Have I told you about the time Finn drew a picture of a gun at school and got in heaps of trouble? Or the time he slugged the judge’s daughter?
How about the notes I get that say: “Drew and T— got into a pencil duel. Please sign and return this Responsibility slip?” Or, “Mrs. Glamore, are you aware that Porter is supposed to be learning multiplication facts? He made a 42 on his last test and a 50 on the one before that.”
Well, I thought you should know these things before you put too much stock in what I say. Somewhere along the way some of you have decided that I know a bit about parenting, and when I mentioned that Porter was making coffee and Finn was frying bacon and making eggs even more of you went bonkers and demanded to know my secrets to discipline and self-reliance.
It’s lot to pack into a post, so I decided to tackle parenting and discipline in one, and teaching kids to be self reliant into another.
If you have follow up questions, please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be doing something different. In the past I’ve tried to answer comments individually by emailing the commenter. For these posts I’ll answer the questions in the comments so everyone can have the benefit of my hard-won wisdom for what it’s worth.
I think there are three reasons I raise kids the way I do:
(Obviously, Bill and I parent together, but it’s exhausting to write “Bill and I think” every time, so I’m just going to write about me.)
1. I am basically selfish and want as much time as possible to read, write, cook, and drink gimlets and have adult conversation.
2. My mother never did things for us– she was all about teaching us how to do them, and I guess it rubbed off. Plus, I never enjoyed playing Candyland. I encouraged our babysitters to do that with my kids. Once the kids are old enough to play card games like Spit and Gin, then things get fun, in my opinion. You may be different and have the ability to play Hi Ho Cherry-O with those tiny little damn plastic cherries and not lose your mind, and if so, you are a far better parent than I am.
3. We’ve been forced to ask more of the boys at an earlier age because of my health problems. (Specifically, I spent a year undergoing interferon treatment for Hepatitis C, and had a major spine surgery in 2004 that required a full year of recovery. The debilitating treatment and my weak back have meant that I have simply been unable to do some things for the kids.)
Not everyone is like us. Some parents enjoy doing things for their children even when the kids are capable, and there’s nothing wrong with that. My experience has been that my children are happiest when they have clear boundaries, and their boundaries expand as they learn more and demonstrate their trustworthiness.
- Leslie wanted to know what parenting books I’d recommend. Lordy, there are billions out there. Bill and I have stuck with John Rosemond’s books and modified his suggestions as needed. His Parent Power! was recommended by a friend who’s a fabulous mom, and it’s been my go-to for years. I don’t do everything he says, but I really admire Rosemond’s common sense approach, and it has worked for our family. One of my favorite parts is where he tells you what to do with the kid who asks questions non-stop ALL DAY LONG. The fact that Porter is still alive is directly attributable to Rosemind’s sage advice.
- Rosemond gives seminars around the country and Bill and I attended one ages ago, and that was especially valuable. I think it’s essential that you and your spouse be on the same parenting page, so whatever style you adopt, you need to support and reinforce one another and know what the basic rules are.
- Recently we both read Family Building: The Five Fundamentals of Effective Parenting and it was an effective kick in the butt. We realized we’d been letting the boys slide on some things and that Bill wasn’t backing me up as effectively as he could. Rosemond also has books specific to the terrible twos (which may not hit until your kid is three), dealing with homework issues (but alas, he provides no strategy for the parent to escape playing multiplication fact Bingo, a torturous game invented by third-grade teachers), and making teens act like humans (jury still out on this book).
- Boundaries with Kids has been a good supplement. (I love all the books about building Boundaries with anyone making your life difficult.)
- I’ve also been asked whether there are books aimed directly at boys that I would recommend. I’ve tried a couple, but never finished any. I know boys are exuberant and wild at heart, and we shouldn’t stifle their emotions, and so forth. I’ve enjoyed Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Raising the Next Generation of Men, or at least the portions I’ve read, especially where the author notes that during adolescence a boy is “crazed with madness.” Amen.
- It would not be unfair to use the words “hardass” or “cold-turkey” in describing my parenting style. I used the cry it out method (Ferber’s book) for getting the boys to sleep through the night, and have had sound sleepers ever since. When the boys turned one, they got a birthday cake and I replaced the bottle with a sippy cup- cold turkey. Drew’s addiction to his pacifier made me fear heroin was in his future. When he was eighteen months old, the pacifier fairy took all his pacifiers away and brought him a battery operated toy train.
- We didn’t co-sleep, because Bill and I have tons of fun in the bed alone. Now that we’re positive the boys can sleep in their own beds, Drew reads in bed with me at night, and Porter cuddles with me in the morning.
- The “bite-the bullet” approach has worked for us. It doesn’t work for everyone. If you can’t stomach the momentary (or two day!) unpleasantness in order to achieve the greater good, my parenting style is probably not for you.
- I don’t threaten. I warn, then punish. Tantrums, whining, or being sassy would be good examples of this. Just because I’m Porter’s mom doesn’t mean I’m obligated to listen to him complain about perceived injustices while I’m fixing dinner. I give one warning, and only one, and then send the offender to his room.
- Same approach if I ask a child to do something. If it’s not done, I give one warning, and then impose the punishment. Really, you only have to do that a couple of times before your kids learn to listen to what you say, do it, and then get on with their activities.
- How it sounds:
“Finn, if you hit Drew again it will be one dollar.” “POW!”
“Finn, bring me a dollar immediately.”
- How it doesn’t sound:
“Porter, quit whining.”
“But I’m huuuungry and I’m gonna die if I don’t eat!”
“I’m going to send you to your room if you don’t stop whining!”
“I can’t help it. My empty stomach is making me do it.”
“I’m not going to tell you again…” etc etc.
- Chores are a different matter. The list of morning and evening chores is in the kitchen and each boys’ room. Failure to do a chore results in immediate consequences. Our most common punishments are loss of computer /tv time or a fine. (This year when we increased the boys’ chore load, we had to actually give them 30 minutes of tv or computer time per day so we’d have a privilege to take away when they screwed up.) The first week everyone missed their tv time; now it’s a rare occasion when it happens.
- The chores have made everything run more smoothly. We don’t rotate chores because I don’t want any fussing over whose turn it is. Drew ALWAYS feeds the dog. If the table isn’t set, it’s Porter’s ass.
- Even though they must do their chores, we thank them every now and again to let them know their efforts are appreciated, just like I thank Bill when he does something he’d do anyway, like changing a light bulb, or when he thanks me for making dinner.
- I try very hard not to bribe my kids. I’ve made it a point, for example, not to say, “If you behave while we’re in the store, I’ll get you some Skittles.” I’ve emphasized that I expect them to be good. Good behavior is the default. When they were younger, we had to leave the store plenty of times because someone was acting up, and that someone would be punished when we got home.
- On the flip side, I try to catch them doing good things and reward those with anything from kind words (“Finn, that was sweet of you to teach Drew the Green Day song on the drums”) to something tangible (“Everyone was so well-behaved in the waiting room that we’re getting ice cream!)
- I’m a huge fan of kitchen timers for keeping track of tv time, punishment time, or “your room must be clean in ten minutes, and I’m setting this timer and I’ll check it when it goes off.” The timer takes the burden off me and puts it on the kids to spring into action.
- When the kids were a lot younger we used timeout for simple infractions. One time when a child who shall remain nameless did something awful, we took everything out of his room except his bed, and let him earn back a toy every day that he stayed out of trouble at school and at home.
- We’ve also taken away a boy’s privilege of dressing himself for a week after another serious infraction. He wasn’t allowed to wear his much beloved necklace made of frayed embroidery thread. Problem solved.
- There’s a wise woman who’s raised three children I turn to for advice in when to punish and how much if I’m not sure. We don’t punish the boys by making them miss a game, for example, because that would punish the team for their mistake. We wouldn’t make them wear Mickey Mouse ears to school, because that would be humiliating.
- Bill thought this one up: he’s had the boys write “Maturity Pages” before. It’s a page long essay about what maturity means, and for serious problems he’ll assign 3 handwritten pages, for example.
Okay, that’s all I have now, and I’ve focused more on discipline for older kids. Honestly, we don’t have to do it a lot, as the boys have discovered that we mean what we say. I’ll answer questions in the comments. If this is completely adverse to your way of parenting, please don’t flame. Respectful disagreement is okay, but it’s unlikely I’ll be changing my method at this late date, although I’m always open to new ideas that fit in with our philosophy.
Remember– all kids are different, so your child might be VERY LUCKY that I am not his parent!
Here we are outside Evelyn’s Chocolates in NYC recently. Thanks to Kayren for sending us there. The almond crunch was to die for.
I’m posting this as part of Works For Me Wednesday over at Rocks in My Dryer. Thanks, Shannon!