Discipline: Duel to the Death
In any marriage, there are a few major contenders vying for title of Most Fought-Over Issue. The way we discipline our kids proudly takes its rightful place among these contenders. When we marry our chosen love, we’re pretty naive as to what we’re getting ourselves into when it comes to disciplining our future look-alikes. In fact, we tend to romanticize the idea of having children a bit: imagining only the adorable little baby babbling away; failing to imagine that mouthy little five-year-old who has the uncanny ability to oppose you at every crossing, whether it’s wanting candy for breakfast or screaming aloud at you publicly in an attempt to shame you into buying him that “can’t live without” toy that will meet its fate in the Bermuda Triangle of lost toys within the week. But now that reality has set in as parents, how will Mom and Dad agree on how to discourage the unwanted behaviors and encourage the opposite?
Discipline is as necessary to a child’s upbringing as love is. Our children crave boundaries, rules, love, and discipline. Without discipline, rules and boundaries are imaginary to a child—only clouds of empty gibberish floating from your mouth, bouncing off them and back at you like tiny boomerangs. Empty promises of “I’ll spank you if you do that!” only teach them to ignore and disrespect us. If we want our children to respect us and learn boundaries, we must back up our threatened consequences. But how exactly do we do that if one parent preaches, “Spank him” and another parent prefers taking away that prized Nintendo DS that is seemingly glued to his hand?
While we may disagree on our paths for discipline, our desired destination is the same: we want to raise well-behaved, respectable children who are able to follow rules, find happiness in themselves, and love and accept those around them. Our chosen paths for accomplishing this will often mirror our parents’ paths. If one parent was raised by authoritarian parents who were very strict and insisted that the children do exactly as they say, or else, then that parent will likely parent in a similar manner. On the other hand, if a parent was raised by more lenient parents who gave the children more of a voice and tended not to focus on rules and discipline, that parent may follow suit. Whichever path you choose, it will rarely be identical to your spouse’s path. Given this, at some point, we will butt heads over how to punish our kids.
Probably one of the most important things we can do initially is educate ourselves on age-appropriate expectations. Different expectations, as well as punishments, apply for children of different ages. Once we’re aware of these, we can come together (without the kids) and discuss punishments we prefer and which punishment fits which crime. If one of us feels very strongly against a certain punishment but the other parent feels it should be employed, maybe we could agree on that punishment’s being used only under the worst of circumstances. For smaller crimes, we could employ the other parent’s choices. This way, neither parent is being “unheard.” Each of you has a say in how to discipline your children, without one overriding the other.
Because many families today are blended, a child’s disciplinary kitchen may be spilling over with cooks—between biological Mom and her new husband, and biological Dad and his new wife. I can only imagine how trying this can be for all involved. Children will, in the beginning, have a certain amount of distrust and resentment toward new spouses—understandably. While his newly married parent may be blissful in the new marriage, it can be a very emotionally confusing time for a child—whatever the age. It’s recommended that in the event of a new marriage, the step-parent take a backseat in terms of discipline for the first couple of years. Let the biological parent take the lead and be the “bad guy” for a while. During this time, the step-parent and child can bond and develop friendship, followed by love and trust. Once the trust is there, discipline can follow. Until then, discipline on the part of the step-parent will only be met with resentment and frustration, and will therefore be counterproductive.
At some point, parents will engage in a battle of words (in front of the kids) over how to handle a situation. While debating the issue, it’s best to keep the focus on the child’s behavior, not on parental bickering. Children catch on very quickly and will pit you against one another in an attempt to manipulate the situation to their benefit; beware of these cunning little cuties—looks deceive. While most of our decisions should be made in private regarding punishment, it’s not always realistic. New “situations” rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times. When this happens, we have an amazing opportunity to provide a life lesson for our child. Hearing his parents talk rationally (without degrading, verbally abusing, or disregarding the other) and hearing them listen to the other’s viewpoints will be beneficial. This will teach him how to have a healthy argument and how to come together toward a common goal, while respecting his own and others’ opinions. On the flip side, listening to his parents yell back and forth, make snarky remarks towards each other, and eventually stop speaking will teach him to only think of himself, never to listen to others, and to avoid differences. Result: an adult completely ignorant on how to hear, be heard, and come to a healthy agreement.
While we will inevitably differ on ideas of discipline, we must remember that our goal is the same. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares? This shouldn’t be our focus. Raising wonderful, caring, law-abiding individuals, THIS should be our focus. Entering into marriage and parenthood begins our long, winding road of confusion and pandemonium. But if we work alongside each other, instead of against each other, our road is much more pleasant. At the end of that road, we’ll find that our once mouthy, difficult five-year-old has evolved into an intelligent, well-adjusted, successful individual. No one ever said the road was short or easy (for those who may have made that stupendously stupid assumption that ignorance is bliss—as I’m sure they were not yet parents). As you know, parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Sissies need not apply.