I never thought I could do it, but I have.
Over the last few months I have morphed into what I'm sure Graham would describe as a Mean Mommy.
Notwithstanding my attempts to be sensitive to Graham's confusion and sadness over the loss of his beloved Oma, my approach to discipline these days sounds less like "He's-so-cute-and-I-love-him-so-much-that-I-can't-stand-to-see-him-upset!" and more like "I've-had-enough-of-your nonsense-and-it-will-stop-this-instant-or-there-will-be-consequences!"
But it hasn't been easy.
For many years before I started my current job, I worked in a managerial position with a unionized work force. I hired people. I disciplined people for all manner of infractions. And, with little hesitation, if people didn't tow the line, I fired them.
For the most part, I was perfectly okay doing what I felt needed to be done. In fact, I was proud to develop a bit of a reputation as a hard-ass (not literally, alas) because I felt, and continue to feel, that supervising people in a fair, but forthright and firm manner eliminates stress and uncertainty for everyone. For many years before Graham was born I assumed I would naturally conduct myself the same way when it came to parenting.
Was I ever deluded!
I didn't know then that Graham could simply bat his eyelashes (his gorgeous, long eyelashes!) and I would go all loopy and goopy inside. I didn't realize that the mere thought of his discomfort would cause my own breathing to become shallow and my chest to tighten. I never imagined that hearing Graham cry would hurt me - physically hurt me - so much.
I even wrote an ode to the beautiful inevitability of my powerlessness.
But, truthfully, there was nothing beautiful or inevitable about it.
It took a
massive blowup serious discussion with my husband a few months ago to make me realize not everyone in the world is forever going to find Graham's incorrigible antics as adorable as I do.
"I do NOT want to be those people that no one wants to be around because their kid is a brat Kel!" he
screamed said. "Graham is a great kid but I am NOT going to let him become THAT kid - it's not fair to him."
And just like that the light bulb went on.
I realized almost instantly that Rob was right. I realized that this parenting gig isn't just fun and games: it's about the business of molding and shaping and teaching a new person how to be kind and respectful. I had a flash of insight into just how easy it would be for me - how easy it would be for any of us - to suddenly wake up and realize my kid was THAT kid.
It scared the crap out of me.
No one plans to end up with a bratty, out of control kid. No one expects that they will. But the truth is, it doesn't take long for small decisions and daily acquiescence to produce one .
And so I have changed my ways.
We have rules now and I articulate them firmly and clearly. As much as possible, I ignore the tightness in my chest and my rising blood pressure and I DO NOT give in. I have stopped tolerating tantrums and I do a minimum of negotiating. If Graham wants to watch just one more video on Youtube in the evening, I say yes when he agrees that he will only get two bedtime stories instead of three. When he inevitably throws himself on the ground begging for the third story, he is swiftly dispatched to bed.
Bedtime used to be a 45-minute affair, but not since I articulated the rule. The rule is that Graham's door is left open only on the strict condition that he not repeatedly whine, call out or otherwise cajole me to come back into the room after tucking him in. If he persists, he gets a warning (okay, sometimes two) before the door is shut for the night, screaming be damned.
And you know what?
It works. Not only is Graham better behaved, he seems happier.
Every night for the last few weeks, just after I have given him his last kiss goodnight Graham has looked up at me with the same soft smile on his face and asked me the same thing.
"And mommy, before you go, what is the rule again?"
"The rule is that you need to go to sleep and not keep calling for mommy or else mommy will come back and shut the door. Do you understand?"
And every night he smiles and says.
"Yes mommy, I understand. Goodnight"
And he goes to sleep, secure in the knowledge, I like to believe, that mommy, however mean, knows best.
Apparently kids DO like rules.
If only someone had told me sooner. Or rather, if only I had listened.
Friday, April 3, 2009
I never thought I could do it, but I have.