Monday, June 28, 2010

Good Behavior

When I started this blog I promised myself there would be at least a couple of posts a week. It drives me crazy when blogs I follow have no new content for weeks on end. Clearly that didn’t end up happening. I then told myself that one post a week would be reasonable. Clearly that didn’t end up happening either. Turns out writing is hard. I’ve been having a little case of writers block; four posts started and I’m not happy with any of them. Let’s see if attempt number five sticks…

At 29 I got my first job in retail. It was an incredibly eye opening experience. I got to regularly watch families engaging in terrible and inappropriate behavior in public. The younger folk I worked with would just look at the families in disgust, while I was married and being pressured by my sweet husband to get knocked up so I found myself often thinking “Holy shit, I must do whatever possible to make sure that is NEVER me. Cause it could be.” OK, honestly I only thought that some of the time. The rest of the time I too would just watch in disgust.

I have my theories about behavior in retail settings including that people have to adhere to societal norms for the most part, and they subconsciously realize that the only place they can get away with unacceptable behavior is somewhere they don’t know anyone. Somewhere they have been told the customer is always right. But I think that is a post for another time. I’ll include some shoplifting stories like the one involving raw chicken cutlets in a woman’s bra.

This is all by way of saying it turns out I am really old fashioned when it comes to how children behave. It is imperative to me that T listens to me and his father and treats others with respect. I’ve always been very judgey (Oh yes, I am what I criticize) about those families that let their kids run wild in public, or who yell at their kids over and over to no avail, or who tell their kids “No!” and don’t do anything when the kid ignores them. But it turns out when you are actually a parent being a firm disciplinarian is much harder than it looks from the outside. You love the little person in front of you so much that you just want to make them happy. Also having the patience to work with that little person, to be on him all the time to make sure he isn’t touching grown up stuff, or the cat’s water, or the trash AND providing a distraction is frankly a pain in the ass. Embarrassing, but true.

A side note about the hard work of parenting: Recently someone said to me “You are so lucky that Thomas is such a good sleeper. Because whether or not kids sleep well is just luck of the draw.” I replied that I was lucky, but when I thought about it some more I realized luck has nothing to do with it. T was a terrible sleeper for a long time. I mean, I can’t get through a blog post without returning to the sleep or CIO topic. His sleep feels like the central issue of our lives. It totally rocks that he takes 2 naps a day and sleeps for 11+ hours a night. But it is not luck. It was a tremendous amount of hard work and tough choices for both Z and me. And there are backslides all the time. The first night we were home after vacation he cried for an hour at bedtime. Didn’t do it once during all the upheaval and strange beds on vacation, but he totally lost it when he was back in his comfort zone. Anyway, we put in all this hard work and T made huge improvements. But it is just overwhelming and exhausting to think that we have to put that much work in every time we want to teach him a new thing. One of the biggest surprises of motherhood is how damn hard it is all the time, how much fucking work it is. Makes me want to thank my own Mom yet again for everything she did for me…

Now that T is mobile I feel like the only thing I say to him is “THOMAS! NO!” all day long. A few weeks ago we had a wellness visit at the pediatrician’s and I told her about this frustration. I even demonstrated my very firm words to him. Poor T looked at me with such confusion. I apologized profusely for confusing him. Her response was our job as parents is to teach our children how to navigate this world. She said that she sees permissive parents in the office all the time and they are creating people that no one wants to be around, that they are doing a real disservice to those kids. She said I wasn’t being too mean by speaking sharply to him and to keep it up.

Of course that positive reinforcement was very comforting, but it doesn’t make trying to teach him how to behave any easier. And 10 months might seem early to start with this stuff, but he really is a sharp little guy. His language comprehension is growing by leaps and bounds. He even says a few words. He can understand “Thomas, go get your ball and bring it to me.” So he certainly understands “No.”

What tips to you parents out there have for raising a respectful and well behaved little person? What tricks worked for you? Did you obsess about it as well?

Little T and Big T on a boat.

T's first word. This was taken exactly a month ago. He now also says "cat" and "ball". No joy with "Mama", but he says dadadada all day long although we don't think he connects it to Z yet.


  1. Having helped raise my baby brother, I can say this with fairly firm conviction: Kids are learning from Day One. So it's never too early to set (realistic) expectations or boundaries. If anything, you're also training yourself for down the road when it all makes sense in their heads.

    That said, I can only imagine how hard it is to say no to those big baby eyes. He's sure got a set of peepers, that one. xox

  2. Congrats on the words T, those are big steps! Parenting is hard, but putting in the work is imperative. We work hard at it too. We have found that when we spend more time praising the good and explaining what behavior makes us proud or happy, our kids try to do the good behavior. T is too young for that, but he'll understood sooner than you think. Also, I recently found myself saying No all the time, so now I am trying to be more specific. So if P starts to bite me, instead of saying No, I say Stop Biting me. I am trying to teach him exactly what it is he is doing wrong, we'll see if it works. Parenting is all trial and error, you have to find out what works for you and what works for your kid. As long as you are trying, you are succeeding. It is parents who never try, or who give up that fail their kids. (Although - after typing that I realize there are probably plenty of legitimate reasons to "give up" - so I might take that back later).

  3. Karen, you're so right. Disciplining small children is physically exhausting. And it's not just that they're cute and charming and you want to make them happy, it's that sometimes it's really just too hard. So my advice is to pick your battles well. It's absolutely important that your children listen to and respect you. But do you really want to teach that lesson over a 3 year old blowing bubbles in his milk (and yes, I actually turned this into an epic power struggle in my house at one point)? Or can you let the milk bubbles slide and teach it when the child is pulling merchandise off the shelves in a store? There are no right answers, but I've noticed that I have started to be very careful about what I say to my kids. I will say "I don't like it when you blow bubbles in your milk; it’s bad manners." And then leave it alone. It prevents a power struggle. Then the next meal, if he's not blowing bubbles, I praise him. When it's more serious, I'll say "You may not pull things off of the shelves." And I'll follow up. But if you start off saying no to everything, you are setting yourself up to follow through with everything. And it gets old very fast. I love your blog Karen, keep it up!