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“LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!”
My two-year-old was screaming this at the top of his lungs throughout the remainder of our shopping trip (which couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes, but felt like forever). He was also trying to climb his way out of the cart, and I ended up performing quite a dance of grab an item – put it in the cart – grab his arm – yank him down – repeat. All while wearing the baby in the Ergobaby.
I had just started allowing Aidan to walk alongside the cart rather than sit in the front to prepare for the day when Andrew would start sitting in the cart seat. (Side note: I would like to petition that all stores have double seats like the ones at Costco. Anyone with me??) I made it clear before we left that he would only get to walk if he stayed close. “If you do not stay with Mommy,” I told him firmly, “you will go back in the cart.”
He did great for a while, but alas, the shiny swinging gates blocking the closed checkout lanes at ALDI proved too tempting for him. He ran to the other side of one of the gates, giggled hysterically, and refused to return to our cart. I grabbed him, reminded him of our agreement, and put him in the cart. (With help from the nice ALDI girl, since putting in a screaming, thrashing toddler while wearing a baby on your chest is no small feat. Especially when you’re 5’ 2” and the cart is almost as tall as you are.)
For the rest of the trip, he threw a fit of epic proportions. Feeling the stares of everyone in the store, I kept my composure and continued to calmly remind him why he was back in the cart. Yep, I was cool, calm, and collected.
Until we escaped to the privacy of our own car.
Then, trust me, lest you start to think I’m some kind of super patient mom, I totally let him have it.
It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my parenthood, thus far.
What’s My Motivation?
Before I became a parent, whenever I witnessed a temper tantrum such as the one I just described, I would think to myself, “Wow. Those parents need to control their kids!”
Now that I am a parent, I know that is MUCH easier said than done.
But I’ve also come to wonder if “controlling my kids” is actually something that I even want to do or should do.
I have started to ask myself, “What are my motivations behind this discipline?”
And for that matter, what is discipline, anyway?
This post isn’t about the right ways to discipline or the secret to getting your kids to do what you want. I have only been a parent for (almost) three years. I don’t know what I’m doing any more than you do! Plus, I’m sure if there ever had been a “secret” to raising perfect children, it would have been discovered by desperate parents a long time ago!
Rather, this post is about an examination of our motives as we discipline. I’m going to share with you some of the questions I’ve had to ask myself, and I hope you’re inspired to do the same.
Why am I disciplining?
Aidan is a great kid. He is sweet and funny and can be very obedient and well-mannered.
He can also be … a typical toddler. 🙂 Complete with defiance, outbursts, and total meltdowns. And I swear he saves the ugliest for the most stressful moments and audiences.
This can be really hard for any mom, but especially one who, like me, tends to put a lot of stock in what other people think of her.
Public fits and disobedience make me feel like a failure as a mom, and I immediately think, “What must people be thinking about me right now?”
It was during my frantic attempts to control one of these scenes that I began to think about my motivations behind my discipline. I was hopping from one tactic to another like a schizophrenic parenting manual, desperate to maintain my image as a “good mom,” when I was suddenly struck with the question, “Why?”
Why am I so stressed about controlling this behavior? Why do I care so much about doing the “right” thing and having the “right” response to this outburst?
Was I really concerned about disciplining my child? Or were my efforts more about saving face and getting him to do what I wanted him to do? Sadly, I’m quite sure in that particular moment (and in many others), it was the latter.
Here are the questions I am learning to ask myself on a regular basis:
- Am I wanting to control him to make my life easier?
- Am I more interested in looking good than my child being good?
- Am I doing this to avoid other people’s judgments of my parenting? Am I placing too much emphasis on whether people think I have a well-behaved child?
- Am I even disciplining? Or am I venting my frustration with his noncompliance?
What is discipline?
To help me keep the proper motivations, I have found it helpful to remind myself of the definition of discipline.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one meaning of the word discipline is “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”
Interestingly, it also lists “instruction” as an obsolete definition, and now lists “punishment” and “control gained by enforcing obedience or order” in its place.
I think instruction is actually a much more accurate definition when you look at the etymology of the word discipline.
Discipline comes from discipulus, the Latin word for pupil. This is the same root as for the word disciple. To me, this lends an air of teaching, training, and instructing rather than angry punishment or strict control.
Using the Scriptures
For the last couple of weeks, our pastor has been using 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Timothy 4:2 in his sermons. He has not been speaking on discipline or parenting, but as I knew I was going to be writing on this subject this week, I started to think about them in this context.
Here is what they say:
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 4:2 (Paul is speaking to Timothy here)
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
If Scripture is God’s instructions to His children, then maybe I would do well to model the discipline of my own children after 2 Timothy 3:16 – teach, rebuke, correct, and train.
And if Paul gave Timothy the charge to correct, rebuke, and encourage the churches, maybe that’s a good model for me to follow in parenting, as well.
Let’s break it down and define each of those terms:
Teach – to cause to acquire knowledge or skill
Rebuke – to criticize sharply; to reprimand
Correct – to point out or mark the errors in; to scold, rebuke, or punish in order to improve
Train – to develop or form the habits, thoughts, or behavior of (a child or other person) by discipline and instruction
Encourage – to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence; to stimulate by assistance, approval, etc.
Whether you’re a Christian mom or not, that sounds like a great model for us all to follow, don’t you think?
What do I want my discipline to look like?
Now that I am more aware of some of my poor (selfish) motivations, here is what I would like my discipline to be motivated by:
- Teaching my kids appropriate behavior so they can function well in our home, in school, in their future jobs, and in society.
- Instilling Godly character and values.
- Stimulating deep and lasting heart changes, not just superficial facades, or “acts” of obedience.
- Setting them up for future success.
- Training them to obey us, their earthly mother and father, so that they will more willingly obey their Heavenly Father later in life.
This kind of discipline takes a lot of time and effort, I know. It hasn’t been easy, and it won’t ever be easy, I don’t think. (Those of you with grown children, please prove me wrong!)
But this is part of my vision for motherhood, and I became a mom to raise arrows, and that kind of motherhood doesn’t come for free. It takes work and intention. But I believe it will pay off in the end.
Don’t get me wrong – just because I’m more aware of my motivations doesn’t mean I’m always driven by the right ones now. I still have plenty of moments of frustration, anger, and embarrassment stemming from a desire to control or avoid the disapproval of others.
But my hope, in all of motherhood and parenting, is continual progress. And every improvement starts with a simple awareness of a need for change.
What about you? Have you ever found yourself disciplining for the wrong reasons? Yelling, scolding, or punishing out of a desire to control your kids or look good in front of other parents? Please tell me I’m not the only one, and share some of your insights and experiences below!
- 6 Soul-Searching Questions That Will Make You a More Intentional Mother
- Am I a Good Mom? 10 Things All Good Moms Do
- When You’re Not the Mom You Want to Be
- 20 Rejuvenating Scriptures for Weary Moms