Sunday, January 17, 2010

Credibility and Consequences

Today was our ward conference at church, basically a two hour sacrament meeting with no Sunday School or Auxiliary classes. Sitting in the chapel with two toddlers and a restless almost-8-year-old was akin to a two hour wrestling match, but the speakers were so awesome that it totally made up for it.

The overall theme was families and how we can improve as individuals and parents within families. There were great suggestions about teaching small children and encouragement for those of us (aka all parents) who wonder if anything we say is sticking. There was the admonition to be worthy of having heaven's blessings poured out on our families. There was counsel to cherish our little ones and to make our homes the absolute center of their universe. There was the reminder to live by the teachings in The Family Proclamation.

But the talk that resonated most powerfully for me was given by our bishop Todd Dayton. He spoke of the constant vigilance that is required to be effective parents. We must have consistent follow through in order to have credibility with our children. If we threaten a punishment but don't enforce it, we lose credibility with our children. If we allow our children to misbehave without consequences, we are doing them a great disservice. We need to stop hemming and hawing, pleading, negotiating or just plain ignoring when our children are out of line. All behaviors have consequences and it's up to us as parents to help our children see the direct results of their choices whether good or bad.

Bishop Dayton gave the powerful example of Adam and Eve: God adored His children, His first two upon the Earth, and walked and spoke with them in the Garden of Eden. He explained how He had made all the beautiful and glorious things in the Garden especially for them, and they were free to partake of all of it, except for one tree. One little tree in the whole glorious place. And He told them that if they partook of the fruit of that tree they would be expelled from the Garden. But they were free to make their own choices. God expressed His love, told His children what was expected of them, and what the consequence would be if they disobeyed. And then here's the critical part of the story: When Eve and then Adam partook of the forbidden fruit, the Lord straightway cast them out of the Garden. He wasn't swayed by their persuasive excuse of how Satan had tricked them, He didn't cave because they were sorrowful, He didn't back off because He felt guilty for being too hard on them. He followed through. He still loved His children and blessed them with the companionship of His Spirit for the rest of their lives, but they had to live with the consequences of their choice.

Man, I needed to hear that. I needed that "permission" to get tough with my kids. I always worry about the emotional energy or vibe that flows between me and my children. I worry that I nag too much or that I'm always being "cranky mommy". And that has led to me being somewhat of a push-over. Dan is much stricter with the girls (Mack hasn't quite hit disciplining age, but he's awful close) and as a result they respect him more and whine to him a lot less. I find myself resenting that, but it's my own fault. The girls know they can whine their way out of a lot of things if they're dealing with Mom. Amelia is a very strong-willed child and rather than cracking down on her like I should, I worry that I'm a mean mommy if I send her to time-out 15 times a day. She can whine and beg, or sometimes cry and scream until she makes herself puke. She has perfected the dirty look to a tee, and I often just tire of the constant battle of wills that takes place between us throughout the day. But I realize that it is absolutely necessary to make her deal with the consequences of her bad behavior in order to shape her into a decent and productive human being.

So how can I achieve this goal without feeling like, or in actuality being, a mean mommy?
  1. I have to remember to stay calm, matter-of-fact about the whole consequence thing. Punishment is the natural result of violation of rules, not because Mom is mad at you or because you're a bad kid. It's just a simple equation of A+B=C.
  2. I have to remember to say I love you often. My kids need to know that I love them unconditionally.
  3. I have to give them the attention they need so they can feel that they are loved and they don't feel the need to misbehave to get my attention. For me, this means less time on the computer and better time-management so I'm not obsessing over housework during prime "quality time" opportunities.
  4. I have to remember to praise them when they do what I ask them. I'm the one who gets off on verbal praise so much, I need to be dishing it out a lot more.
  5. I need to give lots of hugs and snuggles, especially to Lily who seems to get the shaft a lot because the younger two kids are more demanding of my attention.

Tell me what you've found to be effective in disciplining your children. How do you maintain a positive camaraderie/relationship with your kids amid the need to correct and shape them into good people? What do you do when you've reached "freak-out" level to get yourself back on track? How do you give individual attention to each of your children while still meeting the needs of the entire family?


Brian and Rebecca Nate said...

To put it simply: Disciplining our kids sucks. I wish they came with good behavior just built it. I hate it and I think I'm bad at it. My goal when I'm really mad at either one of my kids is to count to 10 or to walk away from the situation. Kamille can really push my buttons and sometimes I think she does it on purpose; so if I walk away or act like it doesn't bother me then it usually works itself out. I know that being grounded in the gospel and FHE every week is a BIG key to raising our children. I can tell on the weeks we don't have FHE that my children don't get along as well with each other or me. It's an uphill battle that's for sure. All I know is at the end of Bishop Dayton's talk he said something else really important: Love your kids, love your kids, just love them. That's always important too.

Lois Ann said...

I found a talk from the last Conference that you might consider as an addenda to your stake conference. It is titled "Love and Law" by Dallin H. Oaks and printed in the November Ensign on page 26.
Becca has it right - raising kids is not for sissies. Some days you will say -"it is a good thing they have some cute moments, otherewise you'd have given them away" :-).