This summer, we hosted my husband’s newly engaged cousin and his fiancée at our house. It was the first time we’ve had ample space for visitors since having kids, so we were thrilled at the opportunity to have a family summer staycation. This staycation also meant that our house guests got to witness the chaos of our family firsthand for an entire week.
The great thing about kids, is that they don’t put on any masks or performances just because company arrives. Kids let it all hang out – the good, the bad, and the ugly. In our house, take two kids – almost three and five – who were both home for the summer and in need of constant stimulation, with one of those kids hovering devilishly between the brink of the Terrible Twos and Threenager, and what you have for a newly engaged couple is perhaps the most effective recipe ever for birth control.
In particular, our almost-Threenager son proved to demand as much energy as humanly possible during our guests’ stay. Not long prior to our guests arriving, our boy decided that naps were no longer his thing. In addition to being a high-energy, rambunctious kid to begin with, dropping the nap translated every single day to a Threenager-Time-Bomb. Basically, every minute past 3 p.m. was a losing battle, and all we could do was try to keep him happy and safe, and hopefully minimize the tantrums.
At one point during our guests’ stay, my son started acting out for one reason or another (I can’t remember specifics, because it happened so often this summer), but if I had to guess, it was because he didn’t get his way, so he started freaking out. And, rather than having to step in from across the room, our cousin’s fiancée firmly said to my son “Kieran, NO. We don’t do that.”
Within less than a second, our cousin looked at me and said “Are you OK with this? Like does it feel like you relinquish control when someone else steps in with your child?” To which I said “Not at all – this is awesome that there are other adults to help me keep my kid in line. Not only does it reinforce good behaviour, but it gives me a break.” This was 100% the truth – and if our cousin hadn’t asked me for my thoughts on this, I would have shared them anyway by shouting “THANK YOU!!!” from across the room. If it was the right time of day, I might have even thrown an adult beverage from 15 feet away as a token of my appreciation.
I can also remember an incident from a few weeks ago, where my daughter wanted to stop and say hello to her old caregiver on the walk home from school, and my son was hell-bent on getting home. So, rather than stopping, he bolted up the sidewalk without warning. Thankfully, I had mom-friends right in front of me to watch my daughter, as I chased my son at full-speed so he wouldn’t go onto the road. I caught him, picked him up, and turned around – and just as I was ready to lose my shit, one of my mom-friends stepped in politely, but firmly, saying “Kieran, you don’t run away from your mom like that.” Herein lies another example where my gratitude for the reinforcement can’t be stated enough, because when it comes down to it – my Threenager can be difficult, and his safety is of utmost importance.
We live in interesting times in 2018. More so than ever, we have to be careful with everything we say and do, for fear of overstepping. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – because as a society we are learning to respect each other’s boundaries, and we are learning to be more sensitive to understanding each other’s views. But, I’ll be honest. There are things I miss about being a kid who was born in the 70’s, and one of those things was enforcing more rules around kids’ behaviour. My parents – my father in particular – had a zero-tolerance policy for bullshit and acting out, and if we stepped out of line as kids for even half a second, we heard about it. There was no messing around with discipline in our house growing up, even if we occasionally received the message harshly and with a raised voice, we knew what was expected of us in terms of behaviour. I think we’re missing some of that in this day and age.
When my daughter started kindergarten, I became more sympathetic than ever to what teachers must go through in dealing with parents. My daughter won the lottery of kindergarten teachers – we could not have been more lucky or grateful with the class she was in. She loved school immediately, but it took her some time to adapt to a world of structure that she wasn’t used to. During the second week of school, her teacher carefully approached me in the schoolyard to let me know that my daughter had to go to the “Thinking Chair” multiple times that day (the Thinking Chair is the kindergarten version of Time Out). He started to explain to me exactly how she was misbehaving, and how she was asked politely multiple times to stop, before she was asked to go to the Thinking Chair. I interrupted the teacher before he could finish, because I could tell he was tiptoeing around the message so I wouldn’t be offended:
“Hey – I just want to let you know that you don’t have to ask my daughter more than once to behave. If she doesn’t listen to you the first time, feel free to send her to the Thinking Chair right away. I trust you. And I’m grateful that you are helping to enforce good behaviour with my child.” The look on the teacher’s face let me know that he doesn’t get that kind of response often from parents.
Moms and dads, I know we all get protective when it comes to our kids – but can we all take a step back for a second and remember that if we want to raise well-adjusted, well-mannered kids, that discipline is an area where we need the proverbial Village to come in. Teachers, caregivers and other adults have been doing this for years – and while nobody may know our children better than us parents, sometimes other adults have experience that we don’t – and we need to be more open-minded with this. I’m no PhD in psychology, but it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to know that kids are naturally going to challenge their parents more often than they will another adult. And frankly, since I’m no PhD in child-rearing either, I will take all the help I can get with enforcing good behaviour for my kids.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m as protective of my kids as they come, and I’m well aware that when other adults step in to discipline my kids, that they will occasionally overstep. I’m not talking about casting judgement either – judging and stepping in with discipline are two different things. Adults are humans, too. But if I had to count the number of times that overstepping has happened, versus the times where I’ve been grateful to have my Village come to my aid, I’d say that I’m in agreement with the adults more than 95% of the time. And I’ll take that ratio, if it means my kids get the behavioural reinforcement they need from other parents and authority figures. For the 5% of times where overstepping occurs, I will respectfully advocate for my kids.
Parenting is a delicate enough balancing-act as it is, folks. We can love and protect our children fiercely and still respect that other adults are coming from a good place if they step in. We can know all the wonderful things that make our kids awesome, and simultaneously be honest with ourselves about the challenges that our kids have. We are human, and our kids are human, but I will continue to be thankful that I have a village around me, helping me to raise the best humans possible.