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Discipline: Round 3000. FIGHT!

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

From the red corner, weighing in at four hours of sleep and three cups of coffee, we have Mom. Seasoned and known for her quick “NO!” jabs right into the middle of unexpected situations. She anticipates her oppontents’ moves and is best on the defensive, adept at keeping her feet pacing the periphery.

From the blue corner, weighing in at eight hours of sleep and sugar from Grandma, we have the Kids. Known for their element of surprise, they easily take down Mom by pulling out stunts that she’s never seen before. Their art of distraction gives them the upper hand by taking Mom’s focus off the center of the problem.

Ok, ok. I honestly don’t view my general interactions with the kids as a fight. But I wanted to share a recent experience that we’ve had with them that genuinely felt like a caged fight every single day.

After Elena was born, the kids did beautifully. They seemed to adjust with such minor hiccups, and I was so thankful. That’s why I think it took me by surprise when, after several weeks, our lives flew up into chaos. Suddenly it was like we had never taught our kids to obey what we asked, and they pulled out these ridiculously crazy stunts – both physical and emotional – that left us standing there with our hair blown back and crazy in our eyes because we didn’t even know what hit us.

Between lack of sleep for everyone (maybe I should mention that our 4 and 2 year olds still don’t sleep through the night?) and all of the emotions and adjustments for us as parents, Davy and I didn’t realize it, but we had grown lax in our discipline. Not just lax, but inconsistent. We would discipline for something one time and then, instead of doing it again the second time, we would give a warning or a verbal rebuke because we were either too tired or didn’t want to discipline again. It felt like that was all we were doing all day long!

Out of desperation, Davy and I had almost nightly conversations about what the heck was happening to our children. Nothing we tried worked. Then I stumbled upon this blog post and it opened my eyes: my kids weren’t the “problem.” Our inconsistency was the problem. They weren’t trying to wreak havoc on our lives, but suddenly the rules seemed to have changed: where once the things we disciplined for were very clear and understood, now they were muddled, and if done in just the right way, the kids could get away with whatever they wanted. Where once the expectations for their behavior were simple and upheld, now they were confusing because ugly behavior wasn’t being called out. There was fighting like never before. There was hurting each other like we’d never experienced. There were frustration levels at new heights for all of us.

We had forgotten the most important element of discipline. Every single time we didn’t follow through, we undermined our own authority.

Let me give you a basic example. I would say something like, “Don’t get out of your seat during dinner,” and one or both of them would get out. Obviously, they had heard me. Instead of following through on my request, I would have a conversation with them as they wandered around the room or started playing or drawing. See what I did? I just showed them that my requests aren’t important enough to listen to. No, it’s not a big thing, and often I didn’t enforce it because I didn’t want to make it a big thing. But because I didn’t enforce it, that little thing added up with a bunch of other little things to make a big habit of thinking, “There’s no consequence for ignoring Mom’s request.”

This is where the yelling came in. I’d tell them to stay in their seats, have conversations or play with them while they disobeyed, all the while telling them to get back in their seats, then finally use my mad voice because they weren’t freakin’ getting back in their seats. Only then would they jump to action.

Oh duh. Of course they aren’t going to get into their seats the first time! By not following through right away, I showed them that they get to have an extra 10 minutes of play time while I casually ask them to get back in their seats before they get in trouble for disobeying. What kid in their right mind would willingly give up 10 extra minutes of playing in favor of sitting still on a hard chair and eating broccoli?

Somehow I thought all the warnings were me being nice to them. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s not being nice to them! A funny thing about kids is that they feel more secure within defined boundaries. If they know that when I say something, I mean it, and if they disobey, they get this specific consequence, they feel more in control and more willing to obey. They have a very clear choice. If they don’t know exactly when Mom is going to mean it and when she is going to blow her top, they push the boundaries over and over and over trying to figure out where they are. The fight will happen every time because the boundaries may not be in the same place that they were yesterday.

When Davy and I realized that we were undermining our own authority by being so inconsistent, we took several steps to turn the tide back in our home. First, we established together what we would discipline for. Did it matter if they did that thing? Was it life threatening? Does that thing matter in shaping their character, not just their behavior? We tried to keep it simple enough for everyone to remember, especially me with new-mom brain. Then we sat the kids down and explained that our home was feeling out of control. We gave them examples, and we showed how this kind of behavior from everyone (including ourselves) brought chaos instead of peace to our family. We talked about what kind of a family we want to be – kind, loving, and examples of God’s love to each other. Then we outlined exactly what would happen if they disobeyed, and yes, I mean literally. If they did —–, they would get —– consequence. We had one for each infraction, and we lovingly told them they would get no second chances until we reestablished obedience in our home.

Guess what? For the first time in weeks, I could count the number of screaming, thrashing fights on one hand. It took considerable energy from me at first because I was retraining myself in being faithful to discipline. So many times I wanted to let something slide because I was too exhausted to go deal with it! But I’ll tell you what, the fruit of being so consistent and reestablishing that Mom means what she says was completely worth the initial exhaustion. And when Davy came home at night and showed them that Dad means what he says, and that Mom and Dad can’t be pitted against each other, we began to see peace peeking through the dark thunderheads.

Yes, my kids disobey often. I still have my hands full disciplining every single day because, as long as I have small children, we will always be working through something. But the disobedience is nothing like it was. Now my word means something again. Now I don’t have to bring out the consequences all day long, and I don’t have to use my mad voice either.

I was reading in Psalms the other day (side note: busy moms, do yourself a favor and read this post on daily Bible reading. It revolutionized my view on it and took away so much guilt for not having more time!) and I stopped full force on this one verse:

Trust in The Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Psalm 37:3

Befriend faithfulness. Being faithful in discipline isn’t easy, and it isn’t something we just do. Like making a new friend, we have to work at it. We aren’t best friends with someone we had coffee with once. It’s only after being acquainted with them over and over do we really allow them to be part of our lives and hearts. Being consistent to follow through, faithfully doing what we need to do to shape our kids’ hearts, gets easier the more we intentionally implement it in our lives. So grab your spouse and take faithfulness out for coffee. Befriend consistency. She’s a valuable advocate to have in your corner.

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