ETA: I just realized that I wrote this whole post largely using a second-person you this and you that, which is very obnoxious but unintentional. I'm too lazy to change it, so just accept my apologies upfront. It should just all be more of a "this is what I tried and this is what has been working for us yadda yadda" tone to it.
Well, Ambien is helping my sleep. I can tell I have a lot of sleep to catch up on. It is amazing how useless you can get when sleep deprived. I'm still having what I call "the donut" sleep patterns. It is when I fall asleep immediately, wake up 45 minutes later, and then stay up for various lengths of time until I fall asleep again--if at all. For example, I could sleep from 10-11, be up from 11-6 (with several attempts to go back to sleep in-between there) and then sleep from 6-8. Now, it seems like I am sleeping from 10-2, up from 2-4 or 5, and sleep till 8 or so. So that is much better. Last night, I think I did about 7 hours with only about 1 hour in the "donut hole." Part of it is my nutty hyper-arousal, but part of it is the longing to get things done. I lay there and I think, the kids are sleeping, I could get up and get so much done. And I do. God knows what the house would look like if I didn't take at least one night a week to do a housework all-nighter. But I'm trying to see sleep as a priority on my to do list, instead of being optional. I am accomplishing something if I can get a decent amount of sleep. It makes the rest of the time way more productive.
I've been thinking about really defining for myself my approach to discipline with the kids. I have so much experience as a teacher, both with making behavior plans for kids and with teaching positive behavioral supports to other teachers, that I do so much on instinct. Then, when D can't replicate exactly what I want him to do, I get frustrated. And admittedly, when I've been overtired I've been taking shortcuts. Another mom with a three year old that I see frequently does the unconditional parenting/Alfie Kohn approach...and we have been commiserating a bit about discipline. Her son is a good kid, but extremely high energy and he sometimes has a hitting problem. And then I have Aaron with his destructive habits. I don't go as far into unconditional parenting as she does, but she is good for me to be around because I think her approach challenges me to really think about what I do and why I do it.
My sister and I have been getting along well for the past couple of years. But every once in a while she pisses me off. It's not really a pissy thing as much as she's just stupidly annoying sometimes. She does not have kids, nor does she want them--which is fine. She is okay around other people's kids. But often she gets on the phone and just goes off on what I should do with my kids and how I should do it. Kids that she has met ONE time, for two days. She takes her cues from other friends of hers with kids or (cringe) supernanny. It is so outlandish sometimes it is funny. She is an accountant for a pharmaceutical company, and to be honest, I have very little idea of what she does. It would be like me pulling some piece of advice out of my butt about how she should handle finances based on some crappy financial infomercial I saw on TV or something. Sometimes the things she says don't even illicit a response from me because they are just too irrelevant that it isn't even worth it.
But it isn't just that she is unfamiliar with kid discipline techniques. It is the issue with control. At 39 years old, she still hasn't a really realistic hold on what you can control and what you can't. Not that a lot of people don't have this problem. I think one thing you learn in the disability community is a really realistic appreciation for what you can control and a really practiced skill about what you have to let go. If she would have the opportunity to take the kids for 24 hours a day for a couple of weeks, one of two things would happen (or both): 1) she would have a nervous breakdown by the sheer enormous amount of things you cannot control with young children, or 2) the kids would be irreparably harmed by the amount of authoritarian control she would impose on them. Seriously, the uncontrollable amount of mess itself would kill her. The hours would kill her. The amount of time that is no longer your own would kill her. This is apples and oranges, obviously, but when my mother was ill and needed both physical and cognitive support, she never really got a grasp of the control issue. I'm not going to talk about it here, but it was quite frankly shocking, and very frightening to see how she struggled to handle that. This is why, although I think it is fine for her to have a relationship with the kids and visit them and otherwise be in their lives, we have made other arrangements for guardianship should we die in a fiery plane crash or whatever.
My approach to discipline is that less is more. But that there are definitely limits to what I will put up with and there are definite expectations that I have for their behavior. At three, these are limited, but they will continue to grow. Also, although I don't completely abandon behaviorism at this age, the goal well and truly is to be parenting at the Alfie Kohn level (no rewards/punishment, just love and logic as they say), by the time they are teenagers if not sooner. It is certainly not my desire to be manning computer time and TV privileges when they are 17 years old. By then, hopefully I am just a guide for them as they make their own (hopefully wise) decisions. To get to that point, you can't be doing heavy duty control and behaviorism their whole lives, you've got to let go and let them screw up and let them succeed on their own. They have to have the space to become their own person. Parenting is all about the long, tedius, slow, aggravating surrender of control.
Now, I say all this as if I have a clue as to how to raise teenagers. And although I've had a lot of training on teenager discipline, that doesn't mean I will have a clue as to how to raise MY teenagers in MY situation. So, all this is a day-to-day work in progress. But here is how it works out in my head:
In my head there is only one thing, or the main thing, that I need to teach my kids-- Respect. And that is broken down into three areas:
- Respect yourself
- Respect others
- Respect the planet and universe that sustains us.
These rules carry out throughout life, but obviously look different at different stages. At three, they look like this:
- Respect yourself, i.e. eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, take a nap, go play instead of watching TV.
- Respect others, i.e. tell someone you are angry instead of hitting them, share and take turns, say please and thank you.
- Respect the earth, i.e. just use the amount of water/paper/cheerios/whatever you need, take care of your belongings, clean up after yourself, DON'T DESTROY EVERYTHING!!!
As a teenager, these rules might look like this:
- Respect yourself, i.e. keep your body healthy by not putting toxins in it (cigarettes, drugs, alcohol), Stand up for your beliefs and don't give in to peer pressure, exercise, take responsibility for your sexual health...
- Respect others, i.e. be honest with others, follow through on commitments, do your share in contributing to the household, try to understand others and tolerate differences...
- Respect the earth, i.e. recycle, take care of your belongings, utilize money wisely, don't consume what you don't need, tread lightly on the earth...
Or whatever. The Respect rule is mine, and then we decide together what the specifics are underneath each category. We even do that now to some extent. The ways we show respect is largely a social construct, it means something entirely different to D's family than it does to mine. And culturally, some of the differences are more diverse. So, the actions themselves are subject to the context at hand. Your actions are only as respectful as the 'recipient' receives them to be. It is a lifelong lesson to learn what respect is in different contexts. So, these 'sub rules' are constantly subject to discussion and change. The good thing about toddlers is that now they are easy. "Don't Hit" is pretty universal. Trying to understand others is quite complex. So you just have to constantly adapt to where your kid is developmentally.
Also, as a parent, what you can do discipline-wise is very much based on context. My friend, the Alfie Kohn devotee, has just one child (for now, she is expecting another) and she is privileged with a lot of time, freedom and support. She also has a personal style that lends itself to a more flexible approach. She is in a great environment to have the opportunity to do some very "let the child lead" kind of things.
Contrast that with one of my guilty pleasures, the reality TV show "Jon and Kate plus 8." This family has a SAHM with a set of 6 year old twins and a set of 3 year old sextuplets. I love watching that show because that mom is waaaaay more bonkers than I am, so it makes me feel better about myself, I'll be honest. But! I say that knowing full well that if I were in her situation, I would be just as bonkers. (Although when she said that she gets down on hands and knees to clean the floor three times a day, I was pretty sure she was certifiable. She has some of my sister in her. But she has some of me in her, too. She's tough. She will get through this. My sister would have blown her brains out before the kids were a year old.) Anyway, what she can tolerate with eight small children has its limits. Her kids don't enjoy the same freedoms as mine do. She has to be more strict with them just to get through the day. How else would you feed 8 kids three times a day and clean up and have them all play together and keep your sanity? You'd have to keep a tight ship. Just as my kids have more flexibility that hers do, my friend's son has more flexibility than mine do. In order for me to get through the day, I have to maintain a higher level of order than her. There is just one of me with two toddlers and a quadriplegic to deal with. Everyone has to play their part in cooperating. But God I love that show. And that women just kills me. She is hilarious and she really is a very intentional parent. Even though I sometimes cringe at how much her kids get put in time-out. I do admire the way she gets all those kids out of the house to do all the things she does. With two kids, getting them out of the house is no easy task. With six or eight? That's some nail-scratching guts. Oh, and her husband is kinda cute, too.
The other variable, of course, is the kids themselves. All kids are different and need different approaches to discipline. What is nice about having multiples is that you get a better idea of how much you actually influence their behavior vs. how much their own personality does. Aaron and Naim need very different approaches to discipline. Naim really wants to please, and he is very sensitive to being 'yelled at.' But as a three year old, he quite often does not know what is expected of him. And needs to be told again and again and again. He does very well with a lot of structure and he likes to know exactly what is expected of him. He will eventually get it, but you have to tell him, very nicely, very patiently, 500 times what he needs to do before he will get it sometimes. There is no reason to put him in time out. He is rarely what I would call defiant, but he does require a lot of patience and a lot of encouragement. I don't know if he has ever even been in time out.
Aaron needs a bit of a stern hand sometimes, but at the same token, he needs a lot of freedom. He needs to decide for himself what to do. He needs to find his own way. He wants to try out all the options and pick which one is best. He doesn't like to be ordered around and told what to do. So, I try to let him go his own way as much as possible. But when it is not possible, sometimes I just have to use my Mean Mom Voice with him. And then, he requires absolute follow-through on 'threats' or he will manipulate to get you to cave. When he finally does do what you ask, it is usually done along side a crying fit of protest. One thing I have learned with Aaron is that, while I'm insisting that he does the thing he doesn't want to do, if I have some empathy for his plight--the tantrums go away quickly. It is instinct (or exhaustion) to want to get mad at the kid when he is tantrumming. But with Aaron, while I'm making him do whatever, if I say, "I understand you are mad that you have to go to bed. I know it is hard to go to bed when you want to stay up and play. I'm sorry that you need to go to bed now, but you need your rest so you are ready to play tomorrow." Blah, blah, blah. Its hard to be told what to do. I don't like it either. So a little empathy goes a long way with him. He also, NEEDS time out sometimes. And will often put himself in it. Sometimes his behavior just needs to be nipped in the bud and there is no other way to do it but pull him out of the situation. But I do time out with him a bit differently than Supernanny. Sometimes it is the toy that gets time out, not him. If I do physically pull him out of a situation, I usually stay with him, instead of isolating him off on his own. (Unless I am so pissed off that I need a time out myself, which has been known to happen.) I also rarely use a time limit for him. He usually gets to decide when he is ready to play nicely (or whatever) on his own. I would say he gets a time out about once a month or so. It is not that often.
Aaron's moods depend largely on the environment. So if the schedule is set up right, many of his problems disappear. Right now, the new goal for getting him to quit destroying things is to wear him out. I'm trying to set things up so that we go somewhere and do something physically active every single morning, even if it is just a walk. Then lunch. Then "school" in the afternoon. Which usually has a craft/artsy thing to it and then I'm going to add a music or some kind of get moving aspect to it every day. Then nap. At least for an hour. Even if he doesn't sleep. Then up and dinner and play time and baths and bed. The idea is to structure his day so that he has plenty of opportunities to expend his pent up energy doing things other than destroying things. Then he will be so tired at nap/bedtime that he will actually sleep rather than destroy things. It works when I can work it. Meaning, it is much harder for me to keep that schedule than him. But I'm hoping that when my sleep gets turned around and without the constant messes to clean up, it will get easier.
I have to have a good reason to discipline them. Or at least I try to be intentional and not arbitrary about it. (Although we all have our moments when we just want them to Shut the F*ck UP!) So, I kind of have a running list of questions I ask myself to see if it is worth me harping on them about:
- Is it dangerous to them or others?
- Is it detrimental to their health? (i.e. eating a huge bag of candy might not be immediately dangerous, but may make them sick later on...or just fat.)
- Is it going to cause permanent damage to property?
- Is it something that should never be done, no matter what age? (i.e. Naim often likes to loads the dishwasher all wrong. I let him do this because eventually he will figure out how and it is appropriate for people to load the dishwasher at any age. However, sometimes he likes to crawl in the dishwasher. This I don't let him do because it is not appropriate at any age to do this. Same with hitting. Sometimes they are rude to adults because they don't know the polite ways to say things. But telling people what you want is appropriate and they will get more tactful. However, hitting is never appropriate so that is not allowed.)
- Is it something that has very negative consequences that they aren't able to see yet for themselves? (i.e. taking a nap will make the rest of the day go so much better. But they don't see this link yet, so I have to 'artificially' impose the consequence on them.)
- Is it something that is causing negative consequences for the whole family unit (or friends or whoever we are with at the time)? (Aaron's destroying things is a good example of this. A whole canister of oatmeal around the room is really not a long term big deal. But the fact that cleaning up all the time makes me insane and exhausted and takes time away from me doing (fun) stuff with them and their father means that it is detrimental for the family unit.)
I think that is my basic criteria to be The Enforcer. I think a lot of times parents struggle with inconsistency because they wait until something is actually happening to decide whether to intervene, or they are on top of it one time and exhausted and let it go the next time. (I do both of these, btw.) But I think having an established system up front helps to know whether to jump in and intervene or just let it go and let them have some freedom to be kids and make their own mistakes. And it changes over time. I used to have to harp and intervene all the time about sharing and fighting over toys. Now they often handle it themselves if I just stay out of it. They know how to share and take turns and make trades and deals, so after the skill is learned, it is up to them to apply it. Now, I only intervene if they ask me too or if it occasionally gets so out of hand that I can't stand it anymore. (loud screaming.)
So those are my thoughts, all written out now, about my approach to discipline. I'm sure it will change by next week. But in general, I feel confidant in my abilities and my approaches seem to be working for the most part. My kids are generally well-behaved and pleasant to be around. Exceptions usually occur when I've screwed up. Which usually happens because of exhaustion. Which means that I better go to bed now.