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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grandmother's Wise Words


Some time has passed since I've written a post about discipline. I guess that is because "discipline" has kind of slipped off my personal radar. I don't get all bent out of shape about my kids' behaviors anymore, and I don't focus on how to discipline. That doesn't mean I don't correct and guide behaviors. Of course I do, but it's not an issue.

I owe this peace in large part to my dear mother-in-law, the kindest, and definitely the most wise woman I know. She raised 4 children positively. She did it without spanking, without yelling, and with gentle guidance. All 4 of her children are successful, caring, lovely adults now (one of whom I'm lucky enough to be married to)!

She and I had a long conversation about raising children.

I asked her, "What did you do when your kids fought? Mine are fighting constantly."

She replied, "I sat them down and talked to them."

I said, "I do that too, but they just fight again."

She said, "Becky, they're normal kids doing what normal kids do. Don't let it upset you. If they didn't fight, then you should worry."

I asked her, "Well what did you do when they acted out? Did you send them to their room? Did you take stuff away?"

She smiled and said, "I sat them down and I talked to them. I told them what might happen to them out in the world if they continued to act that way. I told them they were better than that." I said, "That's it?" She said, "Yes, that usually did the trick."

I said, "Okay, what's your secret?"

She said "I never let them see me get upset." "Never?" I said. "Never. I would get upset of course. I would go off and cry without them knowing, but they never saw me that way. I always stayed calm, and I let them know that, whatever they were doing, it wasn't upsetting me a bit." She said "That's the way I was raised. My parents never laid a hand on me. They just talked to us."

The last thing she said was this. "Don't let anyone steal your confidence. You're doing it right. Just keep loving them and teaching them the way you are doing now."

I spoke to my husband after this conversation. He said, "No, I never did see mom upset." He says he remembers being talked to, sternly at times, but he never remembers being grounded or anything like that.

He does remember that once, in school, his toy had gotten taken away and given to the Principal because he'd been playing with it in class. They didn't give it back to him, and when he got home, he busted out in tears. His mother didn't ask questions, but instead put him in the car and went straight to the Principal's office with him. She demanded to have his toy back. The principal said it was locked away and he couldn't get the key until Monday. She said, "Sit down, son. We're going to be here a while." She sat in the chair in the Principal's office and said "I'm not going anywhere until you give him back his toy." The principal then just pulled it out of his drawer and gave it back. She didn't question her son on why he was playing with it in class. She didn't punish him for getting it taken away. He'd already paid the price at school. What she did was show him that she was his advocate.

Here's the REAL secret. My mother-in-law and father-in-law were excellent role models. She was the calm, stable oak tree. Unshakable. Strong. Consistent. He was a loving and doting father and husband. They always built their kids up, told them all they were doing right, and told them how proud they were of them. They are a strong family unit. They have nicknames for all their kids. They took lots of vacations together; long car rides with bad music and silly games. They had silly traditions, like buttering the nose of the birthday girl or boy. Everyone felt part of a strong unit. They have always had a strong marriage, openly loving and affectionate. They are still that way, to this day. My husband is the same way.

I believe my mother-in-law has the secret formula to raising great kids, and discipline isn't even a part of it. It's being a calm and unshakable "captain of the ship." It's being great role models for your children. It's creating that strong family bond. It's being advocates for your kids. It's giving them a peaceful and happy childhood. It's showing unconditional love.

The reason so many people are having a hard time out of their kids isn't because they need more discipline or different discipline, but because one of the ingredients is missing from the formula. If you work on getting the formula right, everything else will take care of itself.

Today, I'm not worried about how I should discipline my kids. I'm not concerned about how long this phase will last, or how I should handle this or that. No, instead I'm working on getting my formula right. I'm making sure I have all the ingredients in place, and like my kids' wise grandmother told me, I'm not letting anyone steal my confidence. I've got this.

Addendum :)

There have been a few comments made about suppressing emotions and authenticity that I need to address as I don't feel I made it clear in the original post.

When she said she didn't let them see her upset, it was in the context that she was showing them that their behavior was never too much for her to handle. Remaining calm and steadfast through the storms I believe provides an important anchor for children. I'm not suggesting we suppress our emotions and never let them see us anything but cheerful; that isn't realistic. I am, however, suggesting that we need model how to self-regulate and how to appropriately handle our emotions.

By not letting them see that their behavior threw her off kilter, she was showing them not only how to self-regulate but that she was their rock. My husband is very good at self-regulating today, and remaining calm in the midst of chaos. Me - I have to work harder. I didn't have that same steady rock as a child. Pin It Now!


  1. Beautiful, simple reminder of the power of mindfulness.

  2. I agree with the vast majority of this- but not with the idea that you mustn't let your child see you upset. I'm for authentic parenting and sharing our true feelings with our children. Sometimes our children will do things that make us feel sad or angry, and it's possible to talk about this with them without becoming punitive or aggressive.

    Of course this depends to some extent on the age of the child, but even preschoolers are receptive to the idea that some behaviours will have a bad effect on other people and this allows them to start identifying those feelings in themselves.

    For example, I used to say to my room full of preschoolers (in a firm but even tone) "I'm feeling really angry because I saw some unkind behaviour. I don't like it when..." After we discussed the incident I'd be able to say "I don't like my angry face- can I take it off now?" and we'd all laugh and go back to the positive vibe.

    Soon many of these children were expressing their anger in words rather than with their hands. We need to model appropriate behaviours when strong feelings overwhelm us.

  3. Beautiful post. Sharing in SS tomorrow. I'm not quite sure in the not seeing mom upset thing, even with your addendum. I think it is OK for kids to know that sometimes it's a little too much... That we're not infallible gods.

  4. First off, I'd like to commend your mother in law for being a rock to her children... And you and your husband for trying to do the same.

    I am a new mom, so I definitely don't have all the answers! I am human though, so I have a few opinions... I don't mean to disrespect anyone, just thought I'd put my two scents in...

    Regarding the toy incident: I understand her not wanting to punish the child at home because "He'd already paid the price at school". I completely agree with that part of the story. However, even though she was trying to be her son's advocate by going to the principal's office and demanding the toy back... "I'm not going anywhere until you give him back his toy"... I feel like she was only showing him that he can get into trouble at school, cry to mommy about it... and she'll fix it. In my opinion, he obviously did something to get the toy taken away and I think part of the schools punishment was that he not get the toy back right away. It's good to be an advocate for our children, but I don't think this was a good example of how to do so. Sorry.

    Regarding the "suppressing emotions and authenticity": here's a question... If your toddler says a bad word, what would you do? If you show your child that it upsets you when they say this word they are more likely to continue saying it... Because it gets a reaction out of you... And good or bad, it gets your attention! (ever heard the saying, bad press is still press). However, if you go along and pretend it never happened, more than likely they'll forget the word, and/or have no reason to say it again... I think this is kinda like what the mother in law lived by... If your child does does something bad and it gets a reaction out of you... What are the odds they will continue doing it? Probably high. Instead she didn't get upset when they did something wrong... She just talked to them about it...

    Again, I don't mean to disrespect anyone... Just wanted to give everyone another viewpoint.