Parenting Lessons…Mostly From My Mom.

Image by Amber McAuley from Pixabay

I don’t know where I would be as a parent if it wasn’t for the constant prayer, advice and prayerful advice, and guidance she has given me over the years.  When I was first a dad, I was pretty close minded to what my parents had to say about parenting.  It was my ignorance and pride that took offense to my mom’s correction.  It was the part of me in my twenties that wanted to be an adult all on my own.  The part of me that incorrectly responded, “Are you saying I’m not a good dad?”  It has taken a lot of years to accept my mom’s correction of my own children’s behavior and my flaws in parenting, knowing she has been there and made the very mistakes she is pointing out to me.  It has been humbling and difficult to accept that I am not perfect, and as a grown man I still need the correction from those older than me who have walked the road of parenting before me, to point out how I can do better.  After all, isn’t that the goal of all our lives, to become better than we were yesterday?  Do we not want this for our children, to be better people because of us in their lives?

To get there, you first have to accept that you are not a good parent just because you have kids.  Just like you must accept the reality that you are not by nature a good person, just because you are human.  As Chris Pratt said in his MTV Speech, “Don’t believe the lie that you are perfect, because you are not.”  If we assume, we are just fine the way we are then we fail to see the better person we can and should become.  Arrogance is our folly as people and parents.  If you did not have good parents, then find people whom you admire and respect in their parenting, and start seeking their wisdom and advice.

The second thing you need to accept is that just because you read parenting books, doesn’t mean you are a good parent. Similarly, just because you read the Bible, it doesn’t mean you are a Christian or a moral person. Wisdom is the key that the wise person will apply, with humility, the truths of God’s word. The wise parent will listen to and apply the necessary parenting skills offered by those they trust.

In no particular order (Except #6), here is what I have learned so far from my mom.

  1. Listen the First Time: obedience
    My mom often wonders why parents count to five if the child doesn’t listen to number one then why would they listen to number two.  If a child is the type of child that will wait until five, they will wait until five every time.  Beat them to the punch and make it one count, listen now; not five seconds from now, but right now.  As soon as your baby starts acknowledging they know what you are saying, it needs to be a first time.  When they look at you to touch something, and you say, “No don’t touch that,” and they touch it and laugh you know it has started.   You wouldn’t count to a child that doesn’t know how to count or tell time, so what is the point of counting?  As the often used metaphor goes, if your child is running out into traffic, you don’t have time to count even to two.  You need an immediate response from them, which is to stop.  How do you train a child to respond the first time? That is our next stop.
  2. Spank for Defiance: spank twice for screaming
    This is the big one, the taboo among parenting in our culture.  In a world where abuse is rampant and what exactly a parent can and cannot do is getting blurred, we often fall back into the realm of inaction.  My mom taught me early on that Dr. Dobson, yes I was raised by the parenting suggestions of Dr. Dobson, spanking is reserved for defiance.  What exactly is defiance?  Isn’t every misbehaver defiant?  Here we will find a secondary rule that fits nicely.  If you are not willing to follow through on disciplining your child, don’t make the rule, to begin with.  Then, you do not have to spank unnecessarily.   However, the line you draw in the sand must be clear and stated firmly, and you must stick to your guns.  Your child stands up in the bathtub, you have decided that standing up in the bathtub is dangerous and you tell your two-year-old to sit down.  Your child looks at you with glaring eyes and yells, “No!”  Your child is making it clear that what you said does not matter.  One quick swat on the behind, the child learns to associate pain and discomfort with their disobedient and defiant “no!” A bad example is, “eat your food our you will get a spanking.” Not eating their food is a natural consequence that hunger solves. “If you don’t want to eat, fine there just isn’t any other food for you until you finish your dinner.” Another fear parents have when they first spank their child is the child’s reaction.  “My child just screams and throws a tantrum, it doesn’t work,” is a common objection.  One of two things happened, they were not spanked hard enough, or we have not realized that screaming is still an act of defiance.  Children can cry, but screaming as a form of punishing the parent is not the appropriate response to something the child did wrong in the first place.  There is a debate on weather or not it is okay to spank with the hand or an object.  The choices in my family have been a wooden spoon or a hand.  Some people say, “Not that hand because that is the hand you love them with.”  I have found that sometimes I do not know how hard to spank when it is with a spoon.  It is with a flick of a wrist with a spoon or if the hand it is not a slap but a quick swipe across the skin.  Always on the butt, and never to bruise.   When I have spanked my children, I don’t let them watch, like looking away from a shot; then after I hug them and hold them.  I tell them, “I am spanking you once for disobeying, but if you scream and throw a fit I will have to spank you a second time.”  They cry holding a pillow or their teddy bear and I hold them in my lap and tell them I love them and don’t like spanking them.  The ending conversation is one where my child apologizes and I ask them, “Why did I spank you?” Their response is, “So I do not do that again.”  The lesson I teach them as they learn to talk is this, “I need you to obey my voice of authority so that when you are older, you will respect authority and ultimately be able to hear God’s voice of authority.  If you can’t hear and obey my voice, you will have a hard time hearing and obeying God’s voice.”
  3. Have control by the age of 3: it’s harder to discipline an undisciplined kid
    I heard it said once if you want an obedient teenager you need an obedient child. My mom’s advice with my first child, who was my stepchild now adopted, was given just months before he was three. She gave me this tidbit of information from Dobson about obedience before 3. My first experience with disciplining was almost like an intervention of an addict. I stepped into this child’s life and quickly realized he needed boundaries from a father. My mom reminded me the following years that there is never a lost cause past three, it is just more challenging. My oldest was our biggest discipline challenge because we missed some huge discipline milestones before three. Needless to say, disciplining our following three children was much easier hitting the obedience before three years of age mark. More spankings from the time they walk to 3 for defiance will gain a lot of fruitful conversations when they will listen and talk obediently and ask questions because they respect you when they are older.
  4. Break their will, not their spirit: build a relationship
    You want to find the punishment that fits the crime.  This is where we can find more creative ways to discipline our children the older they get and when spanking is no longer appropriate or needed.  Find a way to break their desire to think they are in control of the house but not their spirit of wanting to conquer the world.  We want them to see the bigger picture, and we want to correct specific character flaws or attitudes.  If after they have been punished, they still have a bad attitude, their will is still one of defiance.  However, if a child feels they never do anything right and are never praised, their spirit and desire to try has been vanquished.  Building a relationship with your children is the way to keep their spirit intact.  When it comes time to discipline, they know you love them first.  When the punishment fits the crime, our children know that we are not disciplining them arbitrarily but have carefully thought through the resulting behavior change we want. My preteen the other day did not turn games off when he was supposed to, and when he finally did, he had a bad attitude.  I normally just take games away the following night since the problem had to do with games.  However, we have started the process of teaching him how to negotiate with me and his mom.  I said, “I need your attitude to change so how can we do that and still have you keep games?”  On our drive the next morning I realized what I wanted from him was gratitude, thankfulness that I let him play games longer than he was supposed to the previous night.  We talked, and he agreed, he would write me a thank you card.  I said it needs to look creative, that you put some thought and time into it.  Later that night, he gave me his hand made thank you card, and as I read it, we both cried.  His words of gratitude softened my heart, and we both learned something.  The punishment doesn’t have to be the loss of something; it can be the addition of teaching our children how to express love.
  5. Discipline makes them feel safe: controlling their chaotic world
    Science has proven that a child feels safer when there are boundaries given.  When there are no physical boundaries, children will stay closer to that which they feel is safe, a house or a person.  However, when there is a fence, they will actively roam around and explore even up to the boundary.  It is the same with their hearts and minds.  Children may want to have everything their way, but in reality, what they need without realizing it is someone to set a boundary, a wall of where they should not go.  Our children will be much happier and obedient when clear boundaries are established and then a clear punishment is followed through when the boundary is crossed.  If we don’t discipline, then the boundary is meaningless and nonexistent.  To have a boundary in place, follow through of punishing the breaking of the boundary is how the child knows that the boundary is there and is real.  Otherwise, the message we send is mixed.  “Johnny, don’t go outside.”  Johnny goes outside.  We wait for a minute, then we bring them back in and move on.  Johnny has not learned that going outside is a boundary that needs to be obeyed.
  6. Choice Number 2: moving from “Listen The First Time” to negotiating
    When they are starting to become teenagers, start giving them choice number 2. You can listen the first time, what the rule has always been, or you can ask a question and begin the bargaining process or negotiation that preteens need to learn as they transition into their teenage and young adult years. This I learned from experience with teenagers and recently confirmed through counseling with my oldest child.  His needs are more than an average preteen, so the specialized therapist helped us walk through what it is like to parent our child as he transitions into a teenager.  The art of negotiating was one of the main things we needed to grasp.  Our child needed to learn how to ask appropriately, with the right word choice, and learn what things he has to negotiate with.  Katie and I needed to learn to stop, listen to his requests and allow the negotiating process to occur.  Instead of a no, we needed to hear him, talk through what it is that our family allows and then come to an agreement on what was best or a “win-win” for all of us.  This has changed our interactions with him greatly and allowed our child to explore more freedom with questions, critical thinking, and personal motivation and incentives.  Instead of automatically taking his video game time away as a punishment, he can offer up another punishment in place of it that accomplishes the same goal of behavior modification.  He has become part of the process of how his behavior is shaped.  A healthy adult responds to the needs of others and their own needs.  They neither make the world revolve around them nor do they become a floor mat to be walked over.  Negotiating, or a dialogue allows people’s needs to be heard and to come to an agreement that is beneficial to the parties involved.  On a side note, one of our house mantras is that we do not argue with our children, they must obey the first time.  However, our oldest is no longer a child, he is growing up and leaving his childish ways behind him, and we are coming alongside him allowing him to be empowered to be part of the decision-making process. 

In Truth & Love
Matthew J. Diaz

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Looking forward to your addition to this dialogue.