Today I was in the gas station stocking up on provisions for a road trip. I'm so desperate for a change of scenery that I drove 100 miles up the turnpike for the pleasure of lunch with Melanie and Shannon. Also in the gas station was a woman with a preschool-aged boy who wanted a toy and some gum and a candy bar and a soda and a box of matches (!) and on and on and on. The woman told him no...no...NO...NO...I SAID NO AND I MEANT IT DO YOU WANT ME TO BUST YOU RIGHT HERE THE ANSWER IS NO! To no one's surprise, he started to cry. Loudly. So the woman grabbed a candy bar, slammed it on the counter, paid for it and jabbed it at the little boy. The crying subsided, and the boy was obviously torn between the sweet taste of victory and the stinging of the harsh words.
We've all seen it. Some of us (me) have done it. Instant-gratification-type parenting decisions that will not bear pleasant fruit down the road, such as giving in to a child so that the whining/screaming/flailing/cursing-like-a-sailor-on-shore-leave (ZOINKS) will stop. Where does that get us? In my experience, it creates confused, demanding children and resentful parents. Is that the destination any parent has in mind? Of course not.
My husband and I are determined to correct, encourage, exhort, discipline and, when necessary, punish our children with our desired end result in mind. This means taking the time not just to talk, but to train. Not just to punish, but to examine motives (ours and theirs). When we're on our game, it goes something like this:
Call the child to us. This serves two purposes, first requiring the child to bend his will to ours and second, keeping the exchange private.
Name the offense. "I told you before we came today that you would not be getting a toy from Target. When you keep asking, you are insisting on your own way by badgering me. Badgering is not allowed."
Name the consequence. "Because you were badgering, you will go to bed 30 minutes early tonight."
What happens next depends on the child's response. If he begins to whine and complain, the bedtime will be moved up in 30 minute increments until he relents. There's nothing like going to bed at 4:30 in the afternoon to give you time to consider your ways. Here's the point where I get tempted to get off track by saying to myself, "...but we have karate tonight, and we've already paid and I hate for that money to go to waste and the belt test is next week and...". If my desired destination is having a child who doesn't demand a toy every time we go to the store, I have to be willing to put that goal above his earning a purple belt. Which one will serve him best in the long run? So, yeah, we'll be skipping karate, he'll eat an early dinner of a sandwich and milk, be in bed at 4:30 because Mama means business.
My point is that our driving concern, our Prime Directive if you will, is raising ADULTS who think, act and speak properly; who know right from wrong and choose right, even when no one is looking. There really isn't anything I won't forsake in pursuit of that goal. I will leave a full shopping cart, bail on a birthday party, and get up in the middle of a haircut if one of the children behaves in a way that requires attention and training. I don't have a more important job than training these 5 eternal souls entrusted to my care. It doesn't matter if other people think I've gone off my dot, or if my kids think I'm mean. It does matter that we see results that indicate progress, that we continually evaluate our strategies and make adjustments as necessary according to each child's temperament, needs, strengths and weaknesses. Our kids deserve to be parented purposefully. All children do.