Saturday, June 2, 2012

confessions of a far-from-perfect mother

I fail as a parent every single day. It's hard to admit, but it's true. Oh sure, you might think, we all fail every day. But you don't understand - I really fail.

I don't think many people know just how bad things can get inside our four walls. I know I've written before - many times - about struggles we've had with our two very strong-willed daughters. I used to write it off as The Terrible Two's...and then the Thundering Three's...and even the Frightening Four's.

But what do you call it when it's still happening at the age of 6? And by "it" I mean temper tantrums, complete disrespect, foot stomping, all-out yelling and even hitting. All towards me.

I don't know about you, but I consider that to be a huge failure on my part.

A few years ago I picked up - and read - the book "Have a New Kid by Friday" by Kevin Lemon. I posted about finding it, but I never posted about any results from that reading venture. And here's why: Because I never put any of it into practice.

Well, I dug the book out a couple of weeks ago and have been re-reading it, trying to remember why I never did anything with the suggestions and advice that were within the pages. And here's what I re-discovered:

I hate parenting books.

Don't get me wrong - there are a lot of good pieces of advice in parenting books (including this specific one) but here's the problem(s). First of all, not all kids are alike and what works for one - or one thousand - might not work for others. Secondly, there isn't advice for every single situation that your child might put you in.

For example, in the first chapter of this book it explains how if you want to get something across to your children you should say it once, turn around and walk away. Here's an excerpt of an example that was provided in the book:

The premise is that of a 4 year old boy being picked up from pre-school from his mother. He was in a bad mood and spent the drive home arguing with her, ending with the famous phrase of "I hate you!" Here is what the book goes on to say:

"Once she and Matthew got in the house, she didn't say a word. She went about her business, putting away the shopping bags from the car. After a few minutes, Matthew wandered into the kitchen. Usually chocolate chip cookies and milk awaited him there. It was his routine after-preschool snack.

'Mommy, where are my cookies and milk?' he asked, looking at the usual place on the kitchen counter.

'We're not having cookies and milk today,' she said matter-of-factly. Then she turned her back on the child she pushed 11 1/2 hours for and walked into another room.

Did Matthew say to himself, Well, I guess I'll have to do without that today? No, because children are creatures of habit. So what did Matthew do? He followed his mother to the next room.

'Mommy, I don't understand. We always have cookies and milk after preschool.'

Mom looked him in the eye and said, 'Mommy doesn't feel like getting you cookies and milk today.' She turned and walked into another room.

By now, Matthew was like an NFL quarterback on Sunday afternoon - scrambling to get to the goal. He followed his mom into the next room. 'But, Mommy, this has never happened before.' There was panic in his voice. He was starting to tremble. 'I don't understand.'

Mom now knew that Matthew was ready to hear what she had to say. It was the teachable moment: the moment when reality enters the picture and makes an impact on the child's mind and heart. It's the time when a parent has to give her child the straight skinny.

'We are not having milk and cookies today because Mommy doesn't like the way you talked to me in the car.' Again, Mom turned to walk away.

But before she took three steps, Matthew had a giant meltdown. He ran towards his mother and grabbed her leg (after all, he is part of the ankle-biter battalion). He was crying profusely. 'I'm sorry, Mommy! I'm sorry. I shouldn't have sait that.'

Time for another wonderful opportunity. The mom accepted Matthew's apology, gave him a hug, and reminded him that she loved him. She also told him how she felt when he talked to her like that. Three minutes later, things were patched up, and she let Matthew out of her embrace. She began again to go about her work.

What did she hear next from Matthew? 'Mommy, can I have my milk and cookies now?'

It was the moment she feared. She steeled her courage and said calmly, 'Honey, I told you no. We are not going to have milk and cookies today.'

Matthew was stunned. He opened his mouth to argue, then walked away sadly.

Let me ask you: will that little boy think next time before he disses his mother?"

So my problem is this: What happens if - in REAL life - it doesn't go as written in the book? What if there are no milk and cookies in your routine? What if instead of grabbing the Mom's leg and apologizing profusely for speaking that way, he kicked his Mom in the shins instead? Or what if after the make-up session and the child asks again and the Mom gives the final explanation that the answer is still no...what if the child doesn't open his mouth to argue and then sadly walk away? What if the child goes back to clinging to the Mother's leg instead? Or what if he just starts jumping up and down in extreme anger? There are countless different ways that scenario can play out...what are the solutions for all of them?

Or what if the behavioral issue comes right before bed - after all routine snacks, etc. have been had and there is nothing left to take away? At a different part of the book, it mentions starting fresh the next day. Keeping the punishments to the day where the misbehavior occurs. So what then?

I know that these books are only supposed to be guides, and it's impossible for them to contain every single scenario for every single child. But I guess I just get frustrated when MY specific scenarios never seem to be written out in detail.

I also sometimes find some discrepancies that confuse me. For example, the sentence "If you want your child to take you seriously, say your words once. Only once." But in the scenario I quoted above about the cookies, the Mother says her words every time he asks about in, in each room he follows her into. So do you say it only once? Or do you say it everytime the child asks about it?

Anyway, I could go on and on about this but bottom line - I hate parenting books. Yet at the same time I like them; I'm intrigued by them. And I desperately want them to be effective in my home.

So in the last couple of days I tried some of the techniques that were given in this book - with a few errors on my part. The first thing I did a couple of nights ago was make Malia miss something she was looking forward to because of the way she spoke to me. The error? Her misbehaviour happened right at bedtime as she was being tucked in for the night. So again, my problem was what do I do to punish her? Without really thinking about it, I made the punishment go into the next day as I told her she was not going to be going with Joelle to their friends' piano recital in the evening.

So sure enough, the next day (which was yesterday) she had to stay home with me while Joelle went to the recital. And it was hard to know how to spend that one-on-one time with Malia. She had all sorts of ideas of what we could be doing together in Joelle's absence - going to the playground, getting a slurpee, renting a movie...all of which I said no to. This was supposed to be a time of punishment, and just because she was missing the recital didn't mean that we could be replacing it with all sorts of other special activities. But I didn't want to just ignore her either. So we spent some time outside on the deck playing a game and then she came inside to work on a birthday card. I had my doubts about whether I should even be playing a game with her, but she didn't understand why all of her requests were being rejected - afterall, the punishment I doled out had been to miss the piano recital. I didn't say we couldn't do anything fun together in its place. Next time I'll have to be more clear that while she's missing the piano recital (or whatever event) she needs to be up in her room doing home-reading or something. But it was my error that not only was the punishment for the next day but that I wasn't clear enough on what was going to happen during that time.

I had another chance to try some of the techniques later on in the evening however (unfortunately). And again, I wasn't 100% successful. That's another one of the reasons for my dislike for these sorts of books - they make it all sound so simple and basically come across that if you can't do it you must be a moron.

A.n.y.w.a.y...Malia ended up having an extreme melt-down later on in the evening which included - among other things - yelling and hitting. I brought her up to her room and I went to mine in order to give us both a chance to cool down (things had gotten a bit out of control) before going to talk to her. When I went to talk to her, I explained to her that I did not appreciate being treated that way and she needed to get into her PJ's and go straight to bed. And then I got up and walked out of the room and headed downstairs.

Well sure enough, she followed me, crying and asking why she needed to go to bed when nobody else was going to bed yet - not even babies (it was shortly after 8:00pm on a Friday). I told her again that it was because I didn't appreciate the way she had treated me and went into the kitchen to wash some dishes. She followed after me again and started jumping up and down in extreme anger saying she was going to go play outside with Joelle anyway. She got on her shoes and opened the back door. I gave her one look and she hesitantly closed the door. Then she got another burst of courage and said again she was going to play outside. This time I didn't even have to look at her - she once again closed the door, this time taking off her shoes.

I thought I was actually having success and I could almost not keep the smile off of my face. But it wasn't over. She got extremely mad at me and I once again told her she needed to go upstairs and get ready for bed. I started to fold some laundry at the dining room table, but rather than go and do what she was told, she sat down on a chair beside me and was a quiet as a mouse. Then she started to be silently helpful. She picked up an item of clothing that had fallen on the floor and put it back where it was supposed to be. Then she picked up the bounce sheet and put it nicely in the garbage can. I could tell her remorse was starting to come to the surface.

Now, this child is stubborn remember. So after we had the apology moment - where she genuinely seemed sorry for how she treated me - and we had our hug-and-make-up session, did she listen? Of course not. She asked if she could stay up (just like Matthew then asked for his milk and cookies after his apology) and my response was no. But did she open her mouth to say something and then sadly walk away? Nope. Of course not.

She went back to sitting on her chair. So I finally had to take matters into my own hands. I managed to stay calm, but I had to take her by the hand and lead her to the coffee table where she needed to clean up her card-making mess and then I had to walk her upstairs. I brought her to her room and told her to tell me when she was in her PJ's and ready to be tucked in. And then I walked out of her room and headed back downstairs.

She did come back downstairs again - but not until she had changed into her PJ's. Progress? Perhaps. She came to sit beside me on the couch and I said "Malia, it's time for bed" and then I got up and once again walked away. Once again, she wasn't budging. So I had to take her by the hand yet again and walk her upstairs. I tucked her in, prayed with her and wished her a good night. And then - finally - it was all over.

I have to say, that hour was completely exhausting. I'm proud of some of the things I did during that hour, but less than proud of some other things. One thing I didn't mention earlier is that in the throes of the huge meltdown - that ended up turning into a meltdown for BOTH of us - I dished out a punishment out of anger which then I later retracted. I was torn about retracting it because I know she deserved it - and I didn't want her to win - yet I hadn't been calm and rational when stating it. Perhaps that shouldn't have mattered. More than likely I should've held true to that punishment. There were 3 things about the way it was done that make me feel guilty. First of all, that I doled it out as a reaction to my anger. Secondly, that it again extended into the next day and then thirdly that I backed out of it in the end.

I want to say I backed out of it because of the first two things. But if I really am being honest, I backed out of it because I felt sorry for her and didn't want her to have to go through with it (the punishment was missing one of the two parties she had scheduled for today). I also struggle with giving out punishments that affect other innocent people. But the book is very clear about not backing down. Ever. And I know this. Yet for some reason I felt like I needed to come up with an excuse to still let her go to the party. So I explained to her that I made a mistake by punishing her out of anger and that I should've waited until I was calm to decide on a punishment - that's when I changed the punishment to having to go straight to bed.

Like I said - I made several mistakes tonight while trying to put some of these new tactics into practice. I don't necessarily agree with 100% of the book, but I do like some of the suggestions and I think they could be effective...if I am able to do my part and stay calm and rational while applying them. many different scenarios, so many different opinions. How am I ever going to figure this parenting thing out? Will I ever figure it out? I so desperately want my home to be different. I want more respect from my children and I want a more peaceful environment. I want to feel more confident in my role as a mother.

But as of right now...nothing could be further from reality.


pam said...

I feel for you. ((HUGS))

I often have a lot of the same feelings when dealing with Annika - am I doing this right, is it effective, am I being fair, WHY ISN'T THIS WORKING LIKE IT SAYS IN THE BOOK?!?!? (I also dislike parenting books). :P

I don't really have any advice to offer you, but I think you may find that it gets better now that Les will be around more. Even if it doesn't make a huge difference in the girls' behaviour, it will help you to have another adult around. There are some days when I'm just so thankful to have Carey do the disciplining, or to have him there to reassure me that I'm doing the right thing, or even to just give me a hug after a long and trying day.

Regardless of how hard it is, I think you're doing the right thing with not letting this behaviour just slide. Sometimes I think back at how I spoke to my mother as a teenager and feel bad and wonder how she put up with it. I think it's worth it to teach our children to respect their parents.

PS. you can let Malia know that Annika and Emmett went to bed at 8:00 last night, so yes, there are people (who aren't even babies!) who go to bed at that time! :)

Kathy and Carl said...

I feel for you Andrea! Parenting is definitely not for the faint of heart. I agree with Pam that things will have the potential to get better with Les partnering with you, instead of you doing it single handedly all the time.

Not every book or philosophy will fit with every family and I have found that reading some, I gain a few things things, but have to leave others. Our kids were definitely not cookie-cutter cases!

Two things that I have learned are:

1) consistency is the key. Our kids needed to know a line and boundary and then freedom within that area without it changing from week to week. So no matter what you decide to do, however you chose to parent, just stick with it. No one needs to come in and tell you what way is "right".

2) the beginning of re-training of the family (because it's not just the kids that are changing behaviours *sigh*) is ALWAYS so draining and discouraging. I was watching a show on Thursday about a 4 year old HANDFUL kid learning to sit in a quiet corner. 106 times he came out and disobeyed his dad. 106 times. The dad was exhausted, completely covered in sweat....but he didn't let up.

Take heart Andrea. The fact that you are being vulnerable and sharing your struggles means that we can pray for you and your family and give you encouragement. It's a tough job, but with God's help, YOU CAN DO IT!

Rose said...

I can SO relate to your post, Andrea. I have to say that I have read quite a few Leman books and they tend to make things so simplistic, not taking into the account the individuality of each child. His approach in general does not work in our family. My kids just end up feeling punished and like I don't like them instead of nurtured and cared for. Our parenting approach has been more along the lines of Dr. Gordon Neufeld's book, Hold Onto Your Kids, Why Parents Need to Matter more than Peer. Excellent book. Not saying I have this parenting thing all figured out but his approach resonates with me. And, I know all about the tantrums b/c I have 2 highly sensitive children.

Gin said...

Wow! My prayers are with you! I don't have any advice to give you. I'm encouraged that you're sharing your challenges so that those that care about you can be an encouragement.

My hats off to you. If there is something I can do to help please let me know!