Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Art from Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman

"You need a good talking to!" Well, that was the goal. What my kids often got instead was a bad talking to.

After I'd caught the kid in the act, I'd usually yell and scream, and (if I was pregnant) end the episode by bursting into tears. Dee would come home, hear my incident report and then immediately ground the kids for way too long. About then I'd realize I'd overstated the whole thing, feel bad, and get mad at Dee for blowing it all out of proportion, saddling me with grounded kids for the next month. This happened regularly.

Kids in Time Out

I missed opportunities to teach self-control by losing mine. On the rare occasions I took time to calm down and think things through, I was able to discipline rather than just punish.

Here's a discipline question from Kenju:
What would you say to a 13-year-old girl who lied to her parents about finishing a school project so she could go on a school trip to an amusement park? They had told her if she didn't finish the project, she couldn't go. What would you say to her or do to punish her?

I actually recognize this scenario from when I was the girl, and from when I was the mom. Some things never change. I won't pretend I had all the answers back then. But now I do. (It's much easier to be a mother without all those kids running around.)

Here's what I'd do in retrospect:
I'd call my daughter into a private place and serenely ask her to explain what she was thinking when she made this decision. I'd tell her how disappointed I was in her behavior, especially her lie, and that I had expected more of her. I'd try to compliment her on something "You're usually so reliable. I'm surprised you didn't think this through."

My best "chats" with my kids happened when I told them how I once did something similar (which I always had) and I understood that we all make poor choices, but that there are always consequences. Becoming accountable for our behavior is a sign of maturity. One consequence of lying is that people stop trusting you, and it takes extra effort to earn trust back once it is lost. It's an important lesson to learn and here's an opportunity to learn it.

I'd ask what consequence she thought would be logical and fair. If her answer seemed reasonable I'd agree to it. Otherwise I would say that I was going to take away some privileges, like going to the mall, or going with her friends after school, or something that would be a hardship for her, but easy for me to follow through on.

"You're going to stay in your room the whole summer!"

One time, after some minor crime, I told our son Micah he couldn't go to his baseball game on Friday. It was something that he was sad to miss, but it wouldn't bother me a bit. His coach called later that week to tell him he was going to pitch in Friday's game. It was devastating for Micah to stay home, and heart-wrenching for me to follow through with the punishment. Dee told Micah how I'd cried over his disappointment at missing the chance to pitch, but that it was most important for him to learn that bad choices lead to unhappy consequences. I don't have any idea if Micah remembers this lesson, but it made a huge impression on me.

The great thing about parenting is that kids are so resilient. As long as one of us learns something, and we're quick to forgive, and quick to laugh, I don't think the mistakes matter much (theirs or ours.) Kids figure out very early that their parents don't know what they're doing. But they are gracious about letting us grow into our roles, when we're gracious about them growing into theirs. We just need to communicate our love. Actually, what everybody needs is a good talking to.


Polly said...

i love this post. i hope my kids are gracious with me and remember me with kindness. i hope that they realize that i was 20 when i first started having them and that i loved them and only wanted what was best for them. following that apology for my many mistakes as a parent. the one thing i think i did right, was tell them they could have all the freedom in the world if they truly earned my trust. when they did something untrustworthy, they lost some of their freedom...driving...going out..things that didn't bother me in the least. i used to yell at my kids every sunday morning when they wouldn't get up and get to church on time, until i decided what a stupid way to start out sunday mornings..so made a rule that if they didn't get there on time they just didn't enjoy their saturday night out.(this was when they were young). i'd get up get ready and with a song in my heart leave for church. those that made it had fun the next saturday, those that didn't enjoyed "touched by an angel" with me the next saturday evening!

Clair said...

This post is just what a young mother needed to hear. Thank you for your inspired words!

Jenibelle said...

You know, you're not too old or too hard to send children to...I have a couple of boys who need some good talkings to. Are you available to raise a couple more?

diane said...

I never ground my kids because when I'm mad at them I don't want them around. I take stuff away. Mostly their technology. Car keys are a hot item right now. It works like magic.

Janet said...

i love your motherly wisdom and your HONESTY! thanks for such great advice. keep it coming.