Diary of a BlueSuitMom: Parenting Mistakes
By Maria Bailey
I saw a great list the other day while flipping through magazine. The list was entitled, "Ten most common discipline mistakes." Before reading down the list, I tried to guess what parenting mistakes could have made the list of ten. I figured if I could name a few then perhaps I had been remotely successful, if even only subconsciously, in avoiding them. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I guessed 5 of the top ten. The list began with "Inconsistency," "Saying things you don't mean," "Warnings without follow through" and "Procrastination." Actions which all make sense if you stop long enough to think about it. Children thrive on consistency. That's why they watch the same videos over and over again. They like the predictability because they know what is expected of them and they know just how much of it they can achieve by themselves. If we say, "Stop that or we are leaving" and they do it again and we don't leave, we are sending them the message that we don't mean what we say, but most importantly it confuses them. There is no consistent cause and effect in this situation. I remember reading a T. Berry Brazelton book that referred to empty threats as being one of the worst ways to discipline your child and this list confirmed it.
The list continued with "Punishing in Anger," "Being too negative," and "Not planning ahead." Again, all behaviors that make total sense when applied to discipline. I admit that I am guilty of losing my patience on occasion and punishing in anger although I try to control it. I grew up in a house with a yelling mother and I always vowed I would not follow in that pattern of parenting. Rather, I try to warn my children that mommy is tired and I am getting close to losing my patience. At least in this scenario, they are a bit prepared if I do resort to yelling. I still don't believe it's the way to discipline. Many of us have experienced the feeling of being tired from work combined with the frustration of trying to get children to follow directions. Your voice seems to be the last energized organ in your body capable of reacting. I'm not trying to make an excuse for my actions -- rather alleviate a bit of guilt, which I harbor inside after losing my patience.
Although most items on the list seemed obvious when written in list form, so many parents either knowingly or unknowingly make some or many of these mistakes.
Each parental action carries its own negative effect on our child's behavior and level of self-confidence. But it was number ten which best summarized the most important mistake a parent makes in discipline. It was this: "The Parent Doesn't Understand That His or Her Behavior Is Part Or Even At The Heart Of The Problem." Could you think of anything truer and more forgotten by parents? Each of the other 9 mistakes listed are all examples of our behavioral failures as parents. And how often have we heard that children learn by example? It's true. The best way to teach our children good behavior is to demonstrate it ourselves. I remember seeing a mother speaking rudely to a check out clerk in a store and only minutes later yelling at her children for speaking rudely to each other. Where do you think they learned to speak rudely? By watching how their mother treats others. It's obvious when we see others making mistakes, but it takes more effort to see these same mistakes in ourselves.
As working mothers, we are often under additional stresses and time restraints, which make it all, that more important to pause every now and then and look at the way we are parenting. Do you complain about your work at home and then wonder why you fight with your middle schooler to do their homework? Perhaps he is merely imitating the behavior you have demonstrated. Do you find your children yelling at each other in a time of conflict? Perhaps they are reacting to conflict in the same manner you do. It's hard to punish your child for a behavior they watch you demonstrate on a regular basis. Now one can argue, "Do as I say and not as I do" and I would agree that there is room for such thinking in parenting. No one wants to see a 15-year-old smoking or drinking. But when it comes to attitudes and good habits, we have to take the time to make certain we are reinforcing our words with our actions. It's all part of consistency.
I only bring this to your attention because I recently witnessed it in myself. I was complaining about the initial shyness my son demonstrates when he enters a room of people. The other day I described to a good friend my frustration that it takes my son a good fifteen minutes to warm up in a crowd, she chuckled. "Maria," she said, "since I've known you, you always do the same thing. You go into a room, survey the landscape and then warm up to conversation." Admittedly, she was right. Somewhere in the last five years, my son had watched my reaction to crowds and learned the behavior. It made me realize how much easier it is to see faults in others than ourselves even if it is our own children. Perhaps in our parenting, we try to correct in our children the faults we can't seem to correct in ourselves. Take a few minutes this week to watch and listen to yourself. Your child might be picking up some your bad habits.
Week Five -- What are we really saying?
Week Four -- The courage to take risks
Week Three -- The business trip
Week Two -- Reflections of motherhood
Week One -- A trip to the grocery store
Maria Bailey is the CEO and founder of BlueSuitMom.com and a mother of four children under the age of seven.