I remember when I was a cub mom – just had one child and one on the way – and spent several “mom’s nights out” attending parenting lectures on how to do better at my newfound career.
One topic came up quite a bit, indicating that it was a subject that held its ground no matter what parenting trend would rise and fall. It’s crucial existence was to be acknowledged in every child-discipline situation. The subject was, fittingly so, consistency and follow through.
I have always tried to follow through with my initial threats. And I say threat, because that’s my final straw, my last laugh, my last hurrah. I threaten. I say that if you do that again, you can’t have dessert, you can’t watch TV, you can’t go on the play date, you can’t … you can’t … you can’t. It’s almost as common as the word no, much to the chagrin of parenting experts everywhere.
But alas, with three kids young in age and moving as a cluster through the perils of life, I have to liken my crew to a team, a squad, one working organism that deals with the negotiations, compromises, yeses and no’s… and of course, threats.
For the most part, I hold a pretty high score for following through with my threats (and promises, too.)
But one comment the other night reminded me that summer might be seeing a softer side of things… and it’s got to stop!
One of my children made fun of the other during bedtime story time and all hell broke loose. Given that it was nearing 9 p.m. (lights out are closer to 8:30 in our house), I chose to tell the antagonizer that “we would talk about this in the morning.” I said this in my most stern mom voice, using a furrowed brow, right tilt of the head and guilt-producing eyes.
The response I received under his breath was startling to say the least.
“You won’t remember…” his adorable voice trailing in the quiet room. His eyes grew large and his face went flush when he saw that I had heard what he said.
Wow! Where did that come from, I thought.
I felt as though I was back in college, receiving a C, a grade I commonly received in every philosophy class I took even though I tried harder in that subject than any other.
But hearing that my oldest son, my test kitten, my work in progress, doesn’t think I will follow through puts me in a weird state. Do I come on stronger, discipline less or more effectively, stop with the threats, make the punishment more severe, abolish time outs and punishments all together and just move to some swanky Buddhist Temple where we live as minimalists? OK, a bit far fetched… but that’s the doozy a nonchalant comment like that one will impress on my (clearly) non-philosophical mind.
Ah, follow through. Luckily, at my children’s preschool we have a wise director whose lectures on follow through I have listened to intently. I have come across the notes I scribbled during her lectures, some have doodles of snails and flowers, the only real art I can produce, but they have the only phrase I must engrain in my mind over and over and over again.
“Mean what you say and say what you mean.”
Follow through sends the message to a child that you are paying attention and that you mean business. In a strange manner (I say this because my kids get so mad when I take away a privilege or punish them), the follow through and consequence portion of parenting ultimately shows our kids how much we love and respect them by teaching them that life is simply easier when you follow the rules.
It must have been those college memories of Descartes and Kant and Existential Phenomenology that made me do this, but I littered my house that night with Post-it’s.
“Follow Through” (with a cute snail) on the phone.
“Follow Through” (with a cute flower) on the coffee pot.
“Follow Through” (I tried a cute sun, but decided in the future I will stick with snails and flowers) on my sunglasses.
When Connor woke up the next morning, I was pacing the house, with a cup of piping hot coffee, my phone in my pocket and for some odd reason, my sunglasses holding back my hair even though it was overcast and I was still in PJs.
“Good morning, Connor, we have to talk,” I said sternly.
“Hi Mommy, about what?” he said. (I was tempted to say HA! You forgot! But I am the adult.)
“I want to talk with you about what happened last night just before we finished reading our books…” We had a nice discussion and I believe he understood how his behavior impacted our evening. He even came up with some alternatives that might have been better suited for him in that situation.
Thereafter, I removed my unnecessary sunglasses, put my phone down and sat down next to him while he ate his breakfast.
Point for Mom, and thank God for Post-its.