How to raise perfectly behaved children*

(*Spoiler alert: I have no idea)

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I am a great parent, me. I am patient and engaged. When the children step out of line, I am firm yet kind. I give gentle warnings and follow through. I am consistent.

I am all of those things, when the conditions are right. When I’m not stretched thin, and the kids are being best of friends instead of high-pitched fight-magnets, and nobody is climbing on my back.

The problem is, sometimes, that doesn’t seem to be very much of the time.

Before I had children, I thought that you were one sort of parent, or another. A grumpy mum, or a kind mum. A stern dad, or a relaxed dad. I was sure I’d be a patient mum, because I am many things, but I am not cross or shouty.

Was not. Was not cross or shouty. Two kids later and I’ve discovered that I am a kind mum, but I am also sometimes a grumpy mum. I’m not a monster- but I’m definitely less patient than I thought I would be. And discipline is the hardest part of parenthood for me (apart from the beautiful and terrible love that leaves me in constant fear of losing them, obvs).

Or rather, not discipline per se. I am perfectly fine with discipline. I believe in boundaries, and I don’t mind having a stern word or withdrawing a privilege. I think kids need discipline, and some kids need it more than others. I often say that getting our eldest through the toddler years was like breaking in a gorgeous but feisty little horse.

What I find really hard is disciplining in the right way. Not letting my own frustration or exhaustion or anger, or sometimes even tears (this has happened more than once, oh dear) screw up the way I am teaching them right from wrong.

And then there’s comparison, that thief of joy. When you’re sure that every other parent is counting to three with some kind of idea of what will actually happen when they get to three. When you suspect that their version of losing their shit is saying in a slightly louder voice: ‘That’s unkind, Indigo.’

And then there’s the mine-strewn maze of co-parenting your way through discipline. When one minute you are whisper-hissing ‘just be patient with him’ at your partner, and the next you are snapping at your kid: ‘No, UP the stairs, not lying at the bottom of the stairs, UP them, UP, NOW.’

Back when we laid our brand new first baby on the bed, and stared at her, and at each other, and laughed- because how on earth were we supposed look after this tiny little thing?- we had no idea of how much more ‘looking after’ meant than getting the hang of nappies and swaddling and feeding (and that’s hard enough!).

See, I’ve been writing this post in my head for ages, and it was filled with LOLs. But after a challenging couple of weeks, behaviour wise (theirs and possibly mine), I’m finding it hard to find the humour. So here, you can laugh at me instead, as I recount a selection of my finest discipline fails. Because if there is one thing that makes me feel better about this whole issue, it’s knowing that other parents make a balls-up of it sometimes too:

The time with the class teddy. 

You know the score: the class soft toy comes home for the weekend, and your job is to cram in as many museum trips and healthy walks as you can, so your page of the scrapbook will look dead good and cultural. Your job is not, when your nursery-aged child refuses to open her mouth to have her teeth brushed, while simultaneously pulling two handfuls of your hair as hard as she can, to shout out in pain and frustration so that she says “Stop it mummy, you are scaring Barney!” And you turn around and there is Barney, watching you from the sink with his judgey button eyes. Let’s just say, we didn’t take a photograph of that moment for the scrapbook- and I lived in fear, for the whole of the following week, that this part of Barney’s stay would be recounted to the whole class at carpet time.

 All the stupid things I’ve said:

“If you don’t [x] now, I am going to throw the television in the bin.”

“If you haven’t [y] by the time I count to three, I am going to throw the treat tin in the bin.”

“I am a person. Mummy is a person. I have feelings!”

“MY LIFE MATTERS TOO!” (this was last week, when they were refusing to get ready, and I had a meeting to go to).

Of course, there is also all the time I spend bleating “Guys, could you just- guys- guys- why are you- guys just-” while they completely ignore me until I feel like throwing myself in the bin, just to make a point.

The time I lost it in Co-Op. 

This time it wasn’t my kids who were on the receiving end, but a member of the public. It had been a wearing morning, and I had managed, against all odds, to actually be a good, calm and consistent parent. I was sweaty with the effort of it. Something had to give. My four year old was taking a break from being an unbearable arse, to carefully manoeuvre a little pushalong basket around Co-Op. He was concentrating so hard that he didn’t notice when he very gently and briefly, bumped it against a man’s legs….

Man: ‘Don’t say sorry, then.’

Me: (Turning round slowly) I’m so sorry, did he bump your legs? I’m so sorry.

Man’s wife: It’s fine. Reg, you shouldn’t have said anything. It’s fine.

Me: It’s just (tears and rage welling)- it’s just, he’s four, and he’s concentrating, and he didn’t even realise he’d done it, so he didn’t realise he had to say sorry.

Wife: Sorry. Reg!

Reg: Sorry.

Me: But I’m so sorry. It’s just- I’m just… having a REALLY HARD DAY!

Wife: REG.

Me: *runs away to the milk aisle to have a small weep, bumps into Reg and his wife in every single aisle of the supermarket*

I’m not proud of any of the above. But I do take heart from the last example, because at least it shows me that I am trying. I am trying so much that I burst into tears at a stranger in Co-Op. We are trying, their dad and I. We have strategies, and we try. Because they’re worth it, those babies.

We don’t always succeed, and frankly sometimes it’s impossible (do you know how infuriating it is when someone climbs on your back while you are loading the washing machine?) But I think trying is really all you can strive for, in parenting and in life. And if that fails, throw the TV in the bin. That’s bound to work, right?

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