Monday, April 15, 2013

The Discipline to Discipline

We've in a new phase of parenting around these parts and I'm not gonna lie, it gets ugly.

There was a time, not too long ago, where my son did everything I wanted him to do, no questions asked. There may have been some unwillingness on his part, but I rarely noticed it and it was nothing I couldn't get around. It was rare that setting boundaries of behavior for my kid caused me to break a sweat. Before you write me off as a smug mama with a big mouth, let me share my secret. He was immobile and had no facilities to attempt to assert his will over mine. Times have certainly changed.

Now he's a rip-roaring almost-2-yr-old who's got all these new tricks up his sleeve--saying (screeching) no, whining and begging, running away, arching and struggling, or my personal favorite, scrunching up his little face and hitting the object of his ire. That would be me.

I'm quibbling over semantics, I'm sure, but when I could tell myself, "he doesn't understand what no or stop means," or "He's just curious about his environment, he's not being disobedient," I was a lot more patient when he ignored my directions or corrections. It was also easier to have patience with re-directing his attention away from the outlets over and over again, when he had the attention span of a gnat and boundless curiosity. He still has boundless curiosity, but now he has developed a focused intent, by fair means or foul, to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. My patience is seriously running thin. And the biggest injustice of all? By some completely unfair imbalance of parental power, daddy doesn't struggle to the degree that I do. If he even raises his voice at the kid, he melts into a penitent puddle. Or, (possibly even worse) he asserts his will, realizes upon eye contact w/dear, old dad that this isn't a battle he's prepared to join, and concedes. Concedes, I tell you! I wrestle to the death with him over every little thing, and dad gets the belly presentation. Balls.

Since Miles has all this will but limited common sense, motor skills, discernment or impulse control, my job as his mother is to make sure he's scared of me so that when I tell him not to do something that could kill him, he listens and obeys. He needs to fear death-by-mama more than death-by-running-into-oncoming-traffic. I'm over-simplifying, but you get my point. This is also supposed to work in other areas, like teaching politeness, or cleaning up after oneself, or even just saving mama some time and effort by not resisting every, stinking diaper change or morsel of food I put in front of you, for crying out loud. I'm not finding it to be quite that simple, though.

I heard someone say that parenting will reveal more about you, the parent, than it ever will about the kid(s) you raise. It couldn't be truer for me than in the area of consistent discipline. Most things I like to do come easily to me. Not because I'm a prodigy, but because I don't do stuff that's too hard. I'm lazy that way. I'll always seek the path of least resistance to accomplish a task and if that's not possible, I'll pick something else to do. Discipline is hard and there's no way around doing it well, so in this case, I'm stuck. Also, I've discovered that while I have high expectations of behavior, apparently I'm squeamish about corporal punishment, especially at his age. I worry that he doesn't understand what it's all about, since he can't repeat back what I say to him. It doesn't make much sense to me that when he hits me in defiance of a direct request, I should turn around and hit him back. Seems to reinforce that hitting is okay, since I can't explain to him the subtle nuances. Can you imagine me hunkering down to say, "Kid, it's not okay for you to hit me, so I'm going to hit you to make sure you don't do it again. You don't understand why I'm hitting you? Well, let's just hope you get it when you're older." Asinine. Also, it seems to shake his idea about my place in his world. He sees me as the one who fixes hurts, not causes them. Each time I swat his little hand, which I only do when he's defiant or doing something that puts him in danger, it about breaks both our hearts. He looks up at me in shock, starts to cry, babbles something that I translate to "why do you haaate meee?!" and reaches his arms up for comfort. He needs to know that I still love him and, by golly, I need to know that he still loves me! Sadly, that's all he'll respond to from me, so I have to knuckle down and keep at it. Or he'll have to start thinking of me as an alpha-female in his life real quick, so I can stop punishing us both. Hell, I think I'm supposed to stay consistent w/it, regardless of how much we both hate it. That's the real point.

Maybe it's okay and I'm not scarring him for life. I mean, if I enjoyed it and looked for opportunities to beat the stuffing out of my sweet boy, I guess then we'd have a real problem. We'll see which of us ends up in therapy, first.

Wait! I've already got him beat on that score.