Discipline is More than Correcting Wrongs

I have a lot of friends, but I don’t have a lot of friends who I agree with in parenting approach. It makes me feel very alone sometimes.

A couple weeks ago, I attended a mothers group at the local church where many of my nearby friends attend. I didn’t know all of the women there, but I knew most of them. The topic of discussion that evening was discipline, and we were supposed to talk about our “house rules.” I don’t have house rules; there is no “I” or “rules.” My family works as a “we” and what we have are more “guidelines” or “boundaries.” No hard-and-fast rules here; they’re all situational.

But I go ahead and overlook the terms and write down our house guidelines. It’s a long list, because I am literally teaching my children every moment that they’re awake. Things like, “Take off shoes when come in from outside, unless the soles are clean and you’re only coming in to go to the restroom” and “Ask before getting a snack, except for fresh fruit which is always available.” Everyone else had only three or four rules, things like “No hitting” or “No back-talking.” Next, we were supposed to circle the rules that we were consistent on. I didn’t quite understand why anyone would declare a rule and not treat it like a rule, so I ignored this step.

Then, we took turns explaining what we wrote down. There was a general sense of overwhelm when I began reading off my guidelines. And then the questions started: How are you able to keep all those “rules” straight? It’s no different than what I model by how I live. Isn’t that a lot of work? It’s a lot of work when they’re younger but less so as they get older. Don’t you ever get tired of it all? No, it’s a part of being a parent. What do you do to keep them in line when you’re not around and able to point out every time the step out of line? Because I don’t make my children behave a certain way out of fear of punishment, they learn how to behave out of their own developing sense of right-and-wrong and therefore behave the same whether I’m present or not. Do you have any quick fixes or easy tips? No, I’m sorry, I do not.

As they’re talking about sleep-training and leaving baby with Grandma for two weeks while away on a cruise and complaining about how much their baby’s formula costs when they decided to wean early so baby could learn to be more independent, I’m realizing how very little I have in common with these women. I bedshare until my children are three or four and then gently transition them to their own bed. I would never dream of leaving my baby with anyone for any length of time; babies are designed to be with Mom for a reason. I prefer to breastfeed as long as baby wants, and I certainly would not switch to subpar formula-feeding for a reason as trivial as baby needing to learn to be independent. Why would baby need to be independent? How does that teach independence anyway?

I heard myself share less and less in the conversation and start looking more and more for an excuse to leave early.

On the drive home, a light in the back of the car was on for the whole 10-minute trip because baby prefers it on. And my two older children and I talked about the night sky and sang a song about the moon. And something clicked in my brain: I wonder how many of these mothers looking for a quick fix truly take time to enjoy their children, to explore constellations and sing songs, and turn the light on for the baby who cries when it’s dark? This is all a part of discipline – gentle discipline is more than correcting wrongs, it’s a holistic view on how you relate to your children. Parents who practice Attachment Parenting see their children and parenting in a whole different light than non-AP parents. It’s not a matter of a quick fix; it takes a complete renovation of perspective.

One thought on “Discipline is More than Correcting Wrongs

  1. I often feel this way around other mothers in my area. I try not to blame them, though. For most, they probably don’t know any other way. It takes a lot of energy out of me to be around moms who are controlling, but never really in control (if you know what I mean,) or to be around parents who feel they must constantly be trying to prove to other people what great parents they are by making statements about “discipline” in public and to other moms. But, I try to remind myself that perhaps my own parenting style (not that it’s perfect in any sense) will open them up to the possibility of something else.

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