greet me with good morning my response is something like HOW DARE YOU EEN SPEAK TO ME BEFORE I HAVE HAD BREAKFAST AND TEA MUCH LESS IN THAT CHIRPY HAPPY WAY AND DON’T ASK ME HOW I AM! GRR. IT’S MORNING HOW DO YOU THINK I AM?

  • Heloise1

    Cut yourself some slack here.

    Example: One morning when my daughter was 11, I sat across the table from her swilling down coffee with a dress over my nightgown and watched her chew her Cheerios with her eyes shut. That is when I realized that the whole morning Good Mother routine was over sold.

    My own childhood mornings consisted of dressing for barn chores, maybe some self prepared food and switching to a school dress ( girls in those days had to wear a dress ) then running for the bus.

    You are there every morning. That is what she needs and will remember.

  • Michelle

    I am on my 4th or 5th run of going grain-free, dairy-free and legume-free in an attempt to live a Paleo lifestyle. I made it 45 days once and I felt absolutely AWESOME not eating all the crap.

    But, I fell off the wagon over the summer and I’ve tried a few times (apparently) to get back on. I’m on day 2 and I recognized today how lethargic and slow and tired I feel…but I kept reminding myself that is my body coming off the “high” of flour and sugar and I know that if I can make it to days 4 and 5, it will be over and I’ll be good to go. But then the truly hard work starts…because I have to convince myself every single day NOT to have cakes or cookies or soda or , or, or…..

    So, I completely relate to this post and I applaud you for continuing to try. It’s amazing what our kids need and how they can tell us they need it. You’re good to recognize what it seems your daughter wants and needs and to try – no matter how difficult for you it is.

  • Fr. Christian Mathis

    This is excellent Calah! I don’t have the issue of getting kids ready in the morning, but there are plenty of places where I could bring serenity into the lives of those around me by practicing more self discipline. Thank you for sharing!

  • Josh

    Great post. I also struggle with undisciplined discipline, with the on/off/on/off. I bet 98% do. Of the remainder, I’d guess half are living saints and half are psychopaths. The no-snooze discipline is the hardest for me. My spiritual director-ish person told me to make it about a positive thing, and not just an avoidance thing. Waking at the alarm and getting out of bed as a morning offering = positive. Getting out of bed to avoid “feeling lazy” or “hitting the snooze” = negative. Positive things stick (or are more likely to) and negative things don’t so much.

    At the first alarm, get out of bed, hit the floor, kiss the floor, say a morning offering of some sort (as far as I’m concerned, the act itself is a morning offering), and don’t be surprised if your need for coffee decreases and everyone in the house notices a “new you.” I’m still a sinful slob, so I don’t do this nearly as often as I’d like. Heck, I still sometimes set my alarm 30 minutes early just to be able to hit the snooze. But when I do do it, man does it make a difference.

    “The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up.
    Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and … up! The heroic minute:
    here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to
    your body. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead
    for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the
    first skirmish.” – St. Josemaria

  • Caroline Moreschi

    It sounds like you love your kids like crazy and want what’s best for them, and are willing to listen to them. They will remember that and appreciate that. As for the rest – not so important.

    Growing up, I had a friend who was homeschooled: their house was so clean you could eat off the floor, and they had 3 meals a day at the table, and everything had to be just so, with the shoes on the shoe rack etc. And they were miserable. Being real is better than being “perfect.” Besides, Leave it to Beaver has the creepiest mother on the planet; do you really want to be like that?

  • familysnodgrass

    My discipline issue is not turning to the computer as a distraction/ time filler/ avoidance technique. Life in our house is so much better when I am being pro-active about my children’s play, food, behavior, care, etc., instead of just waiting until it reaches a crisis moment because I am staring at the computer/phone screen. Trying to do better about that.

  • Cathy

    So, something about this post is sticking with me (in addition to the frustrated longing to make our mornings less chaotic married to the resigned knowledge that it will probably never be as profound as my longing for more sleep). I think it’s that gut-punch feeling when my kid expresses some yearning for a more perfect version of me (which, in my case, often involves a me who doesn’t work). Anyway, I’ve tried to find some middle ground between the snarky defensive response and the total capitulation to self-loathing, and what I’ve realized is that it’s okay, and often soothing to my daughter, if I simply acknowledge/agree with her wish without feeling like I need to treat it as a command. So, in the example you provide, I’d probably just say, “Yeah, me too — fancy dresses and waffles every morning sounds awesome.” That might be enough to validate her, but if it seemed like it wasn’t, I’d probably add something to the effect that waffles every morning probably isn’t realistic for us, but that I *could* imagine, with her help, baking a batch of muffins every weekend to stick in the freezer, so that we could microwave one for a treat. Because I want my kids to feel free to let me know what they need and wish for from me, and I want them to feel heard when they do so, but I also want them to see that we’re all in it together, and that a better family life happens when we all give a little more, not when one person–mommy–just makes herself better.

  • HappyCatholic

    “Sleep after the snooze button is too delicious to resist.”- Too true. Very often my biggest spiritual battle of the day is fought with my alarm clock.

  • Mignon

    Beautiful post, Calah! I mean, beautiful as in, the way the piece ends is sort of a ….a…. oh geez, can I pull a little English lit major out of the hat, or am I so mommy-brained mediocre I can no longer remember the word? is it metonymy? whatever that thing is where the structure itself arcs to represent the thing being talked about—- yeah, that thing. Brilliant. Just loved it.
    As to the whole problem of self-discipline, you describe my life. sigh.