Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Being Parented - Lucky Me!

*Names changed to protect the innocent and otherwise.  

Dear people who have been around people before, 

It's about time I posted something controversial.

Disclaimer:  This is not a post about parenting.  I have never parented a child, and as such I am not qualified to make comments about how to parent a child. 

But I have been a child, and I have been parented.  So I am qualified to make comments about being parented.  However, I will follow this comment with an example from babysitting to illustrate my point.

The following topic may be offensive to some.  End disclaimer. 

Some people decry discipline in children - not spankings or any specific measure of punishment per se, but just discipline in general.  They "don't believe" in requiring disciplined behavior from a child.  Reasons these people give are that it hinders the creativity of the child; it prevents parent and child from becoming friends; it is not always understood by the logic of a child.

If these things were true, they might be good reasons.  But they aren't necessarily true.  After all, perhaps my shining moment of creativity was dampened as a child, and I learned that instead of rudeness, smart remarks and disrespect, a higher standard was expected for one who wished to succeed in society.

Discipline is different from punishment.  The discipline I wish to discuss here is that of obedience and willpower - learning to do what we don't want to do, even though we don't understand completely why.  This was my experience growing up; it worked so well that I plan to employ it with my own children someday.  When I request obedience from a child, I expect it completely, fully, and without editing of the request.  I expect disciplined behavior from a child, just as I would from an adult.  This may upset some people.

I was recently babysitting a very young boy (I think he was about to turn four).  After he had eaten his oatmeal, I was feeding baby food to his infant sister and had my hands full with that occupation.  "Go put your bowl in the sink and fill it with water," I said to him, as I would to anybody holding a bowl sticky with oatmeal residue.

This was my first morning babysitting these particular children, and the young man was curious to see if I was a push-over.  I'd watched him bully and aggravate his mother before she left for her meeting that day, so I knew even at his tender age he was skilled in the art of gaining control.

Many toddlers are far more talented than we give them credit for.

The young man walked to the sink and set his bowl on the counter beside the sink, casting me a sidelong glance.  He then raced out to play with his blocks.  "Jonathon*," I called him back.  "Please put your bowl in the sink and fill it with water."  I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he forgot the original instructions.

He instantly became weary.  "I can't reach it!" he complained, exhaustion written across his young face.

I noted there was a stool in the kitchen, but I refrained from pointing it out.  "Go get creative," I said.  "You can think of a way, I know you can; you're so smart!"

He dragged himself to the sink and stood, pouting, staring at the bowl.  I finished feeding his sister, cleaned her up, and took her out to the living room to play with the toys.  Jonathon stared longingly over the kitchen counter at us.  I did not acknowledge him.  

After a while I noticed he had slipped out of the kitchen to stand by another wall, hiding and peeking around to see us.  I approached him and quietly said, "Jonathon, go put your bowl in the sink and fill it with water."  His parents had explicitly informed me that swats were customary in their household (though obviously not applied with the accompanying proper training, because the child was as wild and misbehaving as a lost puppy), and I accompanied my words with a firm swat.  I would never swat a child whose parents did not inform me that this was approved by them, first.  The swat was not painful in any way; it was a form of punctuation that went straight to his brain, no translation into baby-speak necessary, no higher form of cognitive reasoning required.

He was shocked.  I knew that usually he expected approximately six warning calls before things ramped up to urgent, and he obviously had assumed that he didn't need to try very hard until I reached full rage.  Somebody had trained him to wait for several cues until he heard one loud enough, and angry enough, to warrant haste.

But with this unexpected turn of events, he was clearly worked to the bone, his mental faculties worn to a thread by this morning of haggard and unjust work.  He limped back to the sink and lifted up a whine of complaint again.  "I can't reach it!  It's too far!"

This, from the same child who that very morning had managed, with the help of several strategically balanced toys, to climb up a sheer wall to reach a window-sill which was over the height of my own shoulders, where he could sit, out of reach of his infant sister, and play with the blinds (his mother scolded him uselessly for this, I say uselessly because it happened several more times in her presence before she finally left, late for her appointment).

I went back to the living room and allowed him to suffer by the kitchen sink.  A moment later, I saw his eyes brighten and his face light up.  "I have to go to the bathroom!" he declared, and started to run down the hallway.

Perhaps you will consider this a severe cruelty on my part, but I blocked his path.  "Go put your bowl in the sink first, and fill it with water," I repeated, calmly, again with a firm and thoughtfully administered swat.  I had perceived that he was simply using the restroom as a manipulative device.  You may say that he really had to go to the bathroom, and that I was being wholly unreasonable by keeping him in the kitchen.

Urgency always engenders creativity, so I didn't mind if he actually did have to go potty.  I wasn't interested in his manipulation any more.  I had seen how weary his mother was, her eyes sagging with the weight of raising two children - one newborn and helpless, the other just a few years old and controlling her life with tantrums and destruction.  I knew how clever he was, and I knew how stubborn he was.  But guess what?

I'm more clever, and more stubborn.  And not afraid to use that to mold his little mind.

He stared at me in shock and disbelief.  I assume this trick worked quite well with his parents and he was surprised that, upon deploying his fail-safe emergency plan, it did not work with me.  

The young boy returned to the sink and I went back to the living room, ignoring him.  Assuming that he would accomplish the task.

A moment later I heard the stool squeak across the floor, and the faucet turn on.  I saw him standing at the sink, filling his bowl.  Moments later he came running out to the living room to play (note that he did not run straight to the bathroom, and indeed didn't head there for another hour or more).

"Jonathon," I called him pleasantly to my side.  He came over immediately.  I wasn't sure how much he would understand if I were to explain to him the concept of obedience, without changing the command, and the importance of doing it properly the first time.  This is why I had employed techniques that could be comprehended by him - the gentle swat, the quiet repetition of command, and waiting until he was finished with doing the job correctly.  So I simply told him, not sure if it would stick or not, "I expect you to obey me the first time I ask."  He nodded mutely.  I told him, "Finding the stool to wash your bowl was a very clever idea.  I just knew you could come up with a way to do it because you are so smart!  I am so proud of you for finding a way to wash your bowl."

His entire face glowed with happiness, indeed his entire body wriggled happily, and he beamed with joy as he leaned against me, staring into my face. "You're so smart," I reaffirmed him.  "I am glad you washed your bowl so we can have a nice morning.  Would you like to play with your sister now?"  He nodded, grinning ecstatically.

You may say that that discipline took a lot of time out of the morning, and it would have been easier for me to just put the bowl in the sink myself.  Or just let him set it by the sink and leave well-enough alone.  After all, he did pretty much what I asked.

Guess what, folks!  In this life, you don't get very far by doing pretty much what you need to do.  By half-finishing a job.  By concealing from your employer that you didn't complete the work you were assigned.  By turning in a paper that you really didn't take the time to work on.  By performing a heart transplant without really hooking up the proper vessels.

I expected complete and total obedience from the boy not in order to get the bowl filled with water - that was not the end goal by the time this episode played out.  No, the end goal was for him to understand that obedience entails doing it right, the first time.  Sparing trouble, pain, and a lot of heartache in the process.

It did take a chunk of time out of our morning, and I did wonder for a moment if I should just drop the whole matter.  But we stuck to it, and the rest of the morning was pleasant and headache free.  I had earned his obedience and his respect, and saved us many more episodes of arguing, warning, time-outing, scolding, punishing, and of course the irritation for myself.

I've heard it so many times before - "But why make them do what we say, just 'cause we say it?  It's just to prove our power as adults, isn't it!  They don't fully understand, so we need to let them be.  Kids that young don't need to be disciplined like adults do."

I have a newsflash for all those good people, and it may not be a fun one, and this is why learning discipline as a child is so overwhelmingly important.  It goes beyond the freedom of having a pain-free morning.

It is because disciplined kids make disciplined adults.

The reverse is also true.  You've probably met some adults that might fit the "undisciplined" bill.  You've probably griped about their lack of adulthood, too.  And even people who scorn discipline in children admire the "lucky parents" who have well-behaved children, and the "lucky people" who succeeded by dint of their discipline.

My parents disciplined me growing up.  I had to decide which I would prefer - the long, agonizing, uncomfortable road of suffering, or the quick alternative of obedience.

I took a long time to learn which was easier, believe you me;  it took persistence on the behalf of my parents to make sure I learned discipline.  It paid off in the end (if not for them, at least for me!).  I'm willing to do what it takes to get things done right, to make sure a household runs smoothly, to make sure bills are paid first and no debt is accumulated and fun things come after savings deposits, to get out of bed in the morning and go exercise and clean and work, to enjoy the relaxing that comes when the hard work is already done.

I've had a lot of free-spirited friends without discipline.  Their lives are a lot harder, and they say I have it easy.  They choose to have more fun - more relationships, more relaxing, more experimenting.  But they say I have more time to do things.  They say I got the good job, the good husband, the good school, the good car, the good whatever.  They say my life is full of rainbows and happiness and use that to explain away the hard-earned discipline.  They say I "got lucky."

Yes, I did.  I got lucky.  I got disciplined.

Mrs X*



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