I am not a punitive sort of person. I believe in second chances, and third, and fourth. I get that development is a process, not a destination.
That said, I’m getting really sick of my kids doing the same thoughtless things over and over again.
- They ask to eat in the living room, and I ask them to please be careful, and to clean up after themselves, but still I find bowls of (dry) cereal on the floor, and ice-cream sandwich wrappers by the Wii.
- They ask to use the markers in their room, and I remind them about the markers that I had to throw out, and the sheets I had to wash, because markers dried out before or after turning solids into prints. Yet I still find uncapped, dried out markers on their floor, and find spots of color where I wish I didn’t.
- They use anything and everything for pretend play, which I am completely good with, except then they either hit me with it, or leave it on the floor where I trip over it, or where it could get broken.
I always say that “I guess I won’t be able to let you do that again”, and perhaps take away the object or privilege for a while, then I get an apology, then I give them another chance, then they invariably do the exact same thing again. And again. And AGAIN.
Certainly, I could not let them have that second, third, or hundredth chance. I could take and box away the toys they’ve left in the bathroom sink every single day of the last week. I could give them lengthy time outs. I could spank them. I could deny them other privileges. I could yell. I could stand over them until they comply.
I could deny them the chance to appreciate and internalize the values of order, non-violence, and personal accountability. I could teach them that rules are made by the strong so that they can control the weak. I could tell them that they are obviously incapable of changing their ways until some arbitrary period of time has passed, and deny them the chance to set and meet goals for their own behavior. I could begrudge them the chance to work out and discuss logical compromises and alternate solutions. I could express to them that clean floors and complete sets of markers are more important to me than are their autonomy, creative self-expression, and opportunities to try again. I could tell them that an empty sink is more important than their chance to succeed. I could make sure they knew that this was MY home, and that they live here by sufferance. I could let my kids think of themselves as failures, as prisoners, as the worst things a parent can call a child in my mind: as disappointments.
Maybe my kids see me as a push-over, letting them do things over and over again. Maybe they don’t even think about honoring my requests. Maybe they DON’T CARE if I box up their toys, or if their markers dry out, or if I send them to time out. Maybe they don’t care if they cause me pain. Maybe, on all those times I have tried to engage them in conversations about showing respect for others, oneself, and property in general; on all those times when I’ve tried logic, compassion, and actual communication, I’ve just been talking to myself. Maybe they manipulate me, giving me the apology I want, then carrying on just as they please.
But maybe not. Most days I think my kids actually ARE sorry, that they want to do better, but somehow just forgot, or got distracted by the stuff of childhood. Sometimes I observe them remembering to try to do better, to think about their actions before they do them, to watch where they are going, to clean up after themselves, to do something with their anger other than lash out. Sometimes I see them trying *to grow*.
Of the seven markers I picked up off their bedroom floor tonight, only one didn’t have a cap. Yes, they could be cleaning their room themselves, but hey, they DID get the tops back on six out of seven markers, and that’s something they wouldn’t have had the chance to do if I didn’t allow them to have the markers in their room in the first place.
I AM getting really tired of ice-cream wrappers, strewn cereal, and broken household objects. I’m tired of hearing “sorry” and seeing so little to no change in behavior, of getting hit again and again by the same little boy who doesn’t yet have better ways to express his frustration. Maybe their development into civilized human beings is going far more slowly than I’d like; maybe that progress is downright glacial some days, but I do know that they ARE getting there:
I have capped markers to prove it.