Fresh out of the Terrible Two’s and headed straight toward the Threenage year, I’m realizing what I have gotten myself into. How little I knew (and still fail to know) about parenting, namely in the area of discipline … the essential task of guiding these little, wandering souls.
The phrase, “You just don’t know ’til you know,” is a phrase tirelessly uttered many times in my mom groups. We chat about our toddlers’ most recent mischievous habits and how the rugs were once again pulled out from under us, right as we were thinking we had it figured out.
Recognizing that each toddler is unique in their personalities, and each mom has their own set of parenting skills, I’ve found that we all seem to have these shared realizations about discipline that thread us together, things we probably wish we figured out sooner, for the sake of our toddlers and our own sanity.
1. Disciplining means self-discipline.
How this did not come as a no-brainer until I was faced with my mini-me still baffles me. I thought of myself as a relatively self-disciplined person until another little person tested this theory. My personal discipline seemed to be defined as being on time, being reliable in my work and relationships, and having things in their rightful place. However, motherhood has tested this former definition. My previous picture and pride in self-discipline has been swapped for a new kind, a kind where predictability, punctuality, and tidiness are actually given up for the sake of another cause: the raising of my children.
Not to say that those traits aren’t something to strive for any longer, I’ve just learned I must have a different view of them. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been late for the sake of a prolonged timeout, how my tasks for the day were interrupted by the need to fish out flushed underwear, or how my expectations for a clean home were stifled by my inability to clean up as fast as my toddler could make a mess.
When “The answer is no” is met with a predictable, whiny “Why?,” and time-outs really mean time-in as well as the need for eye-to-eye explanation of bad behavior’s consequences, one begins to realize that discipline can’t just be doled out by sitting on the sidelines. The reheated cup of coffee, the work, the pile of laundry gets put aside once again as a toddler beckons my attention. Now, being self-disciplined means being consistent in correction, holding my tongue, and becoming sacrificial of my time and expectations for the day.
Disciplining a two-year-old is tedious, frustrating, and wearisome at times. But, from those more experienced and wiser than myself, I am told that these small sacrifices will be well worth it, and maybe even missed one day, especially when that toddler becomes a teenager.
2. It’s not always as it seems.
It’s amazing what an unattended toddler can do in under a minute and how many times I think, “It’s too quiet … this can’t be good.” I’ve been surprised with chalk lines on the hard wood floors from the kitchen to the front door in my toddler’s attempt to lead sugar ants back to their home outside. I am reminded of the time my son got his hands on my freshly prepared salad dressing for that evening’s dinner, dumped it in the toilet, filled it back up with the bathtub faucet and proceeded to toss in coins he found in his daddy’s jeans lying on the bathroom floor. My immediate frustration of a task foiled by a toddler’s whims instantly made me primed to punish, but my son’s faint whispers instantly made me check my anger at the bathroom door and listen in: “I wish for my Daddy to come home to play with me… I wish for my Daddy to come home to play with me.” My son had turned a container into a wishing well. Swift punishment turned into a conversation about his frustrations over Daddy’s long day away from home and how we should thank daddy for his hard work.
Toddlerhood is often marked by increased curiosity and inquisitiveness, many times leading to behavior that needs guidance and correction. Yet, out of frustration over another mess to clean or in an attempt to be swift in passing out punishment, I have found I can be too quickly angered, leaving both me and my child frustrated and at wit’s end. Guiding our little one’s fragile hearts can be a tricky business, especially when balancing toddler curiosity with correction. While these innocent intentions may leave messes to clean, I’m striving to be a little more understanding, more willing to listen, and slower to anger.
3. Disciplining is a team sport.
We played a game at my baby shower where my husband and I privately answered questions about our anticipated parenting skills: who would change the most diapers, who we thought the baby would look like most, who would be strict and who would be soft. It was all fun and games until our child was caught painting our new coffee table with nail polish and threatening to poop in his underwear because he didn’t getting his way (#angryturds). We often find ourselves exchanging glances, as if to say, “You handle this one.”
Having more time at home with my son and being the main giver of time-outs, I’m often given the label of “the mean one.” Despite my new nickname, I recently resolved myself to being firm and consistent in my discipline. One day in particular, many tantrums, messes, and eye rolls led to constant time-outs, fulfilling what were normally empty threats, and eye-to eye conversations. I even texted my working husband a list of all the insane ways our child tried to test my resolve. At the end of the day, I was in the bedroom dealing with baby sister when the music reached my ears, the sound of the garage door opening. When I came out to greet my other punishment partner and ask for some relief, I was met with our son on a new balance bike. “Mommy! Look what Daddy got me! He’s my best buddy!” After some built up frustration bubbled its way out of my mouth, my husband and I were once again faced with the reminder: we must be on the same page.
The more our clever little toddler senses our division as a team, the more he tries to play us against one another. Even though we are extremely new to this phase of parenting, we are quickly learning the need for teamwork, communication, and establishing expectations. While we may have different tools in our tool belt of discipline, we still have the ability to work toward the same goal. Parenting is a great responsibility, one we are quickly learning works so much more effectively when handled in tandem.
4. Discipline requires grace.
Sometimes, you’ll be tempted to extend a timeout just a few minutes longer in order to have some time to yourself (most likely just to use the bathroom finally), you and your partner will have conflicting parenting tactics, or frustration and exhaustion will give way to less than fair punishment. When these moments happen, some grace and forgiveness can go a long way.
I’ve learned a lot about grace as a parent. I used to think it was grace or consequences. Many times I have been fooled into believing they are an either-or situation, rather than a pair best served together. I am tricked into thinking grace means not giving the timeout. Yet, giving grace isn’t letting your kid get away with something, but rather investing in the task of careful and intentional discipline and guidance. Teaching our toddlers their boundaries, modeling good behavior, and shepherding their little hearts is one of the most grace-filled things we can do for them.
There has been no greater reminder for my own personal need of grace than in raising a 2-year-old. It is impossible to look back and see how much my baby has grown without realizing all the ways I personally have changed. Through it all, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from being a mom is that most times, their teachable moments really become our own.
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