Wrong Turn

Sunday, July 17, 2011
Wrong Turn
I can pretty much pinpoint when it happened. At the beginning of the summer, our kids still needed life vests or floaties to swim. We started taking them swimming once a week, and by the second time our older two were swimming without anything else. They were so excited! A couple of weeks later, they were jumping off the diving board, finally working their way to the high dive. They couldn't imagine anything more thrilling. It was so much fun that my five year old had an extremely difficult time leaving.

After carrying him out of the pool, we told him that we weren't coming back the next week. His grief was immense. In all honesty, there are many times when the difference between punishment and boundaries looks like a matter of semantics. I do believe that there is a significant difference in the intent of the parent, as well as the approach, but I also know that the line can blur very easily.

One of the things I have adopted from Crystal Lutton is that "leaving successfully is part of coming back the next time." It wasn't the first time my son had had a meltdown on leaving, and it was apparent that he didn't yet have the control needed to leave without a fuss. Asking him to do it over again without changing things was setting him up for failure. And going through an unpleasant scene at the end of swimming each week was not something we felt was worth it. Our intent was not to punish him--make him feel bad so that his behavior would change. It was just to give us all a break until we could come back and try again more successfully.

A lot of other things were going on, too. I teach nine credit hours in 6 weeks during the summer, so I am suddenly gone a lot during the day. By the time I was home on evenings and weekends, there were a thousand things screaming at me to get done, I was desperate for some down time, and our connection was starting to fray. I developed tunnel-vision. Instead of seeing the big picture and the long-term goals I have, I started focusing on the easiest way to get compliance. My intent shifted and it transformed into a threat. "Do what I say right now or no swimming."

It worked. Their love of swimming is so great that they will pretty much do anything if they think we can go back. And since we did skip one week before trying again, they know we can follow through on the threat. At first, it was easy to brush aside each twinge of guilt. After all, it isn't like threatening them with a beating or using harsh words to tear them down. Missing a swimming session is not abuse, by any means.

It became a quick fix. It wasn't until hearing my husband tell them several times in a row that doing x would mean no swimming (when they were happily complying to begin with!) that I realized how ridiculously it was being used. Instead of connection and discipline (teaching), we were just relying on the threat to get instant results. And yes, those of you who have read my diatribes against spanking are fully aware of the hypocrisy there, since most of my arguments against spanking apply just as well to this.

We took a wrong turn. It seems like a convenient tool. The initial payoff is great. But the more I used it, the more I realize that the long term price is too high for me. It was eroding our connection. Our kids were starting to ask, "What will happen if we don't?" from a self-centered standpoint. I read this post from my friend PIO and nearly cried because I knew I wasn't living up to my own beliefs.

I mess up a lot. In spite of all my posts on discipline and parenting, I fall short often from what I know. I get tempted by quick results and easy responses. I am working on a post about getting back on track, but wanted to go ahead and post this as my declaration that I don't want to go any further down this path of punishments.

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