Confessions of an Authoritarian Parent

I really don’t like blogging.

How’s that for a confession on a blog about confessions?

It’s not that bad.  It’s fine, really.  I get to indulge my egoic need for recognition and stroke my belief that I am an insighful and entertaining and even, dare I say it, witty writer.  On occasion, at least.  But, for me, the benefits of blogging have failed to outweigh the inconvenience of it.  It is a burden much more than a joy and, quite frankly, I’m sort of over the idea of keeping unnecessary burdens in my life, even if those burdens seem like a good idea or might even be good for me.  I almost always have “write blog” on my to-do list and I almost always transfer it to the next day’s list.  You can see I got a spurt of commitment right after the new year, writing three posts in three weeks and making a commitment to do an online book club, but my heart’s just not in it.  I would rather spend that hour or two on the weekends being present with my children than sitting on the back porch typing away while they play in the yard.

I recently sped my way through The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Organizing and Declutteringby Marie Kindo.  It was filled with mostly inane anecdotes about the author’s childhood as a compulsive organizer and tips for how to fold shirts and use old iPhone boxes as drawer organizers.  But there was one very useful and, indeed, life-changing concept that I took away from the book: only keep things in your life that bring you joy.  Get rid of everything else.  Of course, the author is referencing those 4 black t-shirts that you don’t wear because they’re all faded and your biology textbook from college that still sits on your bookshelf, but it’s easy to see how that idea can be applied to the nonmaterial aspects of life, as well.  And apply it, I have. Read More

A Parenting Manifesto

That’s right.  I said MANIFESTO.

I’ve been thinking of writing a parenting manifesto for quite a while now and figured I’d use this fresh-start January as a little push to articulate some of my thoughts.

As you know from the title of my blog, I’m a recovering authoritarian parent.  And, to be an effective authoritarian, there are certain things you have to believe about children and your relationship with them.  An authoritarian parent’s manifesto would probably sound something like this:

  • I am in charge.  I hold all of the power.  I know important things and it’s my job to teach these things to my children and make sure they do them exactly as I prescribe.
  • Children are inferior to adults. They don’t know anything.  They are naturally bad and must be molded (forced) into behaving in acceptable ways.
  • A parent’s primary responsibility is to teach their child how to obey.  Obedience from children is the necessary component of a successful parent-child relationship.
  • A truly successful authoritarian parent will have children who obey immediately and without question.
  • If my children disobey me, I must make them feel pain so that they will obey me in the future.  The pain could be physical (i.e. spanking or physical isolation through time out), emotional (i.e. shaming and being made to feel guilty), or mental (being made to feel stupid or incompetent).

That’s pretty much the gist of authoritarian parenting. Read More

Let’s talk about resolutions.

For the last several years, I’ve disdained the idea of a resolution, mostly because it seems like my life is one constantly evolving resolution.

There’s never an extended period of time in which I’m not trying to be better in some way — be stronger and more fit, drop a couple of pounds, temper my behavior, parent my children more lovingly. I don’t need some holiday to roll around in order to get motivated to be a better person.

But, at the same time, I will admit that there is something appealing about the “start fresh, clean slate” idea of the new year. Two years ago, I resolved to begin a sentence journal. (I came across the idea while reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I also adopted a version of the workout she references in her book and have never been stronger or more satisfied with my workout routine in my life.) Reading about our one and two year ago exploits every night has become a very happy ritual for Jeff and me, but it also takes me back to some parenting moments that cause a little burning in my esophagus when I remember them.

So, while there’s nothing terribly new on my horizon for 2015, my knowledge of goal setting tells me that making specific goals with measurable outcomes will greatly enhance my chances of successful change. In that knowledge and out of my commitment to improving as a parent, here is my resolution for 2015: Read More

I’m reviewing my year for you. I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath.

Seriously.  Are you as sick of “Year in Review” blog posts as I am?  Sorry.  I’m jumping on the bandwagon.

So,

Greetings and Happy 2015!

All’s been quiet on the blog here for a while.  I wish I could tell you that I’ve been writing a book or something really exciting and meaningful, but I’ve just been living my little life and haven’t carved out the time and effort necessary to post.

That’s not entirely true.  I have written 3 and a half blog posts in the last couple of months, but they all seemed so whiny and “I-don’t-know-what-to-do-y” that I didn’t post them.  To be honest, I’ve grown so tired of the “I’m a horrible parent/this parenting thing is so hard!” bit that I’ve struggled with exactly when and what to post.

It seems to be a very popular thing on all of the blogs I follow to do a “Year in Review” kind of post and also to discuss planned resolutions for 2015.  I’m not really a resolutions kind of gal, but I thought I’d share my thoughts about my year and my plans for my parenting and this blog for the near future.

I must begin by saying that I feel like 2014 was a gift.  It didn’t start out feeling that way.  In fact, it was at the very end of 2013 that I had reached the end of my rope in my transition from Authoritarian to Democratic parenting and I emailed Vicki in desperation.  And, it was her emailed response and our subsequent phone conversations that put me onto the track that would transform my parenting in 2014.

I’ve spent most of 2014 working through problems I see in my little family and developing positive and respectful ways of dealing with those problems and connecting with my children.  I feel closer and more in touch with Olive and Forrest than I ever have before.  I feel significantly less irritation, agitation, frustration, rage, bewilderment, and general bad feelings than I did this time last year.  And, to me, that is a gift.  It’s a gift I’ve had to work hard for, but I never would have come to this place in my parenting without the guidance of Duct Tape Parenting and the myriad other parenting books based on Adlerian philosophy that I have read throughout the year.

I spend quite a bit of time ruminating about the persistent parenting problems that I’m up against every day but the end of the year has also caused me to think back about parenting problems that are no longer on my radar.  So, in the spirit of the season and all its year-end reviews, let me share the two biggies with you!

Bedtime: Bedtime is almost always a sweet and joyful time in our house, but it wasn’t always.  We once fought about everything at bedtime and Olive often did one or two rounds of time-out before bed.  Doesn’t make you feel very loving when you’re shouting at your kid to go to time-out.

But, that has all changed.  We don’t have fights about brushing teeth, we don’t have fights about how many stories to read or songs to sing, and we don’t have fights about going to bed.   The only real problem with our bedtimes is when Jeff happens to walk through the door right as we’re getting off to bed.  I still haven’t figured out how to defuse the untethered rapture that overwhelms Olive and Forrest when Daddy gets home.  To remedy that problem, Jeff usually lets me know when he’s 15 or 20 minutes from home and we decide by text whether Olive and Forrest are going to stay up for him to help put them to bed or whether I’ll go ahead and do it.  If we wait up, then I make sure we are on the bed with our stories, ready to read them as soon as Daddy walks in.  And Jeff refrains from any tossing-on-the-bed/pillow fight shenanigans, so that we almost always maintain an intact sense of calm!

I attribute the ease in our bedtime routine to, well, the routine.  When we first started this bedtime thing, I didn’t really have a plan.  When Olive was a baby and we had all the time in the world, it wasn’t a big deal to let bedtime run into the twenty or thirty minute time frame.  But, as she got older, we found that every bedtime became a lesson in negotiation as Olive plied us with every tactic she could think of to keep us with her just a little bit longer.  Instead of being able to enjoy the song or book that we were in the middle of, she was already gearing up to ask for another one.  (Negotiations over brushing teeth were also part of this.)

The change came not when I implemented a sticker chart/reward system, which improved things for about two weeks before we went back to the old problems.  Nope, the thing that did the trick was when we decided to establish a routine.  So, now the tuck-in process does not begin until teeth are brushed.  It is the first step in the routine and nothing else happens until it is finished.  If teeth are brushed and pajamas are on by our agreed upon time, then we can have a show or stories.  After either one show, or one story per child, we tuck in.  The tuck-in process involves lots of hugs and kisses and “what was your favorite thing about your day” kinds of questions, as well as two songs.  The choosing and singing of the songs signals the end of the tuck-in process and the departure of mommy and daddy.  If they won’t choose songs or insist on choosing more than two, then that’s my signal that tuck-in time is over.  There is the occasional test about the songs, but I would say that roughly 90% of our bedtimes are now smooth sailing.  I’m pretty happy with that!

Mornings: Our mornings used to be HORRIBLE.  Shouting.  Time-outs.  Rage in the car.  Ugly.  I remember saying to Vicki during one of our coaching sessions, “Olive has to brush her teeth every day.  Every day!  It’s not like this is some sort of special requirement, it’s an every day thing!  So, why does she fight me on it every day?”  

The answer to that question is much more complex than the question itself.   For example, I came to realize that a lot of the reason that Olive fought me on so many things is because she didn’t have a sense of control over her own life.  I was so domineering and authoritarian, often without really intending to be, that Olive was left with very little say about things that mattered to her.  So, she fought me on everything.  Even on things that didn’t really matter.  She fought because she wanted to have a say.

Another thing I realized is that, just like with bedtimes, there was no real routine in our morning.  There were no clear steps about what to do or when to do them.  I remember having to field the, “Can I have a show” question so many times in the mornings that I wanted to, and often did, scream.  So, how did we remedy our mornings?  That’s right: Routine.

I broke down the steps of what it takes to get Olive out the door and laid them out to her precisely.  (A wiser and more democratic mother would have had a session with Olive in which we determined these steps together, but I’m still learning.)

I used to say, “Get ready and get your stuff together.”  Now, we have specific tasks that need to be completed in order to “Be ready” and to “Have our stuff together.”  And those tasks are worded exactly the same way every day.  There is no mystery or ambiguity to the tasks.  To be ready, Olive and Forrest must:

  • Get dressed (they understand that this includes shoes)
  • Brush teeth
  • Fix hair
  • Put on Sunscreen

The “Get our stuff together” step is different for Olive and Forrest, since Olive fixes her own lunch.  To have their stuff together, Olive and Forrest must:

  • Fix lunch and put it in backpack (For Olive Only)
  • Find coat
  • Put backpacks in the car

When all of the items are completed, they are welcome to watch TV until we leave for school.

I will be the first to admit that our mornings are not as “well-oiled” as our bedtimes.  There are lots of mornings that we end up rushing into the car and are 5 to 15 minutes late to school.  There are some mornings that I’m very frustrated by the time I get everyone into the car.  But, I have to say that the vast majority of mornings are pretty easy-going around our house.  In fact, I suspect that part of the reason we’re late so much is because our mornings are a little too easy-going and we chill together in bed just a few minutes too long.  If I had to assign a numerical value, I’d say that we’re at about 80% for positive, easy-going, follow-the-routine mornings.  That leaves room for improvement, but gives us a pretty happy and healthy experience in the mornings.

Mornings and bedtimes are really at the top of my list for success stories in 2014.  The improvement in just those two areas has made such a change in my family’s overall health that I’m thrilled with where we are.

That’s not to say that I don’t spend significant amounts of time thinking about other persistent parenting problems; reading and re-reading parenting books looking for guidance; puzzling over the best way to make positive changes in our relationship and family culture.  But, we’re still moving in the right direction and I plan to keep it that way.

As is so often the case when I sit down to write a blog post, I realize I have invested much more time and written much more content than I intended to do.  So, I think I’ll stop for now and look forward to publishing a part 2 of this “New Year’s” post with a discussion of my plans for parenting improvements for the coming year, as well as the direction in which this blog needs to go.

Coming soon!!   The follow-up to this post with information about what you can expect from Confessions of an Authoritarian Parent in 2015!!  Don’t you like how I’m building excitement and anticipation with this little preview?  I’m a blogging master. 🙂

One day past “I can’t decide . . . “

(This post is a response to and continuation of the post I wrote yesterday.  To get a full understanding of the issues I’m discussing, take a look at that one first).

Okay, so I’ve had a whole day and night to think about my little run-in with Olive yesterday.  In fact, it was almost exactly this time of day that everything melted down.  One of the worst things about me is that I tend to get stuck in a melancholy, ruminating rut when I experience strong negative emotions.  One of the best things about me is that I think very critically about my actions and am always trying to figure out what went wrong and what I could have done better.

I still haven’t decided whether I was right or totally wrong — I think I’m somewhere in between.  Here are some things I’ve been thinking through.

Changes in Routine

I’ve been trying to figure out why things have seemed to go off track lately and changes in our routine would be an obvious place to start.  As far as I can figure, there have been only two major changes: changing Olive’s school days and the time change.

We switched up the days Olive goes to school (she started out the year going Tues, Wed, Thurs and we switched her to Wed, Thurs, Fri).  That introduced the Mommy & Olive days into our week, which I think is a great opportunity to spend some time with Olive.  But, as I mention in a post that has yet to be published, I have noticed a lot of issues arising on the mornings Olive is supposed to go to school.  Where she once was so excited to go and to get ready by herself, now she is reluctant, combative, dismissive, and generally unwilling to get ready.  She alternately fights with Forrest & me and then, as if a switch has been flipped, immediately changes to crying and clinging to me and saying she wants to be with me all day.  She wouldn’t even get ready for Fun Friday two weeks ago.  Would. Not. Go.  I find this to be baffling and irritating.   We cannot change her back to her old schedule because the school made some classroom changes after Olive switched up.

Also, I’m wondering if the time change could have something to do with her Jekyll/Hyde behavior.  We did a little road trip last weekend when the time changed (over 700 miles in two days with some hiking and fishing thrown in).  This was after the excitement of Halloween week.  I think we started the week tired and have just accumulated more tiredness as the week has continued.  Olive and Forrest have both been up before 6 every morning this week, which is not our usual schedule — their little bodies have not figured out that we changed the clocks by an hour.  I have tried to get them adjusted by keeping them up for their regular bedtimes, but we are all tired.

I’m not sure whether either of these things had anything to do with our showdown yesterday, but it’s a good place to start.

Power Struggles

Am I perpetuating power struggles with Olive without even realizing it?  I think the answer to that is probably yes.  I’m still struggling to figure out exactly where this is happening, but I suspect that it’s more of an undercurrent of behavior than out and out battles.  On the recommendation of a commenter on my blog (thank you so much for your comments, btw), I picked up Honey, I Wrecked the Kids, by Alyson Schafer.  There’s nothing in it that I didn’t find in Duct Tape Parenting, but I hadn’t read it before so it was a bit like a fresh perspective on my parenting dilemmas.  And, it is helping me reassess my relationship with Olive.  Here are a few of the (somewhat stinging) jewels of advice:

If we can get our body language and word content to be less domineering, we are more likely to have our children respond non-defensively to us . . . I have yet to work with a child who has the goal of power who didn’t have a power parent.

Umm.  Err.  (Crickets chirping in the background . . .)  So, while I don’t think I was domineering in the exchange with Olive about the shower, I think that I tend to naturally adopt a somewhat domineering style when communicating with my children, EVEN IN SPITE OF my efforts to be open and honest and cooperative.

The greatest tool for ending a power struggle is to stop pushing our agenda, and instead listen to our children’s points of view. . . The parent of a power-seeking child needs to be thinking all the time about how to help the child be more self-directed and self-determined.

I still struggle with the whole pushing my agenda thing.  Is it establishing boundaries that are needed to maintain an orderly family or is it my agenda? Sometimes, the two are indistinguishable.  Am I being harsh and inflexible or am I being consistent and showing that I will follow through with stated consequences?   Am I being considerate and cooperative or am I just giving in and going with what everyone else wants to the detriment of my family’s health?  These questions plague me.

We help improve matters by injecting choice into sticky situations where co-operation is difficult and where power struggles typically erupt . . . The amount of choice a child has should increase with age.  If you are power struggling, you’re holding on to choice options that your children are ready to make for themselves . . . Your children probably grew and developed just in the last 24 hours, but when was the last time you altered your viewpoint about them?

So . . . maybe I could have said, “would you like to take a shower or a bath?”  “Would you like for me to wet your hair or do you want to do it yourself?”  “Do you want to brush your teeth before you clean up or after?”  Any number of choices offered to Olive could have smoothed out our morning a bit.  Although, I will note that just as it is difficult for children to feel cooperative when they’re being shouted at by their parents, it is also difficult for parents to feel cooperative when they’re being shouted at by their children!  I wasn’t really in the choice giving mood at the moment.

I know.  I know.  Be the bigger person who has 30 years of experience and maturity on the little screaming monster.  Don’t let it get to you.  Water off a duck’s back.  Blah. Blah. Blah.  But, when it feels like you’re being yelled at day after day after day, it’s kind of hard to not react negatively.  Oh . . . I see what you’re doing here.  You’re pointing out that kids might react very strongly to the least provocation from their parents if they feel like they’ve been yelled at day after day after day.  And then the parent, who doesn’t see the relationship between all of the yelling and fuming and disdaining they’ve been doing all week and the sudden outburst from their little one, is “baffled” and “taken aback” by it.   You sneaky bastard.

But, here’s the kicker, and the reason that I’m pretty sure I didn’t do the right thing yesterday morning:

I need you to get a highlighter and mark this page now: LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES are NOT a good tool for power struggles.  They always come off wrong.  It’s too easy to look powerful when enacting a logical consequence – and besides, there are better tools.

Schafer goes on to tell us that shifting our perspective of the issue from misbehavior that needs to be punished to a problem that needs a solution is a much healthier and more cooperative way to deal with it.  She suggests that you invite the child to offer possible solutions to the problem, AKA try to see things from their perspective and give them leeway to make decisions that affect them.

I’m still not certain of what I should have done, although I have a much better idea of strategies that would have been more successful and positive.  I am pretty certain, though, that not taking Olive to the sewing class was EXACTLY the wrong thing to do.😦

I can’t decide if I just did the right thing or totally screwed up.

Scene: Saturday morning.

A slight buzz of excitement because today is the day that Olive gets to go to the sewing class that she and I have looked forward to for a couple of weeks.  Yesterday, we went to the fabric store and bought supplies for the class as well as a new sewing kit that is just for Olive.

Olive hasn’t bathed or showered since Wednesday night.  It’s time.  When I got up to get in the shower, I told Olive that she could get in when I was done. She seemed totally cool with that.  But, when Olive’s turn to shower was up and I asked if she wanted me to turn the water on for her, she not only refused to get in, she proceeded to scream at me and tell me I’m so bossy and that she’s not going to take a shower.  I feel like I should note that I never “bossed” or demanded that she get into the shower.  She had been amenable to the idea before I took my shower and I was pretty taken aback by her response to my letting her know that it was her turn, as we had had a perfectly lovely morning thus far.

She stomped into my closet and sat on the floor in a huff.  I went in and sat beside her and told her very nicely that I was looking forward to a great day with her and a great sewing class.  I hoped she would get in the shower because she needed to get cleaned up before we left the house.  We had already talked about how she was getting a little stinky because she hadn’t taken a bath in 2 days.  And not just her, we had talked about how we were all taking showers because we were stinky.  I wasn’t singling her out.

She jumped up out of the floor, ran to the corner, crossed her arms and shouted that I’m the bossiest person in the world and she’s not taking a shower.  I told her she could be angry, and she could be upset about taking a shower, but that I wasn’t interested in spending the day with someone who talks to me that way.  If she wants to go to the sewing class, then she needs to stop shouting at me. I then went back into the bathroom and started getting ready.  I really thought we were done.  But, no.

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Umm . . . setback. :-(

I failed at parenting today.

It was supposed to be great! We changed up Olive’s school schedule so that she can now attend on Fun Fridays and, also so that she and I can have a whole day each week to ourselves. I was really excited to spend some time with Olive. She’s been so, well, great, lately.  She’s been quick to help out when we’re picking up, she has cleaned up her messes after she makes them, and she’s been helping me in the kitchen.  And, I mean really helping.  I can put a pound of hamburger meat in a skillet and she can chunk it up and stir it and make sure it cooks evenly.  There have been several moments when I’ve just stood still and marveled at how cooperative she’s been.  (Every time she responds to my requests for help or to pick up with, “sure, mom,” I’m blown away.)

Based on all of these changes, I anticipated a day of good times and laughing and fun with my girl.  Olive loves to go, go, go, so I figured she would have a great time running some errands, eating out, and doing a little shopping with me.  Our first stop was the gym, Kids Club for Olive, which she LOVES.  She was so excited, apparently, that she couldn’t stop making really loud and silly sounds and talking like a baby when we got there.  Okay.  Fine.  She’s excited.  Whatever.

After that, a consignment store to sell some outgrown kids clothes.  This is where we really started to go downhill.  “Mommy, can I have this Hello, Kitty doll??”  I did my, “Did you bring your money?” bit and figured that was that.  Olive knows how we play the game.  If you don’t have your money, you don’t get whatever-it-is-that-you-can’t-live-without-at-this-very-moment.  It did not work today.  After fielding requests for everything from a Bratz Doll, to a play kitchen, to a Nerf gun, to about 7 other things, I started shifting from excited about our day to irritable.

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I Finally Broke My Kids’ iPad Addiction!!

“Mommy, can I have a show?????”

I cannot tell you how many times I have been awakened by that whispered request. My kids LOVE shows. Sometimes, that’s great. On our 8 day, 3,500 mile road trip this summer, I was sooooo glad that they could watch show after show (after show after show). My biggest concern on our trip was keeping the iPads charged enough to last through a day’s worth of driving.

It turns out, however, that having all the shows you want, all day every day, for over a week, does weird things to a child’s ability to engage in self-directed, imaginary play. When we got home, Olive and Forrest were paralyzed without their iPads. Things were quite out of hand. I was greeted every morning with show requests and the requests didn’t stop until well after bedtime. The constant barrage of begging and fussing and pouting wore on my good humor and I found myself dreading the next day’s “show showdown.”

It felt like Olive and Forrest couldn’t be happy unless they got to watch a show. And, once the show was on, they couldn’t be happy because they were so worried that they wouldn’t get another one. I felt like I was always saying no to them because they were always asking and asking and asking!!
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I still feel like a rookie mom when I take my kids into the grocery store.

I never want to hit my kids more than when I’m in the grocery store with them.  Well, that and the fabric store.  Taking Olive and Forrest into the fabric store is my own personal hell on earth (along with water parks).

I know I shouldn’t say it.  But, it’s so incredibly true.  I rarely feel the urge to hit (you might prefer to call it “spank”) my kids anymore.  But, boy, oh boy, there is something about Olive and Forrest in the grocery store that makes me revert to every horrible urge of authoritarian parenting that I’ve ever felt.  I’ve been at this parenting thing for over five years!  I feel like I should have it a little more together by now!!

At this point, I think I should mention that I do not hit my children.  At all.  Since I started making the effort to change my approach to parenting a little over a year ago, I have pretty  much moved past the instant urge to hit them every time they irritate me.  I have not administered any kind of physical punishment in over a year.

I see moms in the grocery store with four kids standing quietly around the cart while the mom carefully peruses the organic kiwi, choosing just the right ones to feed her beautiful, healthy, and perfectly behaved family.  Meanwhile, I’m letting out a string of curses under my breath while I grab a bag of apples that will be thrown away slowly throughout the next month after I send them in lunches week after week only to have them return home, brown and sad and never touched.  Standing quietly is not something that happens with Olive and Forrest.  I’ve learned that it’s best to keep them contained in the cart and let them build fortresses out of the boxes of Totino’s pizza that I buy in bulk rather than to let them roam free in the aisles. Read More

To not help is sometimes the hardest thing . . .

The other day, I watched an interaction between a child and her grandmother and I was struck by how often we adults make everyone’s life difficult because we can’t just butt out and leave things alone.

The little girl had walked into the room with her shirt on backwards.  The grandmother pointed it out and the little girl started working to turn it around.  The grandmother tried to help but the girl said that she could do it on her own.  After a few moments of watching the little girl struggle, the grandmother jumped back in to help.  The little girl tried to pull away and then shouted at the grandmother, “I can do it myself!!”  The grandmother then responded, “Fine.  If you’re going to talk to me that way, then I’m not going to help you!”

The grandmother was angry.  The little girl was angry and felt wrongly rebuked.  Everyone’s moment was ruined because the grandmother couldn’t take a step back and let the little girl struggle for a few moments.  It was the grandmother’s fault but the little girl got the blame.

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