Since returning to Texas, I have been making a much more concerted effort to take the boys to church.
It’s something that is important to me and I enjoy it. And, since it is so much easier to make it up and out the door when you have someone to go with you, my sister often joins me for the 8:00 a.m. mass. It can still be a bit stressful though, because it’s Erin, her newborn, and my boys (ages three and one). And it is made somewhat awkward because my sister and I are only four years apart, and people often assume we are married. We are Catholic and when we go to church they look at us like rock stars.
“What a perfect Catholic family. They are so brave, what with the three kids all a year apart,” is what I hear their eyes telling me.
Last week, we left Caleb and Jackson at home, and, wow, I cannot tell you how much easier the morning unfolded. It’s not that Jackson is bad in church, just more needy. Caleb doesn’t spend the mass screaming, but he is, after all, just over eight months old. Glenn, now Glenn, is perfect (almost) every time. He pays attention, folds his hands, and even on occasion will shush Erin and myself.
It makes me very proud, and, more than that, it makes me feel like we have struck a good discipline balance. For the most part, we don’t spank the kids. I honestly try to treat them like I manage hotel employees by setting clear expectations — and following through on consequences — when they fail to meet those expectations. We allow the boys to make their own choices and give them the confidence to be able to do so. Then, we heap on a heavy dose of praise when they make good choices.
Obviously, a lot more goes into raising well-behaved children. It’s not enough to print up a 22-item expectations list like I do at the hotel. Instead, I just repeat myself one hundred times a day. I try to provide warnings and let them know what will happen if they continue to make poor choices. For safety things though, it is an immediate removal from the area of danger and a timeout if they do it again.
Timeouts last for a minute for every birthday. When done, Glenn will explain why he got a timeout, and I’ll explain my point of view. Then, he has to apologize and then we hug. If he gets three timeouts, the next one results in a spanking and a timeout. There have been very few days when he has made it to four.
Some of that is on me.
Being the disciplinarian takes effort, and sometimes you let them push you back. This isn’t that different from the hotel. If you walk in hung over, then your employees know they can get away with more. This week I am trying to work on some of the back talk, and it can be very stressful. I am trying to get Glenn to school on time, and Glenn just yelled, 'no!!!’ at me and fell to the ground. Great, now we have to do a timeout, then try to get his shoes on, then try to get to school on time, which is what he wanted to do in the first place.
I have noticed that as the stay-at-home parent, my threshold for bad behavior is larger than Tammi’s. When they start to F around, Tammi is having none of it and will give a timeout much faster than I will. On the other hand, she lets them climb and jump on furniture, and she is much less strict at the dinner table. I will let the boys fight a little more and I don’t really mind when Glenn bosses Jackson around. I think we strike a nice balance, and we both try very hard to be consistent, if not between each other, than at least with ourselves.
When not arguing over whether to wear shoes in public or not, I try to let Glenn make as many choices as he wants. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have every aspect of your life managed by someone else. (Kind of like living with Ta.... never mind) So, if he needs a long sleeve shirt, I take two long sleeved shirts out and let him choose which one he likes. When I cook lunch, I ask him if he wants peas or carrots and apples or bananas.
The praise is the easy part. Kids, by nature, adore their parents. They live and die by their attention, both positive and negative. If Glenn is kicking or playing too rough, I don’t yell at him. I ask him to stop, and, when he doesn't, I walk away. I don’t want to hang out with someone who knocks my glasses off my face. When he does something nice, I’ll really lay it on thick.
“Oh my, thank you Glenn, I bet your brother really appreciated you giving him that toy he wanted.” On, and on, and on. Even when not disciplining them, we try to speak to them positively and with respect. Since my wife is a hippy she believes that how you speak to your children, is how they will hear their inner voice.
And what parenting arsenal would not be complete without bribery? As a parent I have taken the lessons learned from potty training and implemented them to every other aspect. You want a cookie? Well guess what, kid, cookies aren't free.
In the end, parents have to decide what works best for them. There are times the kids make me so angry, I want to smack them. Jackson, in particular, has a very good knack for getting under my skin. All parents feel this way. It is hard work, and sometimes you just want to give up, like I've done with Jackson and mass. I’ll try again in 6 months, after he has gotten a few more timeouts and hugs under his belt.