Just in case you think it’s all caterpillars and rainbows around here… 😉
A few weeks ago, Jeff and I made a spur of the moment Sunday evening decision to take the kids to our city’s annual fair with some friends. It was 90-something degrees out, and we spent way too much money on tickets and games so Sam could win a junky stuffed animal that now belongs to Addy; but we had a good time, and it was worth it to see Sam so happy. He loved everything about it – his face beaming with excitement nearly the entire three hours we were there… The only negative of the whole night was that he didn’t get to ride the bumper cars – his favorite – because the line was so long; but there were plenty of other fun things to take his mind off of that. No big deal… Or so I thought…
When we left, we had plans to go get ice cream near our house, before calling it a night. It would be the perfect way to cap off the evening. But, as we were walking out (and I was feeling like a pretty awesome mom, I might add), I told Sam how much fun I’d had with him and asked his favorite part of the night. His response? “Nothing! I didn’t get to ride the bumper cars, so nothing was my favorite!”
To be honest, I’m not the disciplinarian in our family. Jeff calls me a “softie,” and I admit that Sam gets away with more than he should when he is with me. In general, he’s a really good kid, and I’ve been fortunate not to have to be too strict. But that night, when he acted that way leaving the fair, it was like something snapped inside me. WHAT?!?! Out of all the fun things we had just done (not to mention the money we’d spent), he was going to focus on the ONE thing we didn’t do and let that ruin the whole experience? OH NO. Not my child! I’m not raising a child to be ungrateful and spoiled. I couldn’t even handle it.
Thankfully, I remained calm and told Sam that it disappointed me and made me sad that he made the choice to focus on that over being thankful for a fun night. Then, when we got in the car, Jeff and I decided together that his consequence for that attitude would be not getting ice cream. Fair enough.
But, here’s the thing: I wanted ice cream. If we drove straight home right then, Sam would barely recognize the consequences of his behavior (truth be told, he was tired and would have probably fallen asleep); but I would have been punished by not getting the sweet treat I already had my mind set on… Jeff and I discussed it quietly from the front seat; and, ultimately, decided this would be a good opportunity to teach Sam a lesson. So, we went through the drive-thru, ordered two swirl cones, and ate them while Sam looked on and wailed.
OF COURSE we felt bad eating the ice cream in front of him; but, ultimately, it did serve its purpose of teaching Sam to be grateful and not just expect fun and treats. When we got home, he apologized and gave us hugs, and he went to bed that night feeling loved and secure. In the morning, it was over.
Since then, Jeff and I have recounted this story to several friends, and I’ve been surprised by what a reaction they have had. Mostly, they’ve been shocked. “I can’t BELIEVE you did that!!” or “You guys are TOUGH.” At a party last weekend, the husbands of two of my friends came up to me to tell me how “impressed” they’d been when their wives shared the story with them. Others have said, “I could NEVER do that.”
It’s been weird, to be honest. So Sam didn’t get an ice cream cone and had to watch us eat ours. Is that really that big of a deal?
Actually, I guess it kind-of is.
Most parents I know – myself included most of the time – discipline their children. We have rules and standards for behavior, and we issue consequence when those standards are not met. BUT, usually, we draw the line at being mean. We want our kids to know when they have done something wrong – to be sorry and learn from it – but we don’t want to hurt their feelings.
SO, we walk a line. Either we stick to the same punishments we’ve always done – go to your room, sit in time-out, no iPad for the day – OR we try something else and risk losing out ourselves. How many times have I made an empty threat like, “If you don’t stay in your room for quiet time/ listen when I tell you it’s time to leave/ quit fighting with your sister, we won’t go to that party/do that fun thing.” THEN, as I’ve seen again and again, the problem comes with follow-through… If my five year old doesn’t get to go to the party, then neither do I; and, well, I want to go to the party. Who is really losing here?!? Sure, sometimes the threat is enough and it works; but, if it doesn’t, either we go to the party any way and my kid learns that I don’t actually mean what I said; OR, none of us go the party and my preschooler has just affected the entire family’s plans. Regardless, I – the parent – look weak.
The ice cream scenario gave Jeff and I an opportunity to show Sam that his ungrateful attitude had a consequence – not for the whole family, but for HIM specifically. And, while the ice cream was delicious ;), we didn’t like upsetting him. We didn’t do it to be mean or to impress anyone with how “tough” we are. We did it because, ultimately, I want Sam to be a good person MORE than I want him to like me. Period.
Parenting is SO SO hard. Sure, the baby stage is exhausting, but this creating human beings that are kind and grateful and generous and honest – it makes the baby stage look like a walk in the park. Ninety percent of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing; but, I see Sam growing into this kind of man, and I know I’m doing something right… Will I use this kind of “consequence” every time? No. Do I think there is a time to be selfless and suffer the consequence with my child? Yep. But, am I sorry for how I handled things the night of the fair? Not at all.
I realize, I’m totally opening a can of worms here, but I’d really love your input on the topic of discipline, consequences, etc. What do you think of “the ice cream scenario”? Have you ever had to show your child tough love like this? What do you think about hurting your child’s feelings? Let’s keep it kind and have a chat… We NEED each other!