So I'm a "Love and Logic" parent. A dear friend of mine gave me the "Love and Logic: The Toddler Years" audio book even before I was pregnant with my first baby and it was love at first listen. Not because I necessarily think spanking is evil; it certainly seemed to work in our household growing up. Each of my now living children have gotten a half dozen or so single swats on the padded area God provided for that purpose when Mommy has been driven to the point of exhaustion and is out of any clever ideas. It is only a last resort, however, and I hate it every time I pull that one out of the bag of disciplinary tricks. Frankly, it almost always boils down to laziness and a lack of patience on my part.
Baby Girl is currently testing my resolve. To the extreme. Baby Boy was, in retrospect, an easy two. Eddie was not, but he had special needs and was terminally ill so I tended to let discipline slide. Baby Girl is proving to be as ornery and strong-willed as her eldest brother and since I am fairly confident that she will one day need to be a functioning member of society, she has to be disciplined. It is making her crazy that she is not my boss and it is making me tired (if not crazy) to keep reasserting that I, indeed, am. After the third time-out before noon, Mommy begins to fantasize about taking a long vacation...alone. In a child-free environment.
Luckily for her (or unluckily, however you look at it), I recently got a refresher course on the Love and Logic approach and am attacking this dynamic in new and interesting ways. Ways like: "I only give juice boxes to girls who sit in their car seats" or "I will talk to you when your voice sounds like mine." I am empowered; she is infuriated. But, little by little, she is also much more cooperative. Because she really, really wants that juice box.
Some of the tenets of this style of parenting, as modeled by Super Nanny if any of you watch that show, is enforceable statements and natural consequences. That being said, I made the biggest parenting boo-boo a few days ago that I have ever made. Baby Girl is fully potty trained, but that night she did not want to sit on the potty before bed even though she was doing what we affectionately call "the pee-pee dance." (For you non-parents or even parents who don't appreciate potty stories, bear with me; it's short and there aren't many details.) So while she is screaming at me from the toilet "NOT go pee-pee," I, brainiac that I am, say, "Ok, but we are going to sit here until you go pee-pee." As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to shoot myself. My child once "held it" for eighteen hours when we were still new to the whole potty thing. She is one stubborn goose. I could have set myself up for a long, long night sitting on the the bathroom floor.
God was with me, however. Her brother was getting to watch a Mickey Mouse cartoon before bed. She said she wanted to watch the movie. I said the sooner she peed the sooner she could go watch it. The result was immediate and I breathed a huge sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks. I was able to tell my husband and laugh at myself.
On the natural consequences side of things, she taught herself what I hope was a valuable lesson this morning. It was definitely a painful one, both for her physically and for me emotionally. She was throwing a fit after getting out of the bathtub. She didn't want to get dressed and was refusing to leave the bathroom. In the midst of the tantrum, she threw herself face-down on the bathroom floor. Since her arms were busy holding her towel around her, she did not catch herself with anything but her face. Or, more specifically, her upper lip. It was one of those impacts that you can tell is a bad one from the sound that it makes. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I fought the urge to scoop her up and offer her a million kisses and utmost sympathy. I know it sounds cold, but I do believe it helps children understand that their actions have consequences and that they are responsible for those consequences. In this age of entitlement, I am desperate to teach my kids accountability from a very young age, while the consequences are relatively small. Still, I never would have given my kid a fat lip and was fairly distressed that she gave herself one. I took a deep breath, offered a sincerely empathetic, "I bet that really hurt," and picked her up to analyze the damage, praying that she didn't break any teeth. Her teeth were fine; she has a busted lip and, have to say, a bit of a better attitude. When her dad asked her how it happened, she answered simply, "I hurt my mouth." When he pressed and asked her how she hurt her mouth, she immediately changed the subject. I'm guessing there was, indeed, a lesson learned.
I am fairly convinced that this is how God our Father operates. I know people who believe they are being punished by God, when from an objective standpoint their circumstances have naturally progressed from their own patterns of behavior. I was one of those people. My life was a shambles, I couldn't maintain healthy relationships, I suffered from headaches and hangovers, my finances never looked as I thought they should and I kept looking to other people, factors, or ultimately God to assign fault. In retrospect, God wasn't making bad things happen to me because I was a drunk; I was a drunk, made poor choices, and therefore bad things happened. Even if our lifestyles are not so dramatically out of line with God's plan for us, we still choose our responses to the challenges which inevitably come our way. God lets us choose to be angry at Him. By doing so, we separate ourselves from God's love, the one thing that can lift us up out of any circumstances, giving us renewed strength, joy and peace. We might even throw ourselves down in our anger and give ourselves a spiritual boo-boo worth reckoning with. A word to the wise: God uses enforceable statements. There is a big, thick book full of them. And He always wins.
The good news is, though, that God also believes in positive reinforcement. Not in the "give your church $10, God's going to give you $100" (aka -- God as a piggy bank) kind of way. You may give your church or favorite charity $10 and not see another dime. Without fail, though, if you are obedient to Him, both in action and attitude, He is going to bless you. Maybe materially, always spiritually. There is tremendous relief and peace the moment you stop screaming at God, stop wildly kicking your feet at Him, and start making good choices. We are His children. He is an all-loving Father. If we face some hardship or limitation, there is some good reason for it. We have every reason to simply trust and obey. If we choose not to, I think that like any parent God feels a sense of sadness at the scrapes and bruises He knows will be coming. Ultimately, however, we only will be hurting ourselves. I am praying that Baby Girl "gets it" now, while the worst consequence she has suffered is a split lip. It took a long time for me to learn that, in the words of Bob Dylan, "you're gonna have to serve somebody." I am a servant of the Living God and instead of weakness, my submission has granted me a power unlike any I have ever known. The power to be happy, to be well, and to thrive. That's a pretty awesome love...and God's kind of logic.