We’ve all done it.
You think you know exactly what you’re going to do before you’re a parent. You sit on your high horse, looking out over a sea of parents you know, picking and choosing which aspects of parenting you will adopt and which you won’t, thinking, for some reason, that you know what will and won’t work, and feeling quite comfortable there, atop your steed of self righteousness.
We’ve all done it.
And then your perfect little child is born, and they grow up, learn to smile, learn to play, find their voice….and then you discover, to your horror, your little child is like many others….they are loud during church, they hit the sacrament trays, they don’t listen, they won’t sit still….so what do you do now?
The Discipline Competition
I remember being in a shop with my son. He was having a tantrum on the floor and was pulling things off the shelves. I was mortified. What was worse: I was being watched. Several other people in the shop stopped to stare at this little scene unfolding. Feeling my cheeks burn red with embarrassment, I whisked my son under one of my arms and flew out of the shop, put him onto the ground outside and quietly but furiously told him how unacceptable his behaviour was. Then I marched him home.
After some reflection, I realized that I’d acted in that way for the benefit of everyone looking. I did that for those who were tutting; those people whose children are clearly all angelic creatures that never make a sound. I did that for them.
I did it for me. Because I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want people to think badly of me.
One thing’s for sure. I didn’t do it for my son.
Don’t we all fall foul to the discipline competition at some point? Aren’t we all occasionally reacting to our children so that others will look at us and be impressed with our swift response/strict discipline/no nonsense attitude? We do it to appeal to someone else’s idea of correct discipline, and we do it to appease the critics.
But they don’t matter.
The only person who matters is your child.
Making Kids Kind
A hug won’t make things right, but it will make kids kind.
I’ve heard it said that to hug a child when they’re behaving badly sends the message that you condone their actions. As if love is conditional on perfect behaviour.
To me, abstaining from hugs for that reason is toxic and can have long lasting effects. Hugging is synonymous with love and affection. That is a simple message learnt from infancy and carried through the rest of their lives.
When your teenage child has done something wrong, what if they don’t come to you to confide in you, because they fear recrimination? If they’ve been a victim of something, they might not come to you because they might feel guilty and, to them, guilt means wrong doing. And wrong doing means recrimination.
Imagine if your child grew up knowing that hugs were theirs regardless of what they did and didn’t do. Isn’t that a demonstration of unconditional love?
I can hug my child and tell them that it’s wrong to shout when you don’t get what you want- because I’m consoling their disappointment.
I can hug my child whilst I’m telling him that lying is bad- because I am teaching him that my love is not conditional on good behaviour.
And I can even can hug my child whilst I tell them that it’s unkind to bite a sibling- because I’m demonstrating how I want them to behave.
We can’t realistically teach a child not to shout and scream when things don’t go their way, whilst we’re shouting and screaming because THEY’VE not gone our way.
Once I’d learnt that lesson, I tried a little harder, and the results I saw were staggering. My son listened to me, and tantrums did not last long. It often meant kneeling on the floor next to the tinned tomatoes and dried herbs at the supermarket, to calm a tantrum- to show my son that I understand that life is hard, by wrapping my arms around him.
The Office of Embrace
In business, the boss’ office is where the most important things happen- business decisions, promotions, redundancies…
As a mother, my office is the space my arms make when they are wrapped around my children. The most important things happen there. I teach right and wrong in there, I calm troubles in there, I show love in there. Children need to be loved. They need kindness, and they deserve to be thought of before the people behind you in the queue at the supermarket.
So, next time you’re tempted to give in to a flying rage:
Instead, welcome your child into your office- the office of embrace. Let their anger be swallowed up in the understanding arms of the person who loves them most, their closest ally and their fiercest friend.
Christ said “Love one another, as I have loved you”.
The world needs this lesson.
The world needs this love.
If we can teach love as a default reaction when things go wrong, then maybe the world has a fighting chance. Because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.