Tag Archives: discipline

The Importance of Ick

I have come to the conclusion that my children’s lives are just too rosy.  No wait — hear me out.  This is deep.  😉

Today their fabulous father called from running errands to say that he was going to pick Jack and Victoria up in 3 minutes and take them to a nearby state park.  I gave them the news and they promptly… complained. 

It was too cold outside.  They didn’t want to.  It sounded boring.  Did they have to?

I suggested they could take their cameras and do photo challenges, and then pick their favorite pictures to put up on a family Flickr page (sound familiar?).  I said we could do themes for each day, like taking pictures of things that started with the letter C or from weird angles or finding beauty where others wouldn’t think to look.

I got whines from one and scowls from the other.

At that point I went into ranting mother mode, I’m afraid to say.  I asked them if they had any idea how many children would love to "have" to go to a state park and play.  I reminded them that they could be in school doing algebra!  I informed them that they were spoiled by too much fun and didn’t know how good they had it.

They ended up going, and I’m pretty sure Victoria really did like the idea of the photography assignment because she grabbed her camera up pretty quickly despite her scowls.  When she came home, she even proudly showed me some pictures she took of deer she encountered in the woods.  Jack came home all smiles, too, and Daryl told me that they frequently grumble about going anywhere and then they have a blast once they’re there. 

But I still think there’s something to the fact that we need to have the bad to appreciate the good. 

We need to get sick sometimes to appreciate feeling good again.
We need to have gray days to appreciate the sunny.
We need a little sadness to appreciate the happy times.
We need chores.  We need drudgery.  We even need failure sometimes and loss.

My kids have all that, of course.  I’m just beginning to think they need a bit more!

Last night, the kids were bickering.  I was busy wasting time on the computer and ignored it at first, and then I called out to them to dial it back.  They kept at it and I finally had enough. 

I hollered out that Jack and Anna needed to clean with me for 15 minutes and I set the kitchen timer.  Any whining or acting obnoxious about it and I’d add 5 minutes, I informed them.  They dutifully (if not happily) followed me and I set to work giving them tasks to do.

In the end, Anna earned an extra 5 minutes and Jack kept going after the timer beeped.  He told me it was fun.  By the time the 20 minuteswas up, Anna was glad to be able to go back upstairs and was in a surprisingly better mood.  She thanked me for helping her cheer up (!!!!) and asked if they could all play again.  I said they only could if they could get along, and they agreed.  There wasn’t any more squabbling that night.  And my downstairs looked much nicer!  🙂

Now I don’t want to give the impression my children are ungrateful brats, because they’re really pretty nice little people.  They thank me for making dinner and help out around the house and clean up ditches and make people lots of presents.  They care about people and animals.  They take care of their little brother.  They do chores and give to charity.

But I think perhaps there’s been a little too much free time and fun stuff, and a little too little rotten stuff to suffer through!  I think our mothers and grandmothers may have been on to something when they said that stuff builds character.  If nothing else, it builds gratitude when it all stops!

So during the next few weeks I’m going to do a little experiment.  We’re going to have more workbook pages and family cleaning sprees.  We’re going to have more assigned chores and … whatever else that counts as drudgery that we do around here.  I’m not that fluent in drudgery.  You can tell by the state of my kitchen.

We’ll still make sunbutter beards and play soccer and go to parks and do art together.  We have three birthdays this week so there can’t be too much drudgery this week anyway.  But I’ll add in a little more of the icky stuff on the off days.

It’s in the interest of science
and happy childhoods
and a cleaner kitchen.  😉

So where do you stand on the icky stuff?  Can life be too good?  Or have I gone to the dark side? 

Weigh in!


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On Saying No to Children…

"Except in rare times of great stress or danger, there is no reason why we cannot say ‘No’ to children in just as kind a way as we say ‘Yes’. Both are words. Both convey ideas which even tiny children are smart enough to grasp. One says, ‘We don’t do it that way’, the other says ‘That’s the way we do it’. Most of the time, that is what children want to find out. Except when overcome by fatigue, curiosity, or excitement, they want to do it right, do as we do, fit in, take part."

– John Holt

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Strangers with Compliments

Once you become a parent, you get deluged with a lot of advice.  Whether it’s what carseat to buy, whether to breastfeed or what kind of birth you should have, everybody has an opinion.  Perhaps the most advice you get, though, is about how you should parent.

This is where one of my biggest personal pet peeves comes in.  Not only do people tell you how you should parent your children, but they back up their unsolicited advice with the classic whammy— strangers with compliments.

See if this is familiar…

"I’m very strict and people are always coming up to me in public and complimenting my children."

"We use Attachment Parenting and strangers are always complimenting our children on their behavior."

Apparently, this is the gold standard by which we should judge all parenting decisions — will strangers praise my children if I do this?

There are several enormous problems with choosing your parenting style based on strangers with compliments, however.  To name a few….

  • I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but strangers will compliment just about any children at some point.  I don’t really know very many families whose children have never been complimented in public.  It’s not nearly as exclusive of a group as we’d like to believe.
  • When we look at our long-term goals for our children, should ournumber one goal be to be to please others?  And not just others, but strangers?  What does it say about us as parents if our first priority is to have children who’ll earn us praise from random people?
  • If we use this as a standard for raising children "right" then it sends a message that we’re doing it "wrong" if our kids stop pleasing people.  If we tout the admiration of the public as proof that Attachment Parenting is the right way to parent, for instance, then what happens if our kids have bad days and annoy those same people?  Then are we parenting badly?  Should we switch methods?  Has the method failed, or have we, or do we blame our children?  Setting up this false goal of impressing others as a benchmark of parenting right means that we set ourselves and our children up to fail when they have perfectly human moments.
  • Likewise, what message does this send to our kids?  The most important thing is how you look and act.  It doesn’t matter how you’re feeling or what you’re going through, you need to just "be good" so other people like you?
  • This preoccupation with what others think completely distracts us from the paramount goal of good parenting — teaching.  Discipline allows us to teach our children how to handle the problems, stresses and obstacles they’ll face in life.  It is also our one shot to teach them how to be really happy, really good people.  Door mats are well liked, especially as children. Obviously, we want our children to be considerate but we should also regularly think about what else we want for them and what messages we’re sending with our discipline.

My kids have been complimented by strangers many times over the years.  They tend to act pretty darn good in public and my husband and I work really hard to keep them happy and occupied in restaurants and other public places.  And yes, it’s nice when an elderly lady comes over and says how polite our children are or passengers thank us when we get off a plane for having such well behaved little ones.

But there have also been times when my kids were less than perfect, and that was okay.  There was the time at the Nebraska capitol when Jack (then 4) had a meltdown over not getting to buy something at the souvenier shop.  He was not happy.  His sister got a cool ring, his friend got a cooler ring, and I think he had enough money for a small rock (not even a cool one).  It was the end of a very long day with lots of being quiet and acting good.  He was over it.

My friend and the rest of our kids went on ahead to the van and I waited on the capitol steps with a very loud, very angry Jack.  He yelled at me.  He cried.  He said it wasn’t fair.  I talked quietly and patiently to him and stayed with him until he was better.  In the meantime, a lot of people in expensive suits walked by and gave us looks.  I smiled.  Some smiled back, some didn’t.  I didn’t really care about what strangers in Nebraska thought about us.  My 4 year-old boy was learning a whole lot of important things, like how to handle frustration and unfairness, how fits won’t get you cool rings no matter how loud you get but your mom will still be there and sympathize.  It was his only real public temper tantrum and it was a doozy, but when it was over he held my hand and we walked to the van talking about it. 

Two years ago, my kids and I went on a vacation to Maine with friends.  We ended up at a swanky gourmet restaurant early one evening.  I had 3 young children and an infant to keep quiet and happy in a very small restaurant.  The restaurant was wonderful.  We had appetizers with edible, organic flowers on the plates and we tasted things we’d never dreamed of.  The sweet waiter brought each of my kids a flower to munch.  My kids loved it.  They happily talked about their flowers, laughed and tried to act very fancy.

The whole time, I kept trying to hush them.  "Quiet voices," I’d remind them with a smile.  Elbows off the table.  Shhhh.  I bounced the baby, kept my hand on Jack’s knee, kept eye contact with my girls.  Finally, my friend Sue looked at me and said "The people at the next table are 3 times louder than your kids.  Relax!".

I realized that I was so concerned about making sure my children were behaving well that I was denying them the right to enjoy this wonderful experience.  They didn’t have to act mute to be good!  They didn’t need higher standards than the half drunk businessmen at the next table who did indeed drown out my little kids’ happy chatter.

Kids who are well loved tend to be well behaved, especially when we set good examples ourselves.  It’s great to have great kids, and even nicer when outsiders notice just how well we’ve done with them.  Let’s let go of that as a yardstick, though. 

We all have a responsibility to be considerate in public, whether we’re businessmen or 4 year-olds.  We all also have a right to enjoy ourselves.  And we all have a right to an occasional bad day.

When deciding the right way to bring up our children, there’s a whole lot to think about.  We want them to be kind…  Moral.  Curious.  Brave.  Creative.  Passionate.  Dependable.  Honest.  Strong.  Loving.  Resilient.  Self confident.  Happy.  We want the world to be a better place because they’re in it.  Impressing strangers with their table manners can be on the list, but let’s not put it quite at the top. 


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