06. May 2005 · Comments Off on Sgt. Mom’s Rulz · Categories: Domestic, General

Now that my daughter has friends who are coping with small children, she has become quite amazingly appreciative of me as a mom. ( Mothers’ Day flowers and a card, and something nice for the garden!) The terrible twos were not all that bad, and she even gracefully managed the terrible teenage stage without any scars on either one of us; although, as she pointed out when we were talking about this— we HAD to get along, because it was just the two of us. No impossible friends, no rebellion, no experimentation with unusual substances, or various infractions of the law… no stormy tantrums, no slammed doors. Quite frankly, I was envied by a number of other parents, and even a prospective parent who was in two minds about what it would be like to raise a child, and wished that it were possible to just clone my daughter.

But I have never been quite sure if I just lucked out, and got a child with a temperament and interests which were compatible with mine, or if it was those few and sensible rules, drawn from my parents’ house rules or from my own experience with smaller children. Someone once made the point that in the old days of large and close families, older children often had to mind the younger sibs or cousins, with the pleasing result that when they came to have their own children, there were no surprises. I had already taken care of my youngest brother, had the neighborhood monopoly on baby-sitting as the only responsible teenage girl for blocks around, worked at summer camps, with Sunday School classes, and as a Scout troop assistant leader. So, very few surprises, and a lot of confidence going in. And I was terrifically pleased by the invention of disposable diapers, by the way. Gift of the gods, people, gift of the gods.

I knew enough not to expect a lot out of a toddler, at least. You might be able to teach a three year old to use the toilet, play Chopin on the piano, and remember her/his manners… but not to count on that, terribly… and not to beat yourself up if you couldn’t. Until the age of about three and a half to four, when they grasp the concept of threats and bribery, what you have is a completely self-centered, impulse-driven little animal. Love them and kept them from running out in traffic, or sticking their fingers into the electrical sockets, and try not to expect too much. Good behavior is pretty much a random, hit or miss proposition. At least, until they are at the stage where you can say “Darling, if you don’t stop that, mother will spank!” or “Darling, if you are an absolute angel, mother will give you some ice cream!”— and they comprehend, and amend their own behavior willingly, you are just not going to get consistently good behavior.

And never make a threat or a promise you have no intention of delivering on. If you aren’t going to follow through, don’t even open your mouth.

You have to be willing to be authoritative, to be a parent, not a pal. If you don’t have their respect when they are small, what chance do you have of it when they are taller than you?

Spanking (never in anger, bare hand on bare butt, for clear infractions of established rules) was hardly ever required after a certain age. I could always come up with a far more suitable, non-physical punishment— forfeiture of allowance, privileges, expiation of guilt, something creative like that.

I worked very hard at never being surprised into anger at anything startling she told me. If you are angry, you will frighten them, and then you will never hear anything again that a child thinks might make you angry. Practice a noncommittal expression, and the useful phrase “Well, that is interesting, sweetie.” Then take a deep breath and rationally deconstruct what they just told you.

I kissed off having any sort of non-child oriented social life for about fifteen years. Your family life, your job, your social life. You can only have two out of three.

And finally, never forget that your child is a seperate and unique human being… not some sort of extension of yourself. They are, and ultimatly, their own person, and as such they may do things that you yourself might never do.

Myself, I would never have enlisted in the Marines, but it’s what my daughter wanted to do.

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