I am not a very good disciplinarian, which Jenna likes to point out to me on a regular basis. In fact, she frequently critiques my many shortcomings and offers advice on how I can correct these glaring deficits.
Let me just tell you in case you don’t have one yet – there is no worse critic than your own grown daughter. They are brutal little beings who have no problem telling you the raw truth, like a bucket of ice cold water in your face or a gallon of Kool-Aid without the sweetener.
Because Jenna sometimes babysits her younger siblings as a favor, I usually allow her to prattle on about what she would do if she was the parent. She informs me of all the dire consequences of my “permissive” parenting and lets me know what behaviors she thinks are both inappropriate and appropriate.
Occasionally I will interject that I parent her brother and sister the same way I parented her and she evidently thinks SHE turned out perfectly, so by her own parameters I must be doing something right.
Even so, her little lectures do plant seeds of doubt and begin to erode my parental confidence. I start to worry that maybe what I view as a parenting style that encourages creative expression is actually better described as lethargic mothering. Maybe I am not living up to my potential as a mother and need to apply myself, just like my grade 5 teacher said.
Sometimes I become so concerned that I’m failing miserably as a parent that I do things I don’t necessarily agree with, such as introducing the naughty chair. All the stellar parents and parenting experts use this approach, so perhaps it was time I gave it a try.
Now, I didn’t really think my kids were particularly naughty to begin with, apart from the normal childish behaviors that can drive any parent batty. But of course there were still behaviors that needed to be corrected and corralled.
Before the stupid naughty chair, I believed that the best way to do this was to simply tell children and show them the “proper” way to behave. Failing that, a firm, raised voice is pretty effective. But apparently yelling at your kids is considered abuse in some circles and the wooden spoon, which I and many of my generational cohorts were subjected to, is no longer in style. Indeed, in some placing it is actually illegal to spank a child and you can be thrown in jail.
So what are you supposed to do with an unruly child? For a while it was popular to get down on the child’s level and explain why you are upset with his or her behavior, being ever so careful with your wording. God forbid you convey, even unintentionally, that it is the child himself who is “bad” and not the behavior.
The problem with this getting down to their level and giving long, monotone dissertations on child development to a 2 or 3-year-old is that it DOES NOT WORK. They might stare at you blankly for a minute, having no idea what the hell you’re talking about, before suddenly throwing themselves on the ground in a fit of seizure activity, all the while screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!!”
One mother I knew used to get right down on the floor whenever her out-of-control daughter had one of these tantrums and calmly, almost soothingly say, “I hear that you hate me, but I love you, honey.” This did nothing to settle the girl down and if anything made her tantrum worse. I can see why this happened – what is more infuriating than someone who remains calm and condescending while you’re freaking out?
So role-modelling, yelling, spanking, long explanations, and Buddha-like patience that makes you look more the fool than enlightened are all out of the question. Say hello to the naughty chair….