Friday, August 5, 2011

My confidence is shattered

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?


The Seasonal Family said...

I completely understand how you feel! When we go to visit my family and attend their church, a family with 9 kids always makes me feel inferior - and not intentionally. But from newborn to age 12 they all sit in the service and sit quietly and nicely. No fidgeting! They all put themselves to bed on time and help with chores. My 2 year old will listen to me 20% of the time but loves to test the limits. There are days when she is in time out about 6 or 7 times! Parenting is not hard, so do not be discouraged you are being a wonderful mom :) We mothers with more defiant and curious children need to support each other

Fidelio said...

Meh. My kid eats small animals and occasionally will rewire the house. I'm virtually certain I'm creating a monster. Oh well.

The only thing I've become convinced of in the last year is that sometimes you just have to physically discipline. Not a hit/swat, necessarily, because that just seems like a joke to them. Try grabbing his hands and not. letting. him. move. at. all. It's not something toddlers like, being prevented from doing something. Say no, or stop, or some other clear command of prohibition while you're holding him. He'll be screaming and writhing, but eventually he'll get that you, the big person, are the one setting the limits.

It doesn't always work. Sometimes you lock yourself in a room and yell at him through the door until you calm down.

Katie said...

You ARE doing a good job! I understand how it can be frustrating, though. We have the same issues with Isaac.

I know you know this, but every family's different, and that includes what works for the parents regarding discipline. It irks me when people have hard and fast rules they think every parent should follow (like "Every child should be spanked!" or "No spanking! All spanking is child abuse!" Really, isn't the truth in the middle somewhere?). Also, the Raising Olives blogger has a lot of kids, and I'm sure her discipline methods have developed over the years, just like yours are developing now as you figure out what Mark will respond to and what works for you and John.

A little while ago, I wrote to Leila Lawler (Like Mother, Like Daughter) about this issue, and she was very helpful and reassuring.

God bless! At least most toddler behaviors don't last very long . . . he'll get tired of the tomatoes soon and move on to something else!

Sheila said...

Fidelio -- I remember developing that technique with my little brother! He is a real firebrand. My rule with him in church was that the noisier he was, the less room he had to move around in ... if he actually talked, he got the hogtie/hug treatment, which he did not like at ALL. I wonder if that would work with Marko? Right now his only real consequence is when I take away what he's causing trouble with, or take him away from it. And that's bad enough for him -- he HATES to be prevented from causing trouble!

Thanks for all the encouragement, people. It's helpful to remember that Marko is not one of the eight Raising Olives kids ... he's himself, for better and worse, and he probably needs different things than they do.

Anonymous said...

I think a LOT comes down to temperament. All of mine are STRONG-willed. It can be a good trait to have, but it doesn't make parenting easy!

We did time-ins with our oldest. These were NOT chats, but time-outs in a nice, strong, restraining hug. Regular time-outs were HOPELESS until he was almost 5. People would say "you need to MAKE him stay in time-out" saying if he got up 100 times, I should sit him down 100 times. And I'd think, "100? That's NOTHING!"

I'd go on about my kids. But I think the best thing I have heard on this was from my friend Emily.

She used to watch parents with children who did not listen, who had melt-downs, who were all over the place (=MY kid), and she'd congratulate herself on what a GOOD parent she was...because her daughter was SO WELL BEHAVED.

And then...she had her second daughter.

Her youngest daughter was having NONE of that! We joke that her youngest daughter will marry my middle son and together they'll be astonished that most people DO NOT scream and smack their heads on the floor when they don't get what they want. : )

It sounds like you're doing fine. I honestly think the fact that we WORRY about how we're doing is a pretty good indicator that we're doing fine.

heather said...

You're doing great! What Katie and Momsomniac said. I'm not a mom and have never raised or had a hand in raising a kid, but you know what's best for you and you'll learn with Mark. This is also a willful stage, as you said.

It's no use comparing yourself to other people. For one thing, they're not you and their child is not your child. For another, there's a good chance that they are exaggerating their successes to seem more successful in their online persona. I've learned that as honest as people seem in real life, online, that often goes out the window. You're really honest and candid in both realms, but not everyone else is. So don't be too hard on yourself from comparisons. =)

Sheila said...

Heather, I'm not actually that honest. I don't lie, but no WAY do I mention the half of my failures, Marko's meltdowns, or the number of times something important gets pooped on. It just wouldn't be possible to keep track of it all -- plus, I do like to sound like I've got it together at least sometimes. Even though it's quite possible that I don't.

The Seasonal Family said...

Whoops, I came back to read what others had said and realized I wrote that parenting is not hard when indeed it is! I meant to write parenting IS hard. And don't you find that when they really need a good discipline they act too darn cute and you sometimes have to go into the other room to refrain yourself from smiling and or laughing and encouraging them.

Sheila said...

Haha, I assumed that was what you meant. ;)

Our kid cracks us up all the time. So hard to frown at him (the discipline tactic that often works best) when there are laughs trying to bubble up under it!

Sarah Faith said...

I definitely feel you. It's so easy to get the theory down pat and then you come across behavior or situations that don't quite fit. I often feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. :) Not sure if that's any consolation to you. But you think a lot and you love your son and you are building a good relationship.
Keep a cheerful attitude, try not to lose it with your kid, and if you do, apologize. I think that helps cover a lot.
Damage from "lack of discipline" can be undone easily if the relationship and love/obedience are there. Much easier than the relationship being built up when all that was focused on was behavior. That is my opinion. :)

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