Learning How to Love My Kids, Again (or why I’m thankful for Veteran’s day even though it means another day off of school)

William coming in from the snow

Our day started at 5:50, with William by my bedside. “Mommy, the only thing that will make me happy is if you give me a movie right now.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. “William, is it six o’clock yet?”

“No. It was taking too long.”

William knows two things: he is supposed to stay in his bed until 6:00, and he only gets to watch something on weekend mornings.

“William, you can go back to your bed for ten minutes and then I will come up, or you can go start an art project by yourself.”

“But Mommy! The only thing that will make me happy is a movie right now!”

I’ve been attending a parenting class based upon Positive Discipline. The premise is that discipline doesn’t need to be punishment, and that acting positive doesn’t mean giving permission to do everything. It involves lots of “strategies” and “solutions” to problems. The adult retains authority, but not because of an assertion of power and control but because of firm but loving guidance for the child. I completely agree with this approach from a theoretical and spiritual perspective. I understand God as a Father who gives us “rules” out of love and care for us, not out of a desire to dominate our lives, a Father who is “for” us and wants our best. I see myself as a parent who wants to provide a lot of structure for our children, which includes rules and expectations, coupled with a lot of love.

So Positive Discipline seems right up my alley. And in the classroom of  adults-pretending-to-be-children, it works really well. This past Monday, we solved the problem of one kid terrorizing a cat and another (mine) drawing with milk all over the table.

It hasn’t worked out quite as well in our home. Last week (on Monday, three hours after class, as it happens) William and I played a Busytown game. At the end of the game, I was feeling very proud of myself for sharing “special time” with my son and crawling around on the floor searching for ladders and clocks and all the other objects on the game’s board.

William was not feeling that same pride. He started throwing the pieces all over the room. I put on my Positive Discipline hat and considered the logical consequences of his actions. I told him if he treated the game like garbage, I would put it in the garbage. I gave him the chance to go to his room to calm down, and then decide. Ten minutes later, he looked me straight in the eye (with his pacifier, giraffe, and blanket, just in case I’m tempted to forget that he’s four when we fight with each other and he wins, which is what seems to happen most days), and said, “Throw it away.”

I made a big fuss of putting the whole game in a garbage bag and taking it to the trash bins outside. I then realized that a) I had cleaned up the entire game while William lounged in his bed and b) I was about to throw away a perfectly good game. So it is currently stored in the trunk of our car, and I am still trying to figure out how I should have handled that one differently.

But back to this morning.

“William, you know that we’ve agreed that we don’t watch movies in the morning.”

He starts pounding the bed. Hard. Over and over and over. In the dark.

Let’s just say it did not end well, and I found myself longing for a different model of parenting, one in which the parents asserted control and the kids just listened and did what they were told and there was none of this unbelievably time-consuming, emotionally-draining, hard hard hard work of figuring out how to love the kid and listen to the kid and be firm and clear, and all before the sun comes up.

And of course, it’s Veteran’s Day. So we have yet another week with a day (or two or three, as has happened a lot recently) off from school. (We haven’t had a full week of school since the first week of October.) And this day has begun, in the dark, in tears.

I was ready to write a post today about why schools should stay open for national holidays. Close the banks. Close the post office. But keep the schools open and teach the kids about what or whomever deserves commemoration rather than offering yet one more disruptive three-day weekend. I stand by my guns on this one (yet another issue that would garner all the Mom votes in the next election), but it turns out I’m grateful that today was a day with no place to go and time on our hands as a family.

We spent two hours creating a schedule. We listed all the things that need to happen every morning, and then we put them in order. We cut our pictures to correspond with each item, and we made a poster of it all and hung it on the wall:

And then we signed it:

And it was kind of fun. For all of us. William and Penny took turns using the scissors and got excited when they found great pictures to accompany our different items and hanging up a gigantic piece of paper on the wall of the playroom is hugely exciting. Even though it only refers to the morning, they’ve spent the whole day referring back to our chart to try to figure out what is supposed to happen next.

I don’t know whether it will help tomorrow morning to refer to our schedule. Moreover, I don’t know if it will help two weeks from now. But I know that I’m back to believing that it is worth it to figure out how to provide the boundaries my kids need in order to grow up, how to provide structure and freedom at the same time, how to create the order that allows creativity and flourishing. I’m back to believing it’s worth it to learn how to love them well.

 

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).

Comments

  1. Liz Jamison Doescher says:

    Thanks for your honesty, Amy Julia! Huge encouragement to me.

  2. Nancy Huggett says:

    I’m sorry … I Iaughed out loud! We are in a mirror position … other end of the day, other end of the growing up spectrum, but same kind of scenarios. Falling in love is important right now for sure!

  3. Amy Nicholson says:

    I smiled because I could picture William’s face when he was asserting himself and I nodded my head because we all have had days like that. Thank you for sharing what so many moms are feeling.

  4. Heidi says:

    I was instantly brought back to 4 years ago when my son was 4 and this was a regular morning battle, wait no, more positive, um…learning experience? Yes, that’s it! (Nope, I made it a battle.) We made it through with only a few battle scars, but my own regret is not finding another mom who struggled. Thank you for your honesty…us fellow moms are so blessed by you.

  5. Tim says:

    You know why “The Terrible Twos” is plural? Because it lasts from age two to age four.

    Tim

    P.S. Completely unsolicited advice so feel free to stop reading here, delete the whole comment and heap abuse upon me, AJ: As for what to do with that game, perhaps give it to another family or to a toy closet. Then you can just tell William you had a better idea for it than tossing it in the garbage, and he still has the consequence of living without the game.


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