I don’t have all the answers. Somehow I must have assumed I would, by now anyway. I mean, my oldest is six (going on 36), and my youngest just turned four. This was supposed to be my time to sit back and let the machine work, the machine that is parenthood. Except that it’s not a machine, and every single moment of every single day I’m “on.” Lights, camera, daddy! And I will admit that most times I do okay, but only after worrying myself gray (look at my temples for signs), and making numerous missteps. But that’s all just another part of being a dad, an honest-to-goodness dad. Which is what I am. It’s still amazing to contemplate, but here I am. And it’s those little moments, those testing ones, that I want to talk about this time. Well not just the moments, but the reactions to them. How I discipline.
So, I knew what I didn’t want, and that was a repeat of what my parents (mostly my mother) did with me. The whole “spare the rod and spoil the child” mentality was kind of old and tired when I was a kid, and I didn’t want imprints from Pedro’s Paddle on my children’s behinds. I also knew I didn’t want to give in when it came to issues of obstinance, etc. The first time you give in, you’ve not only lost the battle, but you’ve lost the war, and you never even knew you were fighting. What I wanted was a way to discipline without being seen as the “bad guy,” but I knew from my friends’ experience with their kids that it never worked out. The best I could probably do was have myself be the “bad guy” for a little while, and then once they’ve forgotten all about it, I could be “super dad” again.
I bought all the books… and then threw them out. They had nothing for me. It was rapidly becoming clear that I would have to forge my own path out of the cookie crumbs left behind by others. Oh yes, and lest I forget, my wife was going through her own similar path at the same time. We would meet to share notes on occasion, and of course in the end we developed the plan together (see, I mentioned you, dear). It was all about choosing our battles. What did we want to accomplish with discipline? Did we just want a surly child who felt like nothing she did was ever right? Or did we want an independent thinker who sometimes made mistakes, because all children make mistakes, but who could make the right decisions when prompted and/or reminded? It all began there, and then the children were born, and we had to make a load of adjustments.
Children aren’t just thoughts made real. They’re living, breathing human beings of their own. And, in our case, they are also extremely stubborn when they want what they want, be it something physical, or something they want to do really badly. They also have selective hearing, and they need supervision to make the whole thing work. I learned all of this the hard way, as I’m sure so many parents out there did as well. So, the plan for discipline became a situation by situation basis, and it evolved into a living, breathing person itself, it seemed. The best discipline, we found, is the one that is solid, that is not changeable by event. It is discipline that makes the child think in the moment about her decisions and course correct… on her own. So it needed many scaffolds and assists to get there.
I will admit, it hasn’t been the easiest path, but having a life partner who is on board with you is an amazing thing you should never take for granted if you do. But you also have to get the grandparents involved and on board too, or it will never work. Anyone who has direct contact with your children on any kind of basis can be a chink in your armor, so sit them down. Have a kid-tervention, and make sure they know how strict you are going to be, so they can mirror that when they are with your children. It starts there, and it continues everywhere else. It goes with them to school, on the school bus, at play time, in the classroom. Yes, everywhere. Consistency is key, from everyone, at every moment.
And that’s what I’ve learned about discipline. Now, where might I be able to purchase one of those Pedro’s Paddles?