I have a confession.
My worst parenting moments have often been when I’m trying to impress someone. Never my kids of course, but other adults. Arguments over brushing hair or what dress to wear have little to do with what my child wants, and much more to do with what I want others to think of me. Even disciplining publicly can be for someone else’s benefit. Because some stranger within earshot needs to appreciate how hard I’m working.
It’s awful. I know. We can get that out right here, right now.
I’m guessing if you’re human, and not a robot, you’ve likely had some of those moments. The ones where you realize your motivations have gotten all mixed up and you stop mid-action to ask, “Who am I doing this for anyway?” (I often hear those words running through my head when say, making birthday party cupcakes at midnight. My child will not notice the perfect kitty whiskers applied to two dozen cupcakes, but another mom might.)
When it comes to discipline sometimes the person at the forefront of my mind is me. Not that I want to impress myself, but I feel hurt by a little person’s words or actions and I’m letting my feelings take over.How can she disrespect me that way? She has no right to (fill in the blank). I’m going to teach her a thing or two about who the boss of her is. And I use discipline to put my child back in her place in the pecking order.
(We’ve already established the awful right here, right now. But just in case there was any doubt, I’ve now confirmed it. And I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading at this point except I suspect you might be able to relate and feel a bit relieved you aren’t the only one who sometimes parents out of selfish feelings.)
We have a genuine responsibility to teach our children to respect authority. Mouthing off is a life skill no one looks for, especially a potential employer or spouse. What I’m talking about here is getting a handle on my reactions to the disrespect. When I allow myself to be offended by say a three-year old, who has no emotional filter and no lifetime of experience to shape her behavior otherwise, I’m the one who ends up acting like a child.
When the offense is high and my anger flares, I’m often thinking, She knows better, when in actuality she might not. Or she might indeed know better, but she doesn’t have the maturity to handle her emotions in a way that would make her react like I think she should. You know like an adult. Well, a mature adult.
As I discipline my children, I continually need to remind myself that they are exactly that: children. They are doing their job by exploring the world and testing boundaries. And if I’m truly doing my job, I’m guiding them toward appropriate responses to their circumstances. I remind myself discipline is meant to instruct toward the final goal of responsible adulthood, not to punish.
Discipline is correction with an end goal in mind.
Which gets me back to my original confession of wanting to impress. If impressing others is my motivator, I cannot truly have my children’s best interests running the game. So I must consciously stop and ask what is the true motivation here? If it’s my child’s long-term development, great I can carry on. If it’s something else, I must make some adjustments. Because parenting my children, no matter how quirky, different, unique, even embarrassing their needs might be, involves me giving them what they need rather than what looks good in the moment.
As a mom to four girls, ages 3 to 12, Alexandra Kuykendall’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. She writes to capture the places where motherhood meets everyday life to remember the small, yet significant moments in the midst of the blur. She is the author of The Artist’s Daughter, A Memoir , a contributor to this year’s Be you, Bravely, An Experiment in Courage and acts as the Specialty Content Editor for MOPS International. A city girl at heart, she makes her home in the shadow of downtown Denver. You can read more of Alex’s everyday thoughts and connect with her at AlexandraKuykendall.com.