Being the main disciplinarian in our house is not easy. I often feel like I’m the bad guy, the hard ass, the meanie. Steve and I have had many, many arguments over discipline. He thinks I’m too harsh, I think he’s (way) too soft. During or after disciplining one of my kids, Steve will give me sour looks and stop speaking to me. He loves the kids more than anything (as do I) and feels that disciplining them might hurt their feelings and he doesn’t want them to ever have any sort of discomfort or unpleasant feelings under his charge. He would rather ask them politely to stop doing whatever undesirable act they are doing over and over and over again until they actually just get tired of doing it and then stop on their own, rather than to raise his voice (it might hurt their feelings), take away whatever item they are misusing (it might make them cry) or heaven forbid physically remove them from the situation (Child abuse! Child abuse!).
Ruby please don’t do that. Please stop. Ruby? Please stop doing that. Ruby, Daddy wants you to stop doing that now, ok? Ruby. Ruby? Please, don’t sweetie….
I, on the other hand, feel that having structure and discipline is essential to raising responsible, respectable, polite, aware human beings. As much as it really sucks being the person who always has to lay the smack down, it’s a role I am willing to fill because it’s important. I truly don’t care for being the lone wolf disciplinarian as I am always the meanie, the one who wrecks everyone's fun, the asshole. And although I have thick skin and know that what I’m doing is right, I myself suffer from hurt feelings sometimes and have felt my heart break a hundred thousand times (yes, it hurts me more than it hurts them sometimes). But if both my husband and I parented the same way, our kids would be raging wildebeests with no manners and no respect for anyone. We would also never get invited anywhere and would be banned from public places because we would be the people with “those kids”.
Last night started out as one of “those” nights. I set everyone’s dinner in front of them at the dinner table and sat down to eat. Everyone started eating except Ruby. She looked at her plate and started whining and said she didn’t want to eat. She cajoled poor Lincoln into getting down from the table and fetching her toys. She started making a tower on the table, with her toys and her food. I then had the toys taken away. She started crying and whining. We tried ignoring her. I tried discussing the situation with her. Still she wouldn’t eat and her mood was quickly deteriorating. She then said something very inappropriate (which I shall not repeat) and I sternly let her know that we don’t say such things, at which point she burst into tears and went hysterical. Crying, screaming, pretending to choke. This went on and on. (All the while Steve sat quietly, eating his dinner.) She started getting very theatrical and was putting on quite the obnoxious little show. Finally I told her she had to the count of 3 to stop with the theatrics or she would need to go to her room until she could settle down so the rest of us could enjoy our meal. 3 came and she dialed it up a notch with louder screaming, pretend choking and crying.
As I was carrying her to her room she was thrashing and kicking and swinging at me. I plopped her on her bed which you might think was covered in thumb tacks as she let out a guttural scream and then really lit it up.
I walked out of her room. Shut the door and went back to the dinner table.
Seconds later I heard her bedroom door open and she screamed, “MOMMY! I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE!!!”, then SLAMMED her door. I looked at Steve. He looked at me. She must have liked the rush that gave her because before I had a chance to process it she did it again, “MOMMY!!! I DON’T LOVE YOUUUUUU!!!” and then SLAM!
At that point, something happened that I have no recollection of having ever happening before… Steve rose from the dinner table. (I assumed he was going to get more dinner.) He walked with a purpose down the hall to Ruby’s room and went inside. Then it was quiet.
Several minutes later I heard her bedroom door open. She walked into the kitchen and came and stood in front of me and said, “I’m sorry, Mommy. I love you.” And then she gave me a kiss.
She then sat at the table and proceeded to eat her ENTIRE dinner. Quietly and without a word of protest.
I sat in silence, my mouth slack and hanging open in awe, looking back and forth between her and her father.
I mouthed to Steve, “What did you say?” He just waved his hand and shook his head. (We try not to rehash these incidents in front of the kids.)
A few minutes later when she was finishing up her dinner and I was still staring in amazement, I asked him again, “Ok what is your technique? Fill me in.” He said, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll talk to you later.”
The opportunity to talk about it later never did come. And for the remainder of the night, Ruby had her bath without protest and then sat quietly on the couch and watched a bit of TV before going to bed without a fight.
I don’t know what exactly was said to her but the fact that he took charge and had her come to me and apologize for her behavior is a really, really big deal. I can tell you that rarely, if ever, happens and it meant the world to me. He may not have the same tactics and techniques as I have, but that is totally ok with me if he is getting the job done. If he has some soft, gentle, baby-whispering way of making her do the right thing, then all the power to him and I back him up 100%.
Now if only I could figure out what he bribed her with…