Spare the rod, but don’t spoil the child…

I’m happy to report that my weekend from hell paid off. It was a small victory. My son learned a little about his powers of self-restraint, boundaries and the importance of staying connected in real life and not just electronically. I can’t say he has transformed. No, he had a tantrum last night and woke up a grumpy 10 year old this morning. But, hey, I wasn’t planning on a miracle, I just wanted to imprint on him that I am not a spineless, waffling, sap who will cave in every time.

I am an extremely liberal person and mother. My kids can get away with a lot. They can speak their minds. We can negotiate and renegotiate rules. Sometimes we scrap the rules all together and eat breakfast for dinner, skip school, or watch “inappropriate” movies (get your mind out of the gutter…not that kind of inappropriate!) But, as I’ve discovered…

Children turn us into the parents they need, not necessarily the parents we want to be.

My older one, I’ll call him son #1, never needed reprimanding. He thrived on peace and harmony. He would always speak his mind but comply when a clear line was drawn.

Along came son #2. He started off pretty mellow and, at about 2 years old, busted out with a funny, feisty, relentlessly determined persona. That’s who is.

I tried to parent son #2 the way I parented son #1 and I spent a good deal of time frustrated and disappointed that my young one didn’t appreciate our liberal, lighthearted structure enough to get with the program. In fact, he didn’t appreciate it at all. In his world, he didn’t have enough control, things weren’t fair if they weren’t his way and rules were devices designed to torment him and required diligent resistance.

My first attempts to modify his behavior made sense to me (haha)…accommodate more, give him more control, more opportunities to make choices. Well, go figure, little Napoleon took a liking to ruling the roost and the rest of us suffered.

It wasn’t long before I decided “consequences” would be our new buzzword. Not punishment, consequences. At the mere mention of the word consequences, my older son would comply. The younger one…I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe he interpreted consequence to mean “I challenge you to a duel to the death.” The threat of consequences held no sway with him except to antagonize him more.

Eventually, after my husband left and I was saddled with parenting two boys by myself, I can’t say a lightbulb went on because that implies cognition, it was more primal, I just started parenting. As in, I took the upper hand and decided that I was going to wrestle my boy’s demons with him and do whatever it took to provide a stern, reliable, secure authoritative figure whom he could count on. I told him too. That he wasn’t supposed to come out fully developed at birth, that’s why I get 18 years to raise him and help him grow into a grown-up who can handle himself and his life.

This was a huge shift for me. I started time outs. And this was late in the game…he was about 7 when we started those (inspired by the SuperNanny whom I previously loathed and now revered). I stopped giving in to tantrums. I stopped buying things for my kids EVERY time we went to Target as I had been doing for years just to make the trips more manageable to me. I even put the boy to bed without supper, in fact, I’ve done it many times.

I’ve given up on the notion that I’m going to fix him. He’s awesome. And I tell him all of the time that his strong will is going to serve him well in his life. I compliment his desirable traits and I allow him to cry or be angry  if he needs to, he is just not allowed to vomit emotions all over everyone else in his family.

I still consider myself a relatively permissive parent. I don’t believe in corporal punishment and I think it is nonsense that children need to fear their parents to respect them. But, each child is indeed very different. I could have never imagined that a child could be so challenging. For so many obvious reasons, I’m grateful to have had a second child, particularly because if I hadn’t, I’d likely be a judgmental twat with no humility because my first son happened to be an “angel”.

By the way, I am so thoroughly and sufficiently humbled that I don’t for a second think that the story is fully written on my first son either. He’s just entering teenage-hood so who knows what kind of transformation will occur? I’m buckling up, hanging on and will stay on this roller coaster endeavor of raising two boys to be great men.

And, did I mention, I could really use a vacation? 🙂

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