I have a confession to make: in the past, I've fallen prey to pride. I actually thought I was a good mother. I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. I got a lot of compliments on how well I seemed to understand my baby, and I ate them right up. I knew how to cheer him up when he was down and how to make him smile when he met someone new (discreetly tickle him while I introduced him ... because some people will not leave till they've coaxed a smile out of a baby). I didn't really care if people questioned my parenting or gave me a ton of advice, because I knew I was doing the right thing. I'd researched every option and picked the best -- and it was working. When someone criticized, I would simply say "This is working for us" and be on my way.
I am not nearly so sure of myself now that Marko is a toddler. How do I know I'm doing things right? How do I know I'm not creating a monster? I know babies can't be spoiled ... but can toddlers?
I got all frustrated the other day, reading blogs. Someone happened to list the things they thought a child could be taught to do at each age: "A child as young as one (younger actually) is perfectly capable of obeying simple commands (come here, don’t touch, no noise, sit on your bottom)." She has eight kids, so it seems like she would know. But my child does not obey simple commands at all. He might sometimes come when I call him, or bring me a toy when I ask him, but he certainly does not listen to "don't touch" and I think "no noise" is waaaaaay out of his comprehension.
So I asked this experienced mother what she does. Her answer? "No secret. By just attempting to consistently apply the child training principles taught in Scripture and we’ve found that all of our children have precisely understood the meaning of the word ‘no’ by the time of their first birthday."
That is just not specific enough for me. I've read most of the Bible and never ever saw a passage where it says, "This is how you discipline a one-year-old." I know I ought to be "consistent," but consistent doing what?
Normally I just distract him, redirect him, remove the temptation (like take him inside if he's grabbing my tomatoes, or take him outside if he's messing with the cat box), or give him something else to play with. I do say "no" but he just laughs. I've tried swatting his hand or bottom, but he thinks that's just hilarious. So long as he's getting an interesting reaction, he'll keep doing whatever it is. But if I ignore him, I could lose a lot of tomatoes before he gets bored.
I'm just afraid that by avoiding battles with him, I'm going to create a monster who has no notion of limits. So the other day I did make a battle out of something. I wanted him to sit on the potty, so I told him he couldn't have any milk until he did. It was EPIC. He screamed and cried and begged for his milk cup and thrashed around. I took him, as gently as I could, set him on the potty, and gave him his milk. He flung the milk, screamed, carried on, and eventually I just put the milk in the fridge and let him go play again. But he was still angry at me for over an hour.
I just don't think that's the right way to go. He's a stubborn little guy, for one thing. I did feel he understood the deal I was making him, but he did not want to make a deal. I felt awful for making a battle out of something (the potty) that maybe he's just not ready for.
I don't intend to do that again. What I have been doing works better, for all its flaws. I know he's at a very willful stage (the "Knee-High Neanderthal") and he will probably be more cooperative in six months or so.
And yet ... when I hear people say their toddlers do what they are told, or give me the stink-eye for not having more control over my kid, I don't feel the confidence that I used to. I honestly don't know what I'm doing. I've read the books; I've researched on blogs; but I still don't know which of the many methods is best. Some people say you should never spank; others say you should start spanking at four months old. Some people are all for counting to three or putting kids in the corner. When I was a nanny and big sister, I knew all about disciplining toddlers. I just don't have that kind of certainty anymore.
For now, I guess I'm just going to keep on keepin' on, dragging him away from dangerous things, distracting him, and waiting for him to be rational enough to understand some basic consequences. It's funny, because what I'm doing doesn't at all fit what I had intended to do before he was born. But that method just plain doesn't make sense with my particular child at his particular age. The times I've tried, it's been an abysmal failure.
What can I do but watch my child and try to learn as he grows?