Picture an exhausted mother of two, shoulders hunched, sweating (always sweating), on the brink of losing it (all of it). She sighs, holds her breath and tells her kid it’s time to leave the park. She is bracing herself for a fight, but then the child looks at her, climbs down from the monkey bars and says simply, “OK, Mommy.”
Holy cow! She listened! Mom perks up a bit, a sly smile emerges on her face. This moment — no matter how many trying moments preceded it — is why she keeps grinding away, exhausted but determined.
Chances are you know this mom. She is your neighbor, your friend. She is you. She is certainly me. This mom knows raising polite, respectful and capable kids is hard work. Emphasis on the HARD and WORK.
And, we all can agree: Parents with well-mannered, kind listeners are not lucky — they are tired. Because happy, respectful children do not happen by luck. Sure it takes a whole lot of love, but it also takes a daily grind of reminders, encouragement, discipline and consistency.
When kids are young (like mine), discipline is all about laying the groundwork and setting boundaries. Moms of preschoolers, am I right? I spend days and nights and nights and days explaining the rules, setting expectations, praising the good and working on the not-so-good. It is utterly exhausting.
I have a conversation with my children, ages 3 and almost 6, about what constitutes acceptable behavior every day —EVERY DAY — and sometimes every hour. I’m convinced my kids are sick of me. Hell, I’m sick of me. BUT soldier on I must because I have a goal. I want loving, fun and functional teens and adults.
Opportunities to lay this important foundation are all around. My kids throw questions at me from every angle — pushing limits, testing my resolve.
“Mom, can I have a piece of candy?” No.
“Mom, can we stay at the playground for a few more minutes?” Not this time.
“Mom, can we watch another show?” Not today.
“Mom, can I jump off the top bunk?” Never.
It can feel like I’m always saying no.
In a perfect world, my kids jump at the opportunity to listen and say “OK, Mommy” or “Yes, ma’am,” even when the answer is no and they don’t get what they want. But they aren’t perfect — at least half the time, they whine, they beg or they throw an all-out fit.
And, I’m left explaining yet again that “when mommy gives an answer, even if it is one you don’t like, she has a reason. I’d appreciate if your response could be ‘OK, Mommy’ or ‘Yes, ma’am.'” That’s it kids. So get on board, please.
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I remember talking to my kids’ pediatrician about these fits and my assumed failures as a mother when my oldest daughter was just 3. I was convinced she was possessed by something unholy, her tantrums unpredictable and her respect for me waning. I was reading books with titles like “Raising Your Spirited Child.”
So there I was, recounting a particularly bad fit at the grocery store that resulted in me abandoning my cart and carrying my thrashing, screaming toddler out of the store — tears staining both our faces.
The doctor said, “Kate, parenting is a war.” Say what?!?
He went on, “You are too focused on each individual battle. Understand that you will lose some battles, but your goal is to ultimately win the war. There are battles that you will concede, and when you do, hug your kid, give yourself a break and try again.”
I remember him telling me specifically that airplane travel is not the time to draw a hard line. In flight, he advised, “Just give them the candy.”
Regardless of battles lost or conceded, the overall strategy is a winning one that I hold onto today. Throwing all pride out the window after a lost battle, I keep working — dust myself off, double down — and I try again.
Three years later, and I still have to tell myself that at the heart of all this discipline is love — especially when this whole strict parenting thing really sucks sometimes. Because, let’s be honest, it would definitely be easier to just “give them the candy” all the time (not just on a plane).
But, then, what kind of adults would I be creating? Entitled ones, and that’s even worse than spoiled kids.
I focus on this endgame when I have to follow through on a punishment that ruins my plans, too. The other day, I really, really wanted to go to the pool, but we had some, let’s call them, behavioral challenges. These challenges resulted in pool time being taken away — for all of us. So, we sat inside scowling at each other on a gorgeous day — the consequence of my threat made good was hard on everyone.
Days like this, I want to give up, or at the very least shout, “Just pull it together, people!! You are ruining my day, too!”
But I am the grown-up. I. Am. The. Grown-up. *Sigh.* And, as the grown-up, what’s most important in these times of trial is how I myself act — like a loving, fun and functional adult.
Consistent, calm, in-control, empathetic, but firm … I type as I’m yelling at my kids to get along. But goals are goals, even when I fail.
Listen up, tired parents, if we stay the course, we will get this, and ultimately, our kids will get it. And, oh what joy when they do!
So, keep at it, mama. This fellow soldier in the trenches is rooting for you and for all of us.