I was standing in line at a mega toy store waiting patiently for the next available cashier when I heard it approaching: The relentless high-pitched screams of a child in the midst of a growing tantrum. Now, this is not an unusual sound in a big box toy store, but the following incident should be enough to horrify you.
The mother of the offending child finally came into view. First, I was amazed to see the child she was carrying was at least 7 years old. As she embarrassedly walked past the lines of parents with her screaming child in tow, the distressed kid actually hit his mother as hard as he could against the side of her face with a closed fist. The parents in line audibly gasped. As we continued to watch in shock, the child once again hit his mother squarely on the side of the head. At this point I heard a voice behind me say, “Beat him”. At this suggestion, some parents actually began to applaud.
The red-faced mother carried her large child out of the store, where I fervently hoped there would be “logical consequences” of the corporal kind. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder how a child’s behavior could get so out of hand.
In situations such as this, the parenting books tell us to exit the premises with the screaming child to prove that the tantrum won’t work. I would know; as an expectant mother I had read all of the books on parenting. My goal was to raise non-violent, peace-loving, god-centered, well-rounded, self-sufficient, fearless children with the ability to question authority, participate fully in a democracy, create functional relationships, develop fulfilling careers, and go through life without seeking the advice of a therapist.
I was thoroughly committed to speaking gently, allowing questions, encouraging curiosity, responding to their every need on demand, and enacting discipline using natural consequences. Above all, I vowed never to use corporal punishment.
And then Sandra, my first child, was born.
Sandra would be a challenge even for the most committed “earth mother”. She was active, demanding, loud, obstinate, and strong willed. She quickly learned the word “no” even though I followed the advice of the experts and never said the word to her. Any delay in responding to my daughter resulted in a drawn-out tantrum. In her mind my body was her body. She felt free to constantly climb and clamber all over me.
Only a few of the bravest souls would consent to babysit for me because Sandra was so difficult to handle. Upon arriving home I could see the look of desperation reflected in their pitying eyes. It was obvious they thought I was failing as a mom. I thought I was failing as a mom.
Two things changed life for us. The first was witnessing that 7-year-old boy hit his mother in the toy store, and the second was a very dear friend who told me: “You had better get a handle on that child or one day you will be knocking on your own front door asking if it is okay to come in.” She was warning me that I needed to nip Sandra’s behavior in the bud before it became too big to overcome.
Unfortunately, today’s children are confused because we allow them to act like adults by permitting them to behave in adult ways. We give them privileges real adults have earned by paying their dues. As adults we can dress the way we want, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, stay out as late as we want, and choose whether or not to maintain our homes. We can eat out, go on vacations, and spend our disposable money however we want because we pay the bills and are held responsible for our actions.
Our children believe they have the same rights as us. As parents we are bombarded with requests for cell phones, computers, acrylic nails, and designer clothing. These are just a few of the requests they find “reasonable”. It is also expected that we will provide automobiles, mega sweet sixteen parties, and spend astronomical amounts on limousines, tuxedos, flowers, and formal gowns for prom.
Am I the only one who thinks this is insane?!
Establishing parental authority is all about creating clear delineations between age-appropriate privileges and responsibilities. I am not your girlfriend, and I make the rules. If at any point in time you don’t like my rules, you are free to live somewhere else – and I mean it!
Too often our children will point to our behavior to justify their own bad choices. We have to come back with the point that we are the adults. We pay all the bills, we have a job, we keep a roof over our (and our children’s) heads, and we have experience: all of the responsibilities and wisdom that our children have yet to accumulate. We have to be diligent about making this distinction because our children will use guilt to manipulate us into providing things or allowing experiences that they are not responsible for. It is important to be clear that we have earned the right to make our own decisions because we have lived longer and have accepted a lifetime of responsibility for our actions.
My home is a Momarchy. Any rights or privileges my children have are the ones I confer upon them. They earn these privileges by being respectful, responsible, and reliable.
More importantly, they know what my bottom line is. There is no confusion, and I don’t have to have endless discussions, endure long bouts of sulky behavior, or manage outright disrespect. I truly believe that this makes all of us happier and more content with our family life.
Effective discipline is not about creating robot kids. Control is not the goal. Rather, it is about keeping your children safe, maintaining a peaceful home, protecting you from losing your mind, and creating space for them to explore their potential in life. Effective discipline strategies should move you closer to creating the kind of life you want to live, and help your children become happy, self-reliant, capable, and responsible adults.
I truly believe it is an act of courage for a mother to discipline her children. In this age of permissive parenting you run the risk that others will disapprove of your actions. On the other hand, I also believe our children want to respect our authority, on some level appreciate the limits that we place on their behavior, and benefit from the safety of a predictable environment.
Bad behavior is a habit. Defiant toddlers become smart alecky kids who become smart-ass tweens who become uncontrollable teenagers. The easiest course correction is when your children are young and still care what you think about them.
Don’t be afraid to discipline your kids. The world, and eventually your children, will thank you.
This is excerpted from “The Momarchy: A Single Mom’s Guide to Guilt-Free Parenting?” All Rights Reserved. For more information about “The Momarchy”, visit our website at www.themomarchy.com.