Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mean Mommy

For the past couple of nights, my almost 4 year-old C has been calling out in his sleep, "Mommy, mommy" in such a sad, almost pathetic, tone. It's heart-breaking, at least for this mommy, and the reason is that I fear that I've been a bit too harsh with him over the past couple of days. I'm usually a fairly calm, upbeat person, but over the past couple of days I have been "laying down the law" and in the process, I fear that I have been traumatizing C.  This is not to say that I'm not firm in general when it comes to our family rules, but the past couple of days have been different because I've been doing a lot of the disciplining right before bedtime.  I find discipline in general to be the most difficult in the evening hours, because it is hard to come up with and enforce consequences around bedtime, and also because my patience is sometimes running lowest this time of day. We work on the understanding that if Christopher wants certain privileges (stories before bed, dessert, a video during the day, etc.), he needs to fulfill certain responsibilities (taking care of himself by getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating good meals, etc.; taking care of others by being kind, helpful, etc.).  If he doesn't fulfill his responsibilities, there is a consequence.  Around bedtime, the only immediate privilege that can be taken away is bedtime stories - all of the other consequences must wait until the next day. Maybe some of you have other ideas for consequences in the evening?? 

In any case, I struggle when C is being difficult around bedtime -  I hate the idea that he is going to bed thinking that I am angry with him.  The past couple of nights have been particularly frustrating because I cannot get him to even TRY using the bathroom before he goes to bed.  He is great about going to the bathroom during the day, but there's no chance that he'll wake himself up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. In any case, I "laid down the law" and told him that if he didn't at least try, then there would be no stories. But C is one of those kids that can't be talked into anything. Once he has a certain idea in his head - "Mommy, I PROMISE that tonight, I'll wake up and say, "Ah-hah, I need to go to the potty" and then I'll tiptoe to the bathroom and go pee-pee" - nothing that I (or ET) says seems to get through. He is so stubborn! So I said, "Okay, no stories", and then closed the door and left. I also said some other, not so nice or calm, things along the way...Actually, I think that what I said and how I said it was worse than the consequence of taking away stories, and I think that's what got us to the calling out in the middle of night phase. 

Do any of you mamas ever struggle to find a balance between being firm and loving at the same time? Any ideas on how to handle situations around bedtime? And any suggestions on how to deal with very stubborn kiddos who won't budge once they get a certain idea in their head? :)

13 comments:

texas mommy said...

Kat--Have you seen James Stenston's website? He is very thorough on discipline and it's where I turn when we hit rough spots. If you look at his tird point, her refers to what he calls "affectionate assertiveness". It may be helpful. http://www.parentleadership.com/discipline.html

Also, I try to remind myself when I am exhausted/my patience is nonexistent that it is much better to put in the effort here and now rather than let things slide until later. I agree this is esp. hard at bedtime, especially for me when Mr. Incredible is out of town as he was early this week. I give one warning which clearly states the consequences (no book or no song if you don't get in bed) and then if he does not comply, I kiss him, tell him goodnight and leave him crying in his bed. Whatever you decide is best for C, being consistent will help get over this rough patch more quickly. I think it takes several weeks to develops habits, so if you lay down the law you may have to repeat it often for it to sink in.

I went to a talk recently by a Catholic dr. and he said that he has seen sucessful parents raising good, holy children with various parenting styles. The ONE thing in common with them all was that they did not let the kids wear them down. They were consistent and thorough in their parenting. Since Dash is also fairly stubborn and remains a "spirited" boy, this is something I need to be reminded of often!

Hang in there!

Kat said...

Thanks so much for reminding me of Jim Stenson, Texas Mommy, he's great and ET and I actually met him in Boston when C was only 2 months old - he gave us his book called "Compass" and we read it right away, and I reread it last year and had a totally different perspective on the issues! I do like his approach on discipline, and think he is very insightful. His website is a great resource, actually especially for dads I think!, I'm glad that you passed it along.

I really like what your doctor had to say about not letting our kids wear us down. So true! Now I've realized that I need to think twice about the consequences that I give, because sometimes I've regretted having to follow through (i.e. no afternoon video on an afternoon where I really needed a break!!) :)

I think that C gets most upset when I deliver the consequences in an unkind manner. Here is an (embarrassing) example of last night's conversation:

Me: "Fine C, if you wake up in the middle of the night and your bed is wet, I'm not going to change the sheets!"

C (with tears in his eyes): "But Mommy, I don't like sleeping in a wet bed"

Me: "Well, it will be your fault!"

So awful, no wonder the poor boy was crying out so pathetically! Tonight I will be kinder!

100 xs blessed said...

Hi Kat,
I am a momma of 3 with one on the way. I have just had a conversation with my three lovely ladies (ages 6,4 and 2) about what God expects of us.

Let me explain, I have found that while homeschooling the girls, the two eldest try to push me to my limits. In an effort to keep some sort of peace in my home and sanity to my soul, I had to sit down and have a heart to heart conversation with the oldest two. I started by asking them what it is that God was expecting of me as their mommy. My four year old said , "God expects you to feed us" she is always thinking of her stomach!! :) I said well yes but it goes much deeper than that. I explained to the girls very calmly and lovingly that what God expects of me right now at this very moment in being their mommy is my vocation and we all have a calling from God.

I continued the conversation by discussing their vocation. I asked my 4 year old what she thought God expected of her...she thought and thought then said, "God expects me to obey you." WOW!

I discussed with her that sometimes momma doesn't want to do the laundry or clean up the dishes or change her sisters dirty diaper..but I do it because I love God and I must do what he expects of me for love of Him...I said to her when mamma asks her to do her school work or make her bed or tidy up her room or brush her teeth and go potty before bed it is because I love her and I want what's best for her and God wants her to obey because that is what He is asking of her at this very moment. I explained even in the simplest tasks if she obeys it is so pleasing to God. She totally got it.

The rest of the day the girls spoke nicely to each other and at bedtime when I told her to go up and brush her teeth and go potty she said, "I really don't have to go potty but I will try because I love God and listening will make Him happy"

I remember hearing a priest address a group of homeschoolers last year at the opening of the school year mass...he said to them "When a grown up asks you the question, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" it is not a really nice question to ask...a more relevant question to ask is "What is our Lord asking of you today?" The importance of our life is not to figure out what we will be doing tomorrow, but how can we serve God today".....pretty thought provoking if you ask me...

Anyway,this was a much better approach than my previous approach "BECAUSE I SAID SO!!!!"

I have found that being calm and really talking to the kids gets my point across a lot better. Of course it is much easier to have the conversation when you are not at your wits end.

Well, Good luck and I hope this helps.

Oh yeah...I almost forgot. Never fear to invoke your childs guardian angel for help!! I am serious. I often talk to my guardian angel to tell my childrens' angels to help them throughout the day. It really works!! Just yesterday I had to take all 3 to a doctors appt. for myself I invoked the help of all our guardian angels and guess what my kids were perfect angels...so perfect I started to think they might not be mine :) lol

God Bless, J

Kat said...

Thanks so much, J, for your posting, it is so inspirational and I'm looking forward to having that conversation with C today...I'll let you know how it goes :)

B-Mama said...

Great stuff ladies! GG and I are in search of a common disciplinary ideal to follow and I can't wait to check out James Stenston's thoughts! Thanks!

Also Kat, while invoking the help of C's guardian angel (wonderful suggestion, J!) you could also call on his "meanie" godparents to chat with him about our and God's expectations for him. I can just see GG saying "your godfather DEMANDS good behavior!" We could scare him into it... :) lol. In all seriousness, though, having the influence of others outside the immediate family can help! Let us know! We'd love to help.

sixandthecity said...

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. I have thought of this often when I am dealing with potty training, since John is struggling in this area right now.

Sometimes, it is a waiting game, and I do think it is reasonable to require C to sit on the potty for x minutes before he puts his pajamas on. That said, you cannot control what happens while he is sitting. You can also try putting him back in a diaper at night if the bed wetting is a problem that he really can't control, or, as Red has done, waking him to use the toilet before you go to bed, but neither or these address the more important issue which is the obedience.

Bedtime Stories are the treasure of our day and I have sent many a crying child to bed without a story becuase they would not participate appropriately in the bedtime routine. It is a good consequence because they take it very hard.

In the bedtime routine I have to say that I am not a huge fan of second chances -- if I give a warning they tend to test me, knowing that they will have one chance to misbehave.

If I were the super nanny coming to your house, I would write out the bedtime routine with words and pictures and post it on the bathroom door (we have done this for years, it is a huge help). Make sure that sitting on the potty is on that list. Then, when you present the list, you explain to him that this is our routine and stories are a part of that routine. Tell him that stories, playing in the bath, lullabies, etc, are privelages, if he is not obedient at any step along the way, he will go immediately to bed with the lights out. This will help you to calmly deal with the matter if there is not compliance -- if you are tired or worried about something else, it is easier to control that emotion if you don't even have to think about what you are doing -- the second he resists, pick him up and put him in bed without even talking about it. He will cry, but know that you have done the right thing, and he knew in advance so this is totally fair.

As for the general issue of being hard on them, tone of voice, etc, I have been advised by a great priest to be honest with my children about my own state of mind. For example, you could say, "Chris, mommy is really tired tonight and I need you to obey me, I don't have the energy to fight about it and if I have to fight you on this then I won't have the energy to read you a story." I would try not to "blame" it on the baby, though, if that is why you are tired. Also, after the fact, you can say "I am sorry that I yelled at you last night. I was right to give you a consequence for not obeying but I should not have been so angry with you."

One reason for doing this is that sometimes the anger, if it was really wrong, can undermine the right thing, which was to put in a consequence. My dad is pretty fair, so I know that when he says I am doing the wrong thing I take that seriously. Other people I deal with are more moody, so I tend to think their correction is just their mood, when in fact they might be just as correct about pointing out a mistake.

Another reason for apologizing is that it gives a great example to them, and also clears the air, since after apologizing you will be able to let go of your guilt and proceed with appropriate bedtime consequences in the future.

As for obedience in general,
If you haven't already, you and ET might talk to him together and explain that you expect him to obey mom and dad the first time he is asked, to respond with a "yes mom" so that you know that he has heard you. For a while, you will have to repeat "let me hear you say "yes, mom" " after everything you ask, but I find that once they have said that "yes mom" the kids almost always do what they are asked. There needs to be an immediate consequnce (we use a time out, I don't have enough self control to feel safe with spanking) for not giving the 'yes mom".

At the end of time out, our kids have to ask fogiveness of the injured party (me, if they were disobedient), with a very specific script -- please forgive me for "x", to which the other person must respond "I forgive you and I love you," then a hug. This is a challenge for me because I have to really forgive them when they have done something wrong, and depending on what they have done it is sometimes hard to say those words, but in saying them I really let go and I think the same is true for the kids if they have been fighting with each other.

Lastly, we all have long working husbands and babies or pregnancies (or both) as well as miriad other personal stresses that lead to short fuses. My motto for my post-partum period is "first do no harm." Sometimes you need a time out, too, just to recover your patience, and I have found that walking into my closet and having a little break (with or without chocolate), just for a minute or two to breath is helpful. Maybe you have a picture someplace you can look at or a calm smelling candle you can take a whiff of, so that you can count to 10, calm down, and then go back in and go ahead and be the authority that you do have to be without being mean about it. I have also sometimes called my husband so that he can talk to the kids on the phone, this might work better when they are older. But remember that there is nothing mean about teaching your children that their actions have consequences.

On that note, I had better go get control of quiet time.

sixandthecity said...

ha ha! I just realized that the "consequence" for getting out of bed during quiet time is being told to "get back in bed."! Duh, so they may as well try getting out of bed, they might get away with it and if not they are just back where they started!

With bedtime in mind, I am going to try to put into place an "after quiet time story" so that losing that story will be a consequence. This week, the consequence has just been that quiet time gets longer, but two days ago Mary eventually fell asleep at 4pm and slept through dinner, totally messing up her schedule.

I am also going to have to sit in the hall and be a serious enforcer for a while, it is funny, we have weeks at a time of great naps, then one bad day and it feels like we are starting over.

BTW, I think quiet time is a salvation for homeschooling parents, don't let go of that nap, just tranistion it, PT now reads in bed for the 2 hours and Merry colors or sleeps -- she is five and still often needs the nap, even with 11 hours at night.

Gabriel Austin said...

It is wonderful to read about mothers and their attempts at disciplining their small children. Chesterton remarked that only women could have come up with that soft but terrible discipline called being sat in the corner.
But there is no getting away from the fact - the brick wall - that children will attempt to push the envelope. Fathers are perhaps better at dealing with boys because they were themselves willful boys and can read what is going on in the small boyish brain. And the small boyish brain recognizes that.
But mothers always have the edge, as wives always have the edge. What more terrifying phrase than that universal use of the full name: "John Joseph Smith...". Every man who ever hears it in a store, in the street, wherever goes in the opposite direction as though he himself were the target.
For bedtime, I think the best solution [all the practical needs being done] is to pray with the child to sleep, to get them out of the stubbornness which has taken hold.
A 96 year old aunt recalls clearly when she was 5 years old deliberately trying to vex her parents, to see how far she could go. That is the time to be sat in the corner.
But it is not good to leave a child fretting at night. The dark is a scary place. That's when you need to remind the child of its guardian angel, almost as an ally against the "mean mommy".

Gabriel Austin said...

It is wonderful to read about mothers and their attempts at disciplining their small children. Chesterton remarked that only women could have come up with that soft but terrible discipline called being sat in the corner.
But there is no getting away from the fact - the brick wall - that children will attempt to push the envelope. Fathers are perhaps better at dealing with boys because they were themselves willful boys and can read what is going on in the small boyish brain. And the small boyish brain recognizes that.
But mothers always have the edge, as wives always have the edge. What more terrifying phrase than that universal use of the full name: "John Joseph Smith...". Every man who ever hears it in a store, in the street, wherever goes in the opposite direction as though he himself were the target.
For bedtime, I think the best solution [all the practical needs being done] is to pray with the child to sleep, to get them out of the stubbornness which has taken hold.
A 96 year old aunt recalls clearly when she was 5 years old deliberately trying to vex her parents, to see how far she could go. That is the time to be sat in the corner.
But it is not good to leave a child fretting at night. The dark is a scary place. That's when you need to remind the child of its guardian angel, almost as an ally against the "mean mommy".

Right Said Red said...

I've been meaning to comment on this post for a while, but have been very busy lately and my internet time has been limited.

I really agree with much of what Mary Alice has written on discipline. She has really inspired me in this regard and I think her suggestions are excellent. Letting C know what is expected of him at bedtime and then automatically dishing out a punishment he knows well in advance will help you to be less "mean" and more "in control." You won't have to think about what an appropriate punishment should be--you will know in advance what you will do it, without warning, if he refuses to follow the routine.

I think making him sit on the potty prior to bedtime--whether he goes or not--is an essential part of the bedtime routine. If he refuses, I would immediately put him to bed, without stories. If you are then worried that he will wet himself I would put him in a pull-up or wake him several hours later to go potty before you go to bed.

All this being said, I think J had an excellent idea in suggesting that you speak to him about the problems you have been having at bedtime sometime in the middle of the day when you are not tired and neither is he. He is old enough now--almost 4--and you should be able to reason with him in a similar way to what she suggested.

Finally while C is a little too old for this, I'm not afraid to spank my little ones when they are refusing to behave. Very young children (under 2.5) are very difficult to reason with, and I find that an immediate spanking often times is the fairest way to let them know that a behavior is inappropriate. (I know some disagree with ever spanking a child). That being said, you should never spank when angry!!!!

Kat said...

Thanks for all of your suggestions, I really appreciate your thoughtful responses! After some reflection, here is what I think went wrong last week:

1) I tried to institute a new rule - "you have to try to go to the bathroom before bed" - at the end of the day. I should have talked to C about the rule in the afternoon, when he isn't so tired and I have more patience.

2) I delivered the consequence in an unkind manner. It's not that C isn't used to consequences - there have been plenty of times where he's gone to bed without dinner or stories, or hasn't gotten to watch a video, etc. - but he is used to me delivering them calmly. For some reason, last week I wasn't able to do this :)

3) I've gotten into the bad habit of giving C a chance to "earn back" the privileges that he has lost, i.e. If he loses his "bedtime story privilege" at 2 p.m., I give him a chance to earn it back by obeying me the rest of the day. Over the past few days, we have stopped this practice, and it seems to be helping in the sense that he takes his consequences much more seriously now!

Thanks again, ladies! We've learned some valuable parenting lessons over the past few days :)

B-Mama said...

Kat, aren't we all! If we're not learning, we're standing still or regressing, so better to learn! Way to go...

gbm3 said...

On good nights, before I close the door, I remind my kid (K) of what s/he did correctly.

I say, "You brushed your teeth, went to the bathroom, got a drink, had a song. OK. Night-night." K then says "Ok. Night-night."

This helps keeps him from getting out of bed to do whatever we missed or forgot.

This helps minimize the bad nights.

gbm3
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