14 May 2011

Good Parent, Bad Parent

This week’s episode of Modern Family featured a storyline about how Phil and Claire had slipped into familiar roles in their family, one the disciplinarian, the other the “fun” parent. They tried to break out of these boxes, reverse those roles, and the results were predictably chaotic. (And, of course, hilarious.)

It struck a chord with me as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the part of parenting that involves discipline. The Doozer is closing in on his third birthday and in his second year of life has become an at times emotionally volatile, impulsive, and even reckless, individual. It’s a tightrope. Keeping them in line and letting them spread their wings. And finding that right balance between nurturing and disciplining, being fun and being strict, can be taxing. Like every single other aspect of parenting.

I hate the disciplining part of being a parent. I hate being the bad guy. Watching your kid get upset with you (even if it’s the result of you acting in their best interest) is awful. And it doesn’t get better the more you do it. It stays awful.

While our roles as parents are still evolving, we haven’t fallen into any kinds of routines yet, there’s not a good parent and a bad parent in our house. At least not yet. Like everything else, we’re figuring this out as we go, in fits and starts, flailing and failing and occasionally feeling semi-successful.

We’ve tried to institute some consistent policies, a system for appropriate punishments and just rewards, something that is neither too coddling nor too oppressive. We read this book, 1-2-3 Magic. It was helpful. We’ve adopted some of its suggestions. Things like counting to three and giving time-outs if the Doozer’s behavior doesn’t change after the count of three.

The wife is with the Doozer more than I am, so she’s had to dole out more of these time-outs. She seems firm and confident in her approach to discipline (even if it bothers her as much as it bothers me). Me, I find that I flounder with this stuff, never knowing how or what to count. Uncertain of what types of behavior warrant punishment and which deserve warnings. How much talking, rationalizing, and explaining should you try to do before you reach the stage of punishment? I spend a lot of time talking to an unresponsive Doozer, trying to communicate with him like he’s a grown-up. Which he’s not.

That’s the part of me that just wants him to be good, all the time. It’s a completely ludicrous, unreasonable expectation. But I can’t help it. I feel like if I explain things to him logically, he’ll see the error of his ways. Which should work.

Except for the fact that he is only two. I imagine it's sort of what it's like to try and negotiate logically with a heroin addict. Or maybe an inanimate object. Reason cannot be applied.

Like everything else, the discipline issue seems to be unique. I mean, we can only get so much out of a book. There are theories and ideas and then there is the reality of living every day in our house with our son. And nobody can predict how that’s going to go, not us, not some child psychologist. We’ve kind of just got to wing it sometimes, you know?

There’s this thing you always hear in movies and on TV (and probably in real life, too) about how as a parent, you can’t forget that you’re a parent. That people are fixated on being “fun” and being friends with their kids, which blurs the lines and makes discipline exceedingly difficult. I want to be the fun parent, but I also want my son to behave in a reasonable fashion. If nothing else, his behavior is a reflection of us and if people are looking at him like he’s a holy terror, what they’re really thinking is what crappy parents that kid has. I know that’s what I think when I see kids going wild in public.

Nice parenting, I always think.

This is actually a good lesson I’ve learned as a parent. If you’re feeling bad about your abilities as a parent, if you’re doubting your effectiveness or competence, there’s a simple remedy. Go out in public. Wait a few minutes. Guaranteed, you will see an example of people who are even worse at being parents than you are. Just a few minutes of exposure to some really bad parenting (and honestly, you don’t have to search them out, they are everywhere), can make me feel better about being a parent myself for weeks or longer.

Because sometimes I get frustrated about my performance. You know how they say that you will always be your harshest critic? It’s true. And being a parent is no exception.

I’m a yeller. Apparently. I really don’t like this about myself. But I’ve noticed recently that I’m quick to raise my voice. I’m not sure if this is some internal mechanism, if this is how I was parented and now it’s coming out. Or it’s just my personality, that I’m quick to get angry or frustrated with situations I don’t like or I’m uncomfortable with. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, I still don’t like it.

But in my defense, it’s really not my fault. He just doesn’t listen. You have to repeat things sometimes, over and over – even his name – just to get him to look at you.

And I know he’s pushing our buttons. He’s testing his boundaries and developing a will and a personality and all those other things. I get it. I realize its importance. I want him to be independent and willful and opinionated and not a wallflower. I mean, if he wants to be a wallflower, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m one myself. But if on occasion he could throw me a bone and behave as I expect, that would be great.

In fact, last night he did a great job cooperating. When I said it was time to come inside the house and take a bath, he did it promptly, without argument or resistance. The same thing happened a few minutes later when it was time to get out of his bath. He picked up his toys like I asked and drank his milk while watching TV. It was nice.

But something tells me tomorrow will be an entirely different experience. Because it always is. He’s going to find some new, inventive way to misbehave and get under my skin. Or simply to just be himself, to explore, to test, to gain control over his existence.

And then I will be forced to crush his spirit all over again.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

Sort of.

No, really. I’m joking.

I will break him.

Sorry. That was – I didn’t –

I’m really not that bad a parent.

At least I don’t think so.

Shut it.

1 comment:

  1. Someone told me once that the problem with parenting is that it's so damn daily.