Reality Discipline

Parental Growing Pains

I’ve been continuing to reflect on why I suddenly felt motivated to train for a marathon, given my desire to have less distractions and activities in my year. It’s hard to admit, but I think it was (in the words of Dr. Harris) a control strategy I was using to avoid unpleasant feelings.

Which feelings? Basically, fear and anxiety about really engaging in the most important work of my life: being a mom.

As I mentioned before, I now recognize that my reading of two parenting books by Kevin Leman were clearly catalysts for these emotions. He advocates “reality discipline” which makes so much sense to me. Basically you teach your kids that their actions and behavior have consequences in reality. You hold them accountable for their decisions and let reality be the discipline.

Although I know this is what I want to teach my kids. I falter in the implementation when they have to deal with frustration, anger, or sadness. My desire to protect them from pain kicks in and I want to save them from the lesson. But, more than that, I struggle with the parenting decisions that aren’t always clear cut. I like order and knowing what to do. All the blurry areas that require discernment and consistency make me uncomfortable. Hence, I’m inclined to devote more energy to something that I can control – set a goal to run 10 miles, go do it, and then check it off the list. So much easier.

new kid by fridayThis week I’ve been reading Have a New Kid by Friday, by Kevin Leman. Funny though, it could really be entitled “Be a New Parent by Friday”, because it’s much more about changing your parenting behavior and therefore your kids responding more effectively and learning from reality.

My first big test came Tuesday night. Sienna said she didn’t want to eat the tortellini we were having for dinner. She ate a few bites and then said her stomach hurt and she didn’t like “the cheese inside.” So, she took a bath and then got her pajamas on. Then the pleas started, “Mommy, I’m hungry.”

I said, “Yes, you must be since you didn’t eat dinner. If you want to have the tortellini, you may.”

“No, I didn’t like it. I want something else.” She replied, expecting that I’d let her have something else (as I typically did). Sienna frequently complains about dinner and then asks for other food before bed.

“No, you may not have anything else.”

Now the tears and begging started. “I’m so hungry!” she kept whimpering. This went on for at least twenty minutes as we brushed her teeth and started reading in her bed.

It was the hardest thing for me to hold that line. Especially when she dramatically said “I really wish I would’ve eaten dinner now!” (Mind you, she still didn’t want the leftover dinner… not entirely logical).

She finally fell asleep while I sang to her. As she started to snore gently, I whispered “I love you so much Sienna”. Thinking she didn’t hear me, I was surprised when she murmured in reply “I do to”.

Being a mom isn’t just about cuddling and loving them. It’s providing boundaries, teaching them accountability, respect, and responsibility. It’s being strong and saying no, when it would be easier to say yes. This is why I had to learn the lesson that being “happy” all the time was not realistic or desirable. I wouldn’t have been able to stand strong and make wise decisions in raising Sienna and Mateo if I couldn’t handle the unpleasant feelings that are inevitable.

I’m growing as much as my kids are.


2 thoughts on “Parental Growing Pains”

  1. Isn’t that the great lesson in parenting!? We grow just as much as they do – if not more it seems!! Thanks for sharing your growth and as you know you’re not alone sister!! I love you!! We are the clay and he is the potter!!!! 😉 Xoxox

  2. You articulated this so well- which isn’t surprising 🙂 I often feel guilty when I’m trying to teach realistic boundaries and consequences, both because I don’t want my kids to be upset, and because I feel self conscious when other parents aren’t doing the same. It’s much easier, and arguably more natural, to give in and comfort. But for many kids, my Leah included, that isn’t the best fit. Thanks for sharing your challenges, it’s always reassuring to know that a parent/friend I respect has a similar approach!

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