Friday, September 02, 2005

Muck Walking

Yesterday my second son told me that his big brother is always in trouble. So I asked him, "Do you ever get in trouble?" His answer caught me off guard.

"Only when Daddy's home. When Daddy's home, he makes sure that A-- and T-- and I get in trouble."

I'm wondering what this means. Am I a disciplinary weakling or is my husband a tyrant? I'm not sure. Phil comes down pretty hard on the kids sometimes, so maybe I subconsciously try to be more lax to "even things out" just a bit. Maybe I'm just plain lazy.

Parenting is such a unique challenge when you have more than one child. Each child is different and they each respond differently to discipline techniques. Case in point: when A-- gets in trouble (which is a regular occurrence), he responds defiantly and will argue his case till the proverbial cows return to pasture. Most times, we have to physically remove him to his room to cool off. In contrast, when S-- gets in trouble, he bursts into tears and is quite penitent. As a result, all I have to do with S-- is speak sternly and he'll usually toe the line. He rarely needs a time out.

Sometimes I find myself getting angry at the boys for doing something that I know their dad will be upset about just because I don't want them to get in trouble. On those occasions, the offense is usually something that isn't that big of a deal to me. I know I should present more of a unified front, but I hate conflict, and there's nothing worse than getting "the eye" when I try to explain why I didn't punish the boys for something that I didn't think was that serious. In my defense, however, I try very hard not to interfere when Phil disciplines the boys. I figure that the boys are pretty resilient and will bounce back even if they do get their feelings hurt when Dad gets a bit loud.

I realize it may sound like I don't agree with any of the rules that Phil considers most important, but that's not true. On the whole, we agree on almost everything. We're sticklers about regular bedtimes and having the boys sleep in their own beds from an early age; we insist on good behavior (though we don't always get it); personal cleanliness is a biggie; and we're getting better at cracking down on backtalk. To some, I might be considered a bit of an ogre. (Just ask my oldest--he tells me constantly that I don't parent fairly and that I'm a mean mom. He has the whole "victim" thing down pat.) But I realize that I could be a better disciplinarian in other areas.

I find it interesting how much I used to know about discipline before I had kids. We were talking to Phil's nephew, Jeff, and his wife, Shauni, the other night. Shauni is due to have their first child in just a few weeks. Jeff was talking about all the books they had read about sleep schedules and discipline and what they plan to do with their own baby. I had to smile to myself--not in ridicule but in recognition. I was once one of those "parent by the book" people. I still am, to some extent, but I also recognize that kids come preprogrammed, and their program doesn't always match "the book." Books can be helpful, but most of the time you just have to wade through the muck and find your own way. And let me tell you--when you become a parent, you have to deal with plenty of muck (and poop and urine and vomit and attitude and messy rooms and skinned knees and......).

But as Dalene said about Lorien's garden, the secret to a good crop is plenty of crap (see The Lo Down, "Harvest Plenty" blog). If that's true, I'm gonna have an awesome harvest when these boys grow up! Anyone have a spare pair of Wellingtons? Time to go wading....


Leah Jean said...

Wow. Good to know. Just so you know, I'm SURE my parents have a spare pair of heavy duty boots you can borrow if you ever have a need...they sure had their fair share of muck to walk through. But it still may be a toss-up about whether or not the crop was worth it. ;)

compulsive writer said...

Oh Leah--of course the crop is worth it--and like any bumper crop it will be enjoyed and appreciated even better than expected I'll bet. Think of it this way: When I was 15 I spent an entire summer doing grunt work at my Grandmother's cafe/hotel. She rode me hard and I spent the entire summer thinking I was a huge disappointment to her (although looking back, I'm sure she wouldn't have been able to get anyone else to do the work for $2/hr). Yet one day I overheard her telling someone what a great worker I was and how she didn't know what she would've done without me that summer. So pat yourself on the back--you're turning out great!

Julie--think of it as good cop/bad cop. Justice/mercy. Every kid needs a little bit of both. Maybe some even need more justice while others need more mercy. As for the crap...I get grief for using the word as much as I do, but that's life. I'll wade through it as deep as it gets to have half a chance of my kids growing up to be who they really are. (I'm considering, however, trading in my Birkenstocks for a good pair of Wellies...)

Leah Jean said...

I'm so glad you think the crop is worth it, Dalene, because sometimes I think my parents would sell me to the highest bidder without thinking twice. Other times, though, I do sit and realize that my parents rely a lot on my help. As much as they hate to admit it, I guess that's the reason we have families...without them, I think life would get too unbearable. The muck is definately worth it for this daddy's/mommy's girl. :)