Saturday, October 4, 2014
Day 4: Consistency in Parenting
What a overused concept: consistency in parenting. It seems to be on the cover of every parenting magazine and the topic of dozens of how-to books. But, as I have learned, it really is all it's cracked up to be. Being clear with your kids about what is expected of them, and of what they can expect from us and their surroundings, is key. As is being clear about the consequences that we can all face for not doing what is expected.
But consistency, as I have mentioned is not my thing. I don't like rules because rules never take into consideration different circumstances. There always seems to be an exception to the rules: if one looks at a certain situation from an alternative perspective, everything looks different. I'm definitely a postmodern type of girl.
But I have prayed in recent years for the ability to follow through on the consequences John and I have set for the kids. I have seen how being inconsistent with these consequences have resulted in the kids not growing in certain areas: manners, time management, and diligence are the first to come to mind.
They are great kids, really they are. But, I know they could benefit from clear boundaries and expectations.
So, as I said, I prayed many times to be a more consistent parent. And, I laugh now as I see how God answered my prayer in the form of Elijah.
You see, Elijah needs firm boundaries perhaps more than any of our other kids. He is still relatively new around here (been home 10 months) and implicit rules don't cut it for him. He needs to hear exactly what we do and why. Things that I do not need to spell out for the other kids, because they have witnessed our norms since being babies, I need to make clear for Elijah.
For example, we do not walk behind the counter at stores. That is only for people who work there.
We stay with our family when we walk somewhere (i.e. a parking lot, an amusement park, or a store).
We do not cut our own hair (see the above picture. This rule did not sink in yet, apparently).
We do not make fart jokes in front of old people (there may be exception to this rule, but I am playing it safe on this one!)
If I am inconsistent with any of my rules, Elijah will call me out on it and ask why it is not so this time. He questions everything, as he is still learning to fully trust us and that our rules are really in his best interest.
I've also noticed with Elijah that if I do something a little bit different one day than I had done before, he becomes dysregulated. I need to keep our school day in the same order every day -- even if I think moving the kids' one-on-one time with me around might work better on a particular day -- or Elijah will start to pester me, interrupt, and not focus on his work. If I really need to change things around, I have found it best to think ahead and tell Elijah about that change the night before. Then he is prepared and, I think, feels more in control.
Another example of Elijah's intolerance for inconsistency is from this past summer. Several times in a row, we had gone to the community pool and had a snack at the snack bar before heading home. I didn't even really notice that we had done this so regularly, until one day we decided not to get a snack. We were running late for an appointment, and told the kids we would having a snack at home.
Elijah completely froze. He stood still, dripping wet from the pool and refused to dry off or get changed. He eventually started sobbing. And the sobbing did not stop for at least half an hour. When we finally got him to talk about what had upset him so, it was that he did not get his usual french fries from the snack bar. While this behavior might seem just like a spoiled child to an outsider, we know from many other instances that Elijah is not just pouting because didn't get what he wants. He is simply unable to cope with sudden change and with disappointment, and with things not turning out as he had thought.
After all, things have been so turbulent and so out of his control very often for him in his past.
Through Elijah and the immediate consequences of my not being clear and consistent, I have slowly become more deliberate and steady in my mothering. I think all the kids have benefited from this.
There is still a lot of room for improvement, but I have already noticed our school work and chores going more smoothly. I should have listened to those experts years ago. You live, you learn.