Sunday, April 28, 2013

...thoughts (and tips from wiser folks) on parenthood

Disclaimer: I did not  - do not - qualify for Parent of the Century...wouldn't with another go-round. If you request, I will provide my kids' contact info and you can hear their rebuttals comments first-hand. But these observations stolen from based on a conversation between Andy and Sandra Stanley struck me as too practical to ignore. They are a legacy from ones who've run that good race of parenthood and learned a few things along the way.

As a young mother, I appreciated practical tips. My friend, Marsha, passed this along: "Don't say, 'My child won't do such-and-such.' Of course, said child will. At the worst possible, most public moment. Just decide how many times you're going to let them get away with the crime it."

From wise Kay: "Give them two choices." Two. Not the whole smorgasbord. Offer them a couple of well-thought-out choices - whether clothes, food, play activities or chores - and let them choose between these. We mirror good choices for them this way. And the kids are empowered, not overwhelmed. Kids want boundaries even when they don't know it because, at some level, they know they don't know. They are small and the world is awfully large. Without limits, they can easily become little tyrants as they try to establish control in what seems to them an out-of-control environment. Or they will, in their fear, make the same choice over and over again. After all, it worked once. Why take a chance and try something new?

So here's the good stuff I heard this morning. First a general break-down of the parenting years along these lines. When followed, they are guaranteed to mininize break-downs:

I.   Discipline Years (1-5)
II.  Training Years (5-12)
III. Coaching Years (12-18)
IV. Friendship Years (18+)

Main point: delayed gratification is not just for kids. We can love on our babies, revel in them, enjoy every second. But don't worry about the friendship thing early on. This too shall happen. Later. Remember this about disciplining offspring: when kids get too big to pick up and and put in bed, it's too late to start. When they can get in a car and drive off, discipline is pretty much not an option. You can love, tolerate, pray for, and be proud of your seventh-grader. But you can't "just be friends" with your middle-schooler. If you write to me and tell me that you are/were, I will respond. There is help available for delusional thinking.

In the early years when you wonder if every moment of your life is going to be spent as Corrector-in Chief, remind yourself that this is only a season. What happens in years one through five is an investment in growth that can't be easily or fully accomplished in later years. Just in case the previous paragraph didn't sink in, START EARLY. If you have a child just short of a fifth birthday and have never tried this approach, don't roll over. Get to work. Now. Just do it. Take the pain first. Enjoy the gravy later.

No parent can cope with correcting every single infraction. There would be no time for joy. Or showers. But we can choose the Non-Negotiable Biggies - Disobedience / Dishonesty / Disrespect - and be consistent.

Preaching, restrictions, payback don't work. Kids will tune out the sermons because they KNOW we don't get it right and are smart enough to shift the spotlight onto our shortcomings. Restrictions tend to put the whole family on restriction. Payback is vengeance in a pretty dress. Discipline is about re-establishing broken relationships, not about who has the power. Just as you hold your little one in your arms to console them when you've had to say "no", for as long as your children live in your home, stand with them as you stand firm. We side WITH our children AGAINST their disobedience. Instead of "How could you", "You promised me", "I told You", go first to "Oh, no." Not as a declarative scolding. Think "Oh, dear." Commiseration. "I want to side WITH you." Again, with loving consistency.


"There's gonna be consequences for this. Oh, no."
"Now you're going to have to apologize. Oh, no." 
"You'll have to repay...oh, no."

You broke a rule, a law, and I don't want this behavior to hurt you. I'm not mad with you. Oh, no, I'm    
upset and I grieve with you.

Stick to the plan, no matter how real those immediate alligator tears seem. [NOTE: I remember crying some of my own and KNEW I was being manipulative at the time. Even before I knew what "manipulative" meant, I knew I was conning. So did my parents.] 

Start early to keep the lines of communication open. Start, in fact, at the dinner table. A hallowed time. As the kids get older, sports and extra-curricular activities intervene. Be intentional. Make plans ahead of time and set aside inviolable family dinner time a couple of times a week. Let the conversation be all-inclusive...of those at the table, of subject-matter. Substantive, not heavy. This is a time for the kids to air their thoughts. Without being preachy or holy, we can channel discussions to incorporate values: how to be stewards of money and time; how to treat others, etc. 

Best not to freak out when the kiddoes drop a revelation. Good or bad. Even if your insides are going "You've got to be kidding", put on a poker face and keep the flow of conversation going. These are teachable moments for everybody. [NOTE: I have all too often jumped in with "suggestions" that backfired. Refer to the kids' contact info, first paragraph. They will - with insidious delight - provide copious examples, alphabetically or chronologically.]

"Don't bail. Let 'em fail." A good general rule. Sometimes intervention is necessary but most times issues work themselves out IF kids are taught to be respectful of others. The stakes are much lower when children are younger, much higher in later years. Don't steal from your children the opportunity to learn from mistakes while they are young. When middle-schoolers bemoan that a teacher hates them, use this as an opportunity to coach them how to work out situations. "What DO you do when an authority makes an unjust decision and you have no recourse?" After all, this will happen throughout life. Not everyone likes us. This isn't even a worthy goal. Again, common sense guides us to know when intervention is necessary. If we're intervening more than a couple of times a year, we probably need an intervention.

I like these suggestions from the Stanleys. Thank you, Andy and Sandra. Now I'll add a few of my own observations: 

You won't get it all right. Welcome to the club.

Unless you're the most unobservant human ever born or just don't care, you probably won't make the same mistakes your parents made. We humans are very creative. You'll make some doozies of your own.

Remember that, if you lay down the ground work for a respectful, teachable (not perfect) child, somewhere down the road, they will be your friend. For life. 

Remember to treat your adult progeny with respect. Don't try to make them in your image. Revel in their individuality and resourcefulness. Even when they feel sorry for you in your obvious ignorant state. This seems to pass with maturity. They can only blame you for everything until their peers get tired of the broken record.

When you're tired, remember what Sandra said: "The days are long but the years are short." A contribution from Andy in another message also comes in handy: "Love. Forgiveness. All else is negotiable." Give thanks in all circumstances. Life is precious.

Have a listen to Andy and Sandra's dialogue. Forty-eight minutes and thirty-two seconds that you'll get back over and over again with MUCH more than can be found in this post. Just click HERE to listen.

P.S. Feel free to comment and pass on your wisdom in the comments. Exception to this invitation: perfect parents and parents of perfect children need not bother. You are delusional and annoying.


Laurena said...

I've have so much learning from here. I will surely follow your breakdown.

Celeste Bracewell said...

Laurena, I am so grateful for other parents who've shared their wisdom. And glad to meet you here! Come back for more visits, please...