Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wrong Turn

No Left Turn
Image credit Mykl Roventine on Flickr


I can pretty much pinpoint when it happened.  At the beginning of the summer, our kids still needed life vests or floaties to swim.  We started taking them swimming once a week, and by the second time our older two were swimming without anything else.  They were so excited!  A couple of weeks later, they were jumping off the diving board, finally working their way to the high dive.  They couldn't imagine anything more thrilling.  It was so much fun that my five year old had an extremely difficult time leaving.

After carrying him out of the pool, we told him that we weren't coming back the next week.  His grief was immense.  In all honesty, there are many times when the difference between punishment and boundaries looks like a matter of semantics.  I do believe that there is a significant difference in the intent of the parent, as well as the approach, but I also know that the line can blur very easily.

One of the things I have adopted from Crystal Lutton is that "leaving successfully is part of coming back the next time."  It wasn't the first time my son had had a meltdown on leaving, and it was apparent that he didn't yet have the control needed to leave without a fuss.  Asking him to do it over again without changing things was setting him up for failure.  And going through an unpleasant scene at the end of swimming each week was not something we felt was worth it.  Our intent was not to punish him--make him feel bad so that his behavior would change.  It was just to give us all a break until we could come back and try again more successfully.

A lot of other things were going on, too.  I teach nine credit hours in 6 weeks during the summer, so I am suddenly gone a lot during the day.   By the time I was home on evenings and weekends, there were a thousand things screaming at me to get done, I was desperate for some down time, and our connection was starting to fray.   I developed tunnel-vision.  Instead of seeing the big picture and the long-term goals I have, I started focusing on the easiest way to get compliance.  My intent shifted and it transformed into a threat.  "Do what I say right now or no swimming."

It worked.  Their love of swimming is so great that they will pretty much do anything if they think we can go back.  And since we did skip one week before trying again, they know we can follow through on the threat.  At first, it was easy to brush aside each twinge of guilt.  After all, it isn't like threatening them with a beating or using harsh words to tear them down.  Missing a swimming session is not abuse, by any means.

It became a quick fix.  It wasn't until hearing my husband tell them several times in a row that doing x would mean no swimming (when they were happily complying to begin with!) that I realized how ridiculously it was being used.  Instead of connection and discipline (teaching), we were just relying on the threat to get instant results.  And yes, those of you who have read my diatribes against spanking are fully aware of the hypocrisy there, since most of my arguments against spanking apply just as well to this.

We took a wrong turn.  It seems like a convenient tool. The initial payoff is great.  But the more I used it, the more I realize that the long term price is too high for me.  It was eroding our connection.  Our kids were starting to ask, "What will happen if we don't?" from a self-centered standpoint.  I read this post from my friend PIO and nearly cried because I knew I wasn't living up to my own beliefs.

I mess up a lot.  In spite of all my posts on discipline and parenting, I fall short often from what I know.  I get tempted by quick results and easy responses.  I am working on a post about getting back on track, but wanted to go ahead and post this as my declaration that I don't want to go any further down this path of punishments.

21 comments:

Leslie @ Purejoyparenting said...

How beautiful! Yes, it is so challenging not to go for the quick fix. I hear so many parents say it is the only thing that works. This is when we are wanting them to comply so we feel OK.

I love, love, love your vulnerability and deep commitment to you feeling good about your actions. This is the greatest teacher of all

Thanks for sharing!

Pippi said...

We all mess up a lot. I am covinced that is an inevitable part of life, and parenting is no exception. I don't think we ever stop messing up once in a while, either. My goal is just to make sure I always acknowledge and correct my mistakes. After all, the big problem with the Fundamentalist doctrine, in my opinion, isn't that the followers are mistaken. It's that they teach they cannot be mistaken and thereby place all the blame on the child.

Pippi said...

P.S. - I have been working on the same thing lately with my own kids, trying to find the line between threats and discipline. It's hard.

Pearl in Oyster (Pio) said...

Our heart makes such a difference. Parenting this way is tremendous soul work, isn't it?

jessica m said...

Hello! Thanks for sharing :) New reader from One Sweet Life
http://jessicamiddour.blogspot.com/ I am looking for other gentile parents to get ideas and insight from so Thanks!!!

Mike and Christie said...

It is so EASY to head down that path in a challenging moment. It seems like sometimes we are fish swimming against the currant. And we ARE in a way, going against the "current teaching". :)
Press on! Today's sermon was on the doctrine of Salvation. Our pastor said, that the more we mature in Christ, the more we see how sinful we are, and that our life is a life of repentance.
I think parents who accept responsibility for our own mis behaviors, and then apologize humbly, are GREAT teachers. Our failures can be turned into lessons our own children can identify with. :)

Young Mom said...

Your ability to see and admit your wrong turns, and turn around in time, so inspires me. Thank you for writing. :)

Hippie Housewife said...

I can so relate to those wrong turns. It's one of the reasons I blog, because often as I'm writing, I have one of those "d'oh! I'm not even doing this myself anymore!" moments. It helps to refocus me and get me back on track when I've slipped into lazy convenience parenting.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so very much for your kindness and encouragement! <3 <3 <3 You are so right about our attitude towards mistakes (whether our own or our children's). I appreciate you so very much! <3

Meredith said...

Thank you for your honesty. It's refreshing to see authenticity and to know none of us are alone in these struggles! I can't count the number of times I've only figured out how far I've strayed from grace and non-punitive discipline with my kids by hearing my husband mimic something I've said or done with them. When you're "in it" the feelings - frustration, desperation, stress, annoyance - can make you believe you're justified or allow you to misinterpret your own motivation. But a threat is a threat no matter how badly we want to dress it up as something else...and yes, that line is fuzzy. A much needed reminder here, so thank you!

Emily S said...

It's wonderful that you were able to see the mistake and correct it, before it went any further. Awesome job, mama!

On the swimming note- you may have already tried this, but I thought I'd throw it out there. We used to take our kids swimming all the time (when we lived near a pool) and they had meltdowns nearly every time we left. Then I started bringing snacks into the dressing room and they would devour an apple or granola bar while I dressed them- the meltdowns ended almost completely. Swimming burns so many calories!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so much! <3 Emily, I love that idea! We always go eat afterwards, but by then it is too late. I will definitely pack some snacks for next time! :)

by Mama B said...

Looking forward to reading about how you're turning things around, as this is a tool in our box that we want to remove as well.

mama k said...

love your blog!

Despite the best of intentions, I find myself occasionally so desperate for compliance that I slip into this too. It is hard to draw that line. It would be much eaisier to either be punitive or permissive... setting healthy boundries with patience? Takes a bit more work.

Jennifer Lehr said...

So great that you realized what was happening. What I have found helpful is that if my children ever say to me something like, "If you don't do x, I'm not going to be your friend." or whatever it is they want to with hold I tell them that I don't respond to threats (and that i'd like to talk them about it etc.) so what's so great is that if I ever get near a threat they will say to me THAT IS A THREAT. They won't be threatened either. (My three year old said it to me the either day and i couldn't understand him at all with his slight lisp and all of his crying and so from the living room his sister yelled "threat" mom, he won't respond to a threat." it was awesome.

Gauri said...

Thank you. Love your honesty. It is through vulnerability that we can see people as human and it makes us want to step closer to them... to you and hug you!! And on that note: *HUG*

Gauri
Loving Earth Mama

Gauri said...

@Jennifer: that is awesome. Love that story. Smart kids, too.

dulce de leche said...

Thanks so much! This is the post on our 7 Steps for Getting Back on Track . <3

dulce de leche said...

Exactly! It really is worth it, though. I tell myself that all that we are investing now will pay off in the teen years when we have that bank of connection to draw on. <3

dulce de leche said...

Brilliant! I love that. Thank you for sharing! <3

dulce de leche said...

Many, many hugs right back to you! <3 I appreciate all the ways that you encourage me (and so many others!) to parent according to our conscience and seek connection. <3