Terrible Twos. Threenagers. F*cked Up Fours. It’s all fun and games until you’re going through it with your own children.
I’m an adult with three decades of life experience, a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a Master’s degree in Conflict Management. Yet I consistently lose arguments to a barely literate 2-year-old with a love of the word “no” and a healthy set of lungs. So discipline is something that my husband and I have had to try to figure out and get on the same page more now that our son has discovered the joys of pissing us off.
The problem is that there’s no real firm, helpful guidebook on raising children. One thing that I see over and over again: don’t spank your children. There’s a lot of literature that one can find on the harms of corporal punishment. There’s this NPR article which quotes the American Academy of Pediatrics’ position that spanking is never okay. The article also seems to say that any sort of verbal reprimand could have an unintended negative effect on your child.
So I’m guess I’m supposed to just heap positive reinforcement on my child whenever he’s not doing something wrong. But, frankly, when my child acts like a shithead during the majority of his waking hours, there’s not much room for positive reinforcement. I guess I can wait for him to stop throwing his food on the ground because I refused to let him drink from my glass of wine to give him that positivity. However, I really don’t think his dumb toddler mind would make the connection.
My question is, if I don’t discipline my child for doing something he’s not supposed to be doing and then I praise him for something that should be expected of him anyway, am I really doing him any favors? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time.
Because on the other end of the spectrum, there are the warnings of too much positive reinforcement, particular in situations where the child has really done nothing to warrant it. There’s a right and a wrong way to praise a child, according to People Who Are Much Smarter Than Your or Me. And you’re probably doing it wrong.
Parenting Methods that the Internet Tells You Will Put Your Kid in Therapy
If you’re not eternally damaging your kids by spanking them or spoiling them by too much praise, you’re probably doing it by helicoptering. Or lawnmowering. Or free ranging it up. Or tiger momming it. Or sailoring, which is the term I’ve just coined for swearing too much around your kids. No matter what parenting style you choose, there’s a very high likelihood that someone will think that you are screwing up your kids in the worst way possible.
The up side is that I’ve realized that there’s a real risk that your child may turn out fucked up no matter what you do! Awesome, right?! I’ve got a couple of bad seeds in my family so if my son ends up shitty too, I’m just going to blame it on genetics and thank God that it appears to have skipped over me. It’s a bit reassuring to have come to that realization because I used to agonize about every action, every word with my son:
I accidentally praised his ugly drawing instead of the effort it took for him to make the drawing. Now he’s going to grow up a narcissist who quits all his jobs when he doesn’t get a raise every 3 months.
Oh my God, I can’t believe I lost my temper with him following his really shitty behavior. Now he’s going to grow up with anger management problems and a habit of throwing cats in the river. What have I done?
Oh no, I saved him from jumping off the couch when I should have let him fall and break some body part that would have cost me a lot of money to fix. Now he’s going to be afraid of going out into the real world and live with us until he’s 42. Oh, woe is we!
Anyone else think stuff like that? It’s exhausting thinking about all the mistakes you are making with your children every day. Look, there are some parenting decisions that I have no problem admitting that I judge hardcore (not vaccinating your children being on the top of that list). And you will never ever convince me that beating (not spanking) your child or using some sort of weapon (stick, belt, shoe, etc.) to hit them will ever do more good than harm.
Parenting Methods in a Judgment Free Zone
But, for the most part, I like to keep out of the judgment zone when it comes to parent decisions. There are too many parents already that like to make themselves feel better by criticizing every different decision that another parent makes. I’m not about that life. This parenting shit is hard enough as it is.
For our family, though, we have made the decision that we prefer to find other ways to discipline our son that don’t involve spankings. I’m not going to say that there may never be a situation where we don’t feel like our son has done enough to warrant a spanking. However, spankings are an easy way to punish someone smaller and in less power than you. If we try to take that particular form of punishment out of the equation, it forces us to craft discipline that will be more specific to our child and, therefore, more effective.
I made the above comment a few weeks ago to another person who decided to argue with me on the issue. This person felt that they had turned out “just fine” from being hit as a child. This person also felt that there was nothing wrong with raising a child to fear their parents. I tried to explain MY rationale and why I felt physical discipline was not the most effective method of discipline for most children, and especially not for a two-year old.
The other person’s response: “You’re thinking about this too hard.”
The fuck? I didn’t even know how to respond. I just assumed that most parents out there saw the raising of their children as the most important job they would have and, consequentially, would devote a significant amount of brain cells to figuring out the best way to not totally deuce it up. I mean, I spent two days trying to figure out how the twist ending to the newest Fantastic Beasts movie worked with the canon of the Harry Potter books (I’m still a bit sensitive about that, let’s not talk about it). If I can devote that much brain power to a fictional series (which I do on a frequent and obsessive basis), then there should be no question that I would be just as passionate about finding the best way to raise my child.
I could sit here and try to spout a bunch of reasons as to why my way of raising my children is the best way. But it would be bullshit. I’ve got just the one kid who seems alright so far but could easily go sideways on me. Maybe when he’s 25 and proving himself to be a productive member of society, I can update this article with a detailed list of everything that I did for others to emulate. But, as of now, I’m learning just like pretty much everyone else out there.
The only advice that I can give? Do your research. Be thoughtful and intentional in the way you raise your children. Don’t fall back on methods your parents used. Find what works best for your family. Raise your child to be the better version of you. Stop doing so much damn judging of other parents’ decisions.
And, for the love of God, vaccinate your kids.