*DISCLAIMER* I don't think I have all the answers here. I am writing mainly to myself as I have mucked this up on MANY occasions. Through the grace of God I am improving in my parenting and if what I write encourages others that's great, but please don't feel discouraged. I truly believe that single events in parenting are not what matters, it is what CHARACTERISES our parenting that matters. Parenting on our knees through is Grace the only way to do it.
I believe the best teacher of children is consequences. Unfortunately, many children in our society (including my own at times!) are shielded from the consequences of their actions. Why? Sometimes because it is easier for the adult in charge, sometimes because it makes us (the adults in charge) feel good, sometimes we make excuses for bad behaviour, and sometimes it is because we are overprotective.
It has been a long day. You were kept up the night before by the baby. Your to-do list is actually longer than when you started the day and the ta-da list is WOEFULLY short. You have visitors coming for dinner (to eat dinner with you, if they were on the menu it'd be easier 'cause then you wouldn't have to cook, just had to clarify there) and your Dearly Beloved is in danger of becoming Dearly Beheaded because he is LATE and didn't call. And the kids start acting up. "Muuuuuuuum, he hit me" "WWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAIIIIIILLLLL, she HIT me!" the toddler is climbing onto the dining table and rearranging your efforts and the baby needs feeding. Don't bother how I know how a mother feels at this point, I just do. What do we do? Guess what kids DVD time! We don't address the issues of climbing on the table, we don't address how we deal with conflict, we don't apply the set consequences of these trespasses, we whack on a DVD and tell them to park it. Again, don't ask me how I know this is what we do, I just DO OK?
Think Long Term:
what messages is this sending?
It is OK to break the rules if authority is busy elsewhere.
The adult equivalent? Police are too busy trying to catch axe murderers to worry about me fudging on a legal document so that so-and-so takes the license points for my speeding ticket (this is true in Australia, unless you are a retired judge it seems). My boss is too busy worrying about deadlines to even notice that I have Internet porn open on my computer during my lunch hour. "The Lord does not see as man sees. Man looks to the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart". We cannot afford to be too busy for our children, not if their eternal welfare is at stake.
What message does it send if our kids are thinking "My Mum is more worried about getting dinner together than disciplining me."? It is better for you to NEVER entertain and feed your family only on breakfast cereal and parent your children than to have a sumptuous feast laid out nightly with kids left to go feral. I hope my kids think "hey, her world stops for me* if I am doing the wrong thing, and she kinda makes my world uncomfortable. I think I better shape up because this seems pretty important"
* perhaps you may want to make sure that when they are doing the wrong thing isn't the ONLY time your world stops for them, but that's a whole other post.
You have told her that if toys are left out at bed time they will go in the black box, if they don't fit in the black box they go to charity. The magna-doodle that you bought her for Christmas is on the floor. The black box is full. There is no way the thing will fit in, none. She has happily played with the thing for two months on a daily basis and YOU love it. Big brown cocker spaniel eyes tear up as you look at them. She knows what you said, she KNOWS the consequences, she knows that you know that she knows. It would feel really good just about now to put it down, walk out saying "oh, I will just do such and such and THEN it will be bed time, you may want to put that away while I am busy" but you both know this would be dodging the consequence. Getting rid of the happy meal toys and the loud, battery operated contraption from great aunt Maud was so easy, this ISN'T.
Think Long Term:
It may give an emotional fuzzy right now to dodge this, but it undermines the lesson you are trying to teach and your integrity as a teacher. Even if it was put away for three months and then brought it out, it still completely undermines the stated consequences. I know, Mum tried that one on me and I don't think I ever cleaned my room again after that (sorry Mum!). We need to realise that we are not disciplining to make life easier for ourselves. It is not about us, it is about the kid.
To avoid consequences to make a child "happy" sends the message "don't worry, I was being too harsh. You can't possibly be expected to live up to those expectations. I'd rather you be happy than obedient". The maximum most children will achieve while they are still children (and some, even when they grow up) is what you will expect of them. We need to be their cheer leaders. "Oh well, you didn't do it this time but hey! I bet you learned that lesson real well huh? I reckon you are NEVER going to leave toys out again and you will grow up to be SUCH a good steward!!". I believe in you. I believe you can do better. I am going to help you do better. I am going to work with you to make sure you do better. I will love you when you fail, I will love you enough to help you up to try again. This is the core of true Christian exhortation. We owe it to our kids to give it to them.
(by the way, I did get rid of the magna-doodle. It hurt, I loved that magna-doodle)
It is late and you are out with the whole family at some special event. Your kid walks up, clearly exhausted and demands a drink. You remind the child to use manners. Child explodes into a tantrum of napalm proportions. You smile (not because you're happy, because you are wishing the floor would swallow you, sort of like a chimp with the defensive grin) and say "oh, he's tired" and give him a drink.
Think Long Term:
The message you are sending is obedience/doing the right thing is something we are exempt from if we have a good enough reason. Sort of like the woman with PMS who goes ballistic at her husband, shreds him verbally for being lazy and not mowing the lawn on the weekend then bursts into tears and expects him to comfort her. After all, she has PMS and he SHOULD mow the lawn. Sort of like the man who has a really rough day at work, comes home to a wife with who verbally shreds him for not mowing the lawns and breaks her nose. After all, he had a hard day and she was really horrible to him. Yes, I really do think how we discipline a child is bending the twig in the way the tree should grow. When they are adults, they will be responsible for their own choices and we have a RESPONSIBILITY to equip them for that world. A world where we can choose to be pleasant, even when we feel bad. Where people are mean, stuff goes wrong, we get sick, tired and sad. A world where we can choose how we act, no matter how we feel. A world with eternal consequences to immediate acts.
If your kid is tired, put them to bed. If you can't, put them on your lap. If that is too loud and is disturbing those around you, take it outside. But consequences must happen. It is not merciful to give into a child, it is mercy to be loving enough to gently teach them.
Your child comes in forlorn. "They won't play with me". Indignant we rush to their aid. We call the other children in and give them a long lecture about being nice to others and insist that they let the "injured party" play. You turn them out into the back yard where the other children reluctantly and with bad grace include the child. The child who they had formerly excluded from their games because that child was bullying them and stealing their toys.
Think Long Term:
Children kind of operate by the laws of the jungle. If Mum swoops in to make life nice and protect them all the time, they do miss out on some vital lessons. I have my suspicions that a young fella at the pub or nightclub who gets his teeth pushed in when he mouths off, probably would have avoided that had he been allowed to experience a little playground justice growing up. I do not condone bullying under any circumstances (one among my many reasons for homeschooling) and there are times that we need to intervene, but not all the time. If a kid comes in complaining that others won't play with them, try "oh, that's no good. Do you think there may be a reason why they won't play with you?" Or even "Oh, that sucks. I sure wouldn't feel good if that were happening to me." and just leave it hanging. Let the kid work think it through for themselves. They are smarter than we give them credit for!
Another time mothers can be guilty of the swoop in, is when someone else (even dads) discipline and we see them as being too harsh. We want to protect our babies, it is only natural. But a child is more likely to be hurt by you being a mediator than if you just step back and let them work it out themselves. If you constantly act as mediator between your child and others they are supposed to relate to, you are stifling their development of interpersonal skills - in other words their ability to get along with others. Instances of abuse ARE an exception to this of course. I know once or twice I have had the urge to jump in the middle when Beloved was being "too harsh" in my eyes, then after sitting back I realised I would have done exactly the same thing in his shoes - perhaps been even harsher - but it just looked different from the "outside" so to speak. There's a great post that touches on this issue over at Femina called Smother Love.
I want to say again, I get this wrong. I hope that Grace can cover this and that my parenting isn't characterised by poor choices. I believe that discipline needs to be balanced with kindness, love and compassion, but it is neither kind, loving nor compassionate to veto consequences.
Set consequences knowing that you will probably have to enforce them one day. Set them lovingly and prayerfully. Then uphold them. While our Lord is a loving and merciful God, He is also Just. The only reason we dodge that awful consequence of death is through His sacrifice. The consequence was still borne. Uphold the small consequences for your children and introduce them to the One who bore the largest consequence of all. This is our responsibility as parents.