I’m not sure when or how it started, but, usually, the threat of counting to three works well with Kid 1+1. We never officially outlined the parameters of the whole counting to three thing, but she seemed to get that, once three was reached, there would be consequences. True, after one she is, usually, still sat, staring me out. But by the time I get to two, she is, albeit very slowly, doing what I asked her to do, oh, about five minutes prior to the escalation point.
However, this one day, while we were at a friend’s house, and while I was using my best bribes to, unsuccessfully, coax her down the stairs, out the door and home, she decided she was going to throw all those practice runs out of the window and push it to – durn durn duuuuurn – number three…
I started off confidently with a drawn out “one” to give her ample opportunity to reflect on and reassess her options. She remained defiant, sat at the top of the stairs. I looked at my friend, standing to the left of me, watching in wonder at the spectacle. I smiled, raised my eyebrows, and cocked my head slightly, as if to say “watch this”. You see, her children are bordering on what some might term ‘feral’. I say that with no judgement. It’s a fact. She often lets them choose what they would like to do and, totally unintentionally, makes me look like the baddie to my kids. Anyway, although still confident that the counting to three would work, I felt slightly uneasy as I stared into the eyes of my youngest child.
I took a deep breath, cleared my throat, then mobilised the second stage. Another drawn out “two”. Kid 1+1 remained steadfast in her defiance; she said not a word and moved not an inch. My friend was still watching, but her wonder seemed to be morphing into mild amusement. I began to panic. This deviation from protocol was extremely unnerving and having an audience made it even worse. “I’m not joking! You better come down these stairs and put your shoes on – RIGHT! NOW!” I had begun to raise my voice. “If you don’t come down now, you’ll never be able to come back again”. The pressure was obvious. “I said – two”. I was repeating myself. This was no good. I could feel the victory slipping from my hands. Kid 1+1’s bottom lip was out. Her arms were crossed. She was still at the top of the stairs. And that was when my friend asked the question. The question that I had been dreading. She asked it with the lightness of someone who has never had to worry about such things. “So, what happens when you get to 3?”
I guess the reason I had been dreading it so much was because I had never really considered what would happen. What was the consequence that would come after three? It might be telling her that she was no longer going to one of the many parties that she gets invited to, or it might be taking away iPad privileges for a few days, or it might even be a swift smack on the bottom. Whatever it was, I was unsure, and that gave my child her power.
I pretended that I hadn’t heard my friend’s question and continued to stare into my baby’s eyes. Why was this child betraying me like this? A combination of embarrassment and anger washed over me. I gritted my teeth and hissed, “Get. Down. Here. Now.” I could see her begin to shift uneasily on the step. Now, she was the one who was faltering. Still she sat up there. My friend was still watching – I could feel her presence, rather than see her. All I could see was my child, the step and a red mist slowly forming. The anger was coming.
I never did get to three. My friend eventually got bored of watching and wandered off to go and do something slightly more interesting, like emptying the recycling bin. But, I had to work hard to control my emotions as I left her house.
So, did Kid 1+1 come downstairs voluntarily? To be quite honest, I don’t think that’s important. I’m no parenting expert and I’m not here to lecture you on how to discipline your kids. What I believe is important, and the point that I’m driving at, is that I had tried to use a technique that I had seen others use, without working out how it would work for me. I wouldn’t pick up someone else’s make-up and start applying it on my face. I wouldn’t let someone else choose what I was going to wear for a week, without firstly advising them of my style and comfort preferences. I wouldn’t even eat food that someone else had prepared without having any idea of what the ingredients were – and I love food (excluding avocados and tomatoes). So, why, then, did I think it was ok to adopt someone else’s approach to something as important as disciplining my child without working out if it was appropriate for both me and my child?
Kids, like us adults, need to understand boundaries. They need to know how far they can push it, otherwise they feel as out of control as we do. We’ve watched Supernanny. We know this. However, what we don’t all know, with anything like 100% certainty, is how to successfully enforce those boundaries to achieve the outcomes that we believe are best for our children. We are learning all the time. Those of us with more than one child will testify to the fact that what works for one may not work for the others. My friend’s children aren’t feral. They are happy and so is she (most of the time), but her approach to keeping them in check is different to mine. She is doing the best that she can and what works for her family and her sanity. And that’s ok.
A dear insta-friend of mine, Yvonne of @kemikids, sells totes with the slogan Good Enough Mother emblazoned across them. Anoushka Beazley, who I featured on here a couple of posts back, has written a book called ‘The Good Enough Mother’. It’s the new mothers’ mantra of the moment. To me, being a good enough mother doesn’t mean that I should give a half-arsed attempt at mothering. It means that I can only be the best mother that I can be, not a cheap knock-off of someone else, because that’s just not good enough.
Choose your own ending. Make it work for you…