Thursday, December 6, 2012

Mercy me

There’s a mom I know whose parenting style has me confused. Some days I think she’s my hero and then some days she scares me and I’m glad she’s not my mom.
It’s because she’s so, SO confident in all of her parenting choices. I envy her conviction sometimes. She takes some of those really difficult situations, deals with them head-on, and never looks back. It seems like she has so much strength and perspective and vision to always do the right thing. 
I remember once, when her child was going through an especially difficult stretch, the mom resolutely handed out punishment after punishment until it was resolved. Ooooh, and sometimes the punishments were hefty! She once even took away her child’s birthday (let her look at her presents for days until her behavior warranted the privilege of opening them)! Someone must have asked her about it, because I remember her saying any punishment she ever gave her child was fully deserved. She was 100% unapologetic for her system of discipline.
Now, I like to think I run a fairly tight ship, too. My BS tolerance threshold is permanently set on LOW and when it’s breached, I can go from Nice Mommy to Who-Are-You-and-Can-You-Please-Release-Your-Demonic-Hold-on-My-Mommy Mommy in no time flat. I can hand out scathing punishments with the best of them. Okay, maybe not – I don’t know if I could ever be angry enough to cancel a celebration of the day they were born - but I’ve been known to issue some good penalties. And I’ve also been known to retract them.
I recently withdrew a punishment I imposed on our oldest son, within a half hour of sentencing. He got himself grounded because he didn’t meet one of my homework deadlines. Yes, the guidelines were set beforehand and yes, he was fully aware of the consequences of missing the deadline. He had extra homework that night, but the guidelines allow for that sort of thing, so he must have been goofing off. The penalty was justified. And, bless his little heart, he didn’t fight it. He sat right there through the angry lecture and took it.
Afterwards, I got thinking about it. He had been working for hours. Could he have met the deadline? Probably, with some laser focus and zero distractions. But, even lacking those, he really had put in a great deal of effort, and it showed, physically. His face was tired and his body was sagging. 
I normally advocate for following through with guidelines and consequences. (When the kids were little, it was never a bluff when I said,“I’m going to count to three!!”) But that night, even though I was completely in the right because 1) it was an established process and 2)“I said so, that’s why”, it felt wrong. He was normally very dutiful and never maliciously broke rules. He hadn’t handled the extra workload well, but didn’t truly deserve a punishment.
I went back in and rescinded the grounding. And, in answer to his look of shock and disbelief, I told him that I didn’t want to be the kind of parent who can’t see beyond all the rules and regulations. I also let him know that, just as he was going to make mistakes being a kid, there would be times when I would probably make mistakes being his mom, too. And I apologized for being unreasonable with that particular punishment and lecture.
Does that make me wishy-washy? Will I regret it later? Am I setting myself up to be walked all over with regard to following the rules? Will he lose respect for my authority? I’d like to think not. I am hoping what I showed him was 1) that the rigid edges of guidelines can sometimes be tempered when a situation truly calls for it and 2) that even if you don’t have to, because you’re the boss, you can still own up to and atone for your mistakes and 3) mercy.
So, I don’t know – is it better to always be confident that your parenting choices are right (even if it’s only because “mother (or father!) knows best”), or is it sometimes okay to second-guess your own judgment and go back to see if there’s a better way? Is pre-determined, justified, regimented punishment the best way to deal with transgressions, or is it sometimes okay to soften the blow, when there are other factors in play, in order to teach broader and more benevolent lessons?
It's hard to say. But my hat's off and this blog is dedicated to all of my fellow parents who are making their way through, the best way they know how.

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