Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gentle Discipline Failures?

This morning showcased a couple of rather spectacular failures with gentle discipline.  I will spare you the gory details, but they involved nearly two dozen eggs smashed all over my bedroom (right after we had run out of laundry soap and on a day in which there was no time to clean up the catastrophic mess) as well as weeping and gnashing of teeth from all parties.  It was ugly all the way around.
Smashing Eggs
Image credit: mattck on Flickr

At one point, I was ready to write off this whole gentle discipline thing as a failure.  It didn't produce the behavior I wanted in my kids or myself.

It is true that my application of the principles of gentle discipline has been flawed.  Sometimes, I have been too busy or lazy to teach as diligently as I ought.  Sometimes I have veered towards being too permissive and then crashed with punitive reactions.  I have yelled, and at times shamed or reacted punitively.  Like today.

I really think that after nine years of immersing myself in gentle discipline, it should come a lot more easily to me, that I should not lose my temper, that I should instinctively respond with grace and wisdom.  And often I don't.

That punitive soundtrack in my head is harder to erase than a despised commercial jingle.

But I cried on the virtual shoulders of my Gentle Christian Mother friends.  I received sympathy, encouragement and wise counsel.  I made amends with my kids.  They made amends with me, including working all afternoon to help clean the mess and offering their own money to replace the eggs and other supplies.

Once I could breathe again, I realized that mistakes do not define us.  Our response to them is so, so much more important than the original error.  I have already been down the road of legalism and perfectionism that focuses on mistakes.  I know where it ends.  It isn't healthy and it isn't what I want for my kids. 

Even with my imperfect practice, gentle discipline is NOT failing my family.  Look at the rest of the story!  We broke the cycle of shaming and anger and disconnection.  We repaired the relationship.  We worked together as a team to fix the problem. 

My kidlets learned that regardless of how much fun and entertainment there seems to be in smashing eggs, it isn't worth it.  At one point I overheard, "I can't believe that it only took a minute to throw them and it is taking forever to clean it up!  This is soooo much more work than I thought it would be!".

I learned (again) something much more valuable.  That people are more important than things.  That my children do care about my feelings, and that trying to make them feel worse will not improve their behavior or attitude.  That there is great healing when we share our frustrations with loving friends who lavish us with grace in those moments when we cannot find our own.  That when we apologize and make amends it all gets better.  And that is worth far more than a couple dozen eggs and an afternoon of cleaning. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Inside Voice

"The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice." ~ Peggy O'Mara

That quote makes me shudder, because my own inner voice is relentless.  I take a measure of comfort (?) in telling myself that it isn't completely true--after all, my own parents spoke love and affirmation over me often.  In fact, my inner voice perhaps more closely mimics the harsh things they said about themselves rather than what they directed towards me.  Which, now that I think about it, isn't comforting at all.

Experimental Group Voice singer
Image credit: yugenro on Flickr
I have some rock solid convictions about parenting, but that doesn't stop me from questioning everything, especially when I fail to live up to my own expectations.  And I fail all the time.  Throw in the fact that two of the four kidlets are always in disequilibrium (you Ames and Ilg-ers know what I mean) and their current ages... (Six.  Oh, six just kills me!  And three is coming up shortly after we hit seven.  Twitch.  Shiver.  Twitch again.)  Um.  Anyway.  

A few months ago, I finally got to meet in real life an amazing gentle mama that I had become connected with online through a gentle parenting board.  I will skip the details, but the combination of travel, being six, and not having much practice in a beloved sibling suddenly wanting to play with someone else, brought out rather horrific behavior in one of my children that had me inwardly writhing in humiliation and outwardly trying to maintain some semblance of calm.

I apologized to her and she gently and loving began to remind me of how God parents us.  However, she wasn't talking about what I should be doing for my children.

She was speaking His mercy over me.

With incredible wisdom, she encouraged me to stop my negative self-scripts and to listen to His voice of truth, love, acceptance and forgiveness.  To remember that I am His child and He is my abba, my papi, my daddy.  To let go of the criticism, disappointment, and shaming messages that play in my head and to respond to my own mistakes with grace and gentleness, the way that I want to respond to my children's mistakes.  I have read many similar things, and some of Naomi Aldort's materials have been helpful, but something in her eyes or voice or words made me really get it.  

I don't expect my eight year old to do quadratic equations.  My two year old can't read.  My six year old doesn't drive (although he wishes he did.  It starts early, I guess).  My four year old doesn't write essays.  And when it comes to behavior, I try very hard to let go of unreasonable expectations and look for what is age appropriate there, as well.  That needs to apply to me, too.

So even though I am an adult who is blessed to have fantastic resources, in real life role models as well as online and through books, I am only eight years old as a mom.  I am still figuring out this parenting thing and working on it.  Some days I don't know what to do.  Some days I know, but I mess up.  I need age appropriate expectations of myself.  

Since my talk with that lovely mama, it is slowly beginning to sink in.  On days when my shoulders sag, the sigh inside can't drown out the whisper of love and acceptance.  I hear His voice humming songs of peace and comfort over me, and it goes deeper than the hiss of the Accuser. 

Somehow, I believe that changing the voice inside me will also change the voice my children hear, both inside and outside.  I want it to be a gentle voice of mercy and grace, truth and love, of acceptance and love.  For all of us.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Strong Willed Child and the Persistent Widow

Last night, my daughter had a request and I said no.  Instead of giving up, she came to me over a dozen times to ask it again.  To tell the truth, I was a little embarrassed at first, because we had guests who believe in spanking their children, and I know that so many parents feel very strongly about their children accepting something the very first time and not arguing.  My daughter's friend seemed a bit shocked that my dd wouldn't just give it up.  I wondered if it was coming across to them as backtalk.  Then I remembered the parable of Luke 18:1-8.

The Parable of the Persistent Widow 
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Jesus seems to be praising a woman who kept going back to the person in authority over her and wouldn't take no for an answer.  :)  He didn't scold her for being "rebellious" or for not cheerfully accepting the judge's decision.  

I Mean No
Image credit: R. J. Ruppenthal

There are some parenting authors whose primary goal for children seems to be that they never inconvenience their parents.  That isn't my goal for my children.  I want my kids to be healthy in every way and every relationship, to be successful in the things that matter most to them, and to enjoy life and God.  Giving up their dreams the first time someone says no to them, even if that person is in a position of authority, is not likely to lead to any of those goals.  

Certainly, they need to develop a sense of timing, respect and courtesy to others, and to know how to best direct their energies.  But how will they get the practice of persistence if not with us?  Where will they learn how to channel determination if not in our home?

I still believe that my initial boundary was a healthy one, and I did not change my mind and say yes to my daughter.  But neither did I scold her for continuing to ask.  And there have been several occasions when I *did* change my mind rather than cling to foolish consistency.

There are many beautiful things about having a strong willed child.  It is something I am learning to celebrate rather than squash.  And I think that Jesus would agree.