Tuesday, October 29, 2013

House rules

I like to joke with my kids and with friends that I'll know I'm doing my job as a parent when I hear my kids tell their friends that their mom is the meanest mom in the world. 

Only half joking. 

I fully subscribe to the whole "the Latin root of the word discipline means to teach." Discipline isn't mean; I see it as setting boundaries to help my kids make sense of a world that is much, much bigger than them, and if left totally open to their whims, much, much scarier than it needs to be. The thing is, it's a big world. With lots of wide open spaces. Which means as a parent, we are CON-STANT-LY setting boundaries. 

It's exhausting, isn't it?!

There are plenty of Coussoule house rules, well articulated and known by all. There are also lots of assumed rules based on articulated expectations of behavior. And then... Well, then there's the gray areas. The places where you would think the rules are clear despite never being said out loud, but strangely, appear as wide open spaces because one of the kiddos misinterpreted the boundary. 

I try to be reasonable. When a boundary is misjudged, I tend to make a correction and give a second chance. But as the kids get older, pleading ignorance to rules gets less plausible; I'm finding that they're able to set their own boundaries in some of those wide open spaces because we've been consistent with rules and expectations. 

Parent brag #1: one thing Justin and I do really, really well is consistency. Which, of course, means my kids have even less wiggle room with the "I didn't knooooooooow!!!!!" plea. 

Last night, John found himself in a bit of a pickle when he was caught red handed catapulting right over one of those boundaries. I was enjoying a rare snuggle moment as he sat on my lap watching Monday Night Football before going up to bed. After a couple of minutes, Daddy came down the stairs and walked directly over to us with his hands cupped together, full of empty candy wrappers. 

Which he had found stashed behind John's dresser in his room. 

There are so many problems with this picture. Where to begin?

1. John took candy upstairs despite knowing that was against the house rules
2. John ate the candy in his room and hid the wrappers (circumstantial evidence points to the perp knowing he was guilty)
3. When faced with evidence of the crime, his only rebuttal was a hang dog look and silence

I fully expected Daddy to launch into a cross examination complete with judgement at the end, but he took the high road. He calmly explained exactly why leaving food on the floor invites bugs and rodents, which once established, are virtually impossible to get rid of. He voiced both his displeasure and disappointment that John knowingly did something wrong and then... That was it. I was mildly in shock, because this was a clear violation of house rules. 

So I thought for a minute, and then turned to John:

Buddy, you knew that was wrong, but you did it anyway. Not only are we disappointed in you making a bad choice, but now you may not have any candy the rest of the week. 

Okay, Mommy. 

Buddy, you know what happens this week, right?

Oh, if pitiful eyes could change hearts, the world would be a peaceful place. But - but - John has the meanest mom in the world. And as his lip quivered and he pitifully half-whispered "Halloween?" I honestly had a "this hurts me more than it hurts you" parenting moment. 

And then I said, that's right, Buddy. Halloween. And you may not have any of your candy for the rest of this week. 

Parent brag #2: when Justin and I say something to the kids, whether it's a fun promise or a discipline promise, we stick to it. No matter how much it sucks for some or all of the parties involved. 

I hate that he won't be able to eat his candy on Halloween. We usually let the kids eat more than is good for them that one night, and like kids everywhere, they love it. But this year, John will have to watch from the sidelines while his sister dumps out her bag and makes her choices. 

It's a hard lesson learned, but given the disproportionate importance of Halloween in a kid's world, I think it's one that will stick with him. And when he thinks of it years from now, maybe when he's a parent, he'll understand that the meanest mom in the world loved him enough to give him boundaries as a way to prepare him for the big, scary world. 

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