On Children and Discipline:

People who are not, at some time in their lives (preferably early) exposed intimately to others who care enough about them to both love and discipine them will not learn to be responsible.  For that failure, they suffer all their lives.

I met hundreds of those people as a prison counselor.  Almost down to a man, they presented with the same feelings of entitlement, the same excuses, the same failure to accept responsibility for their choices that they learned at any early age.  They were not all “bad” people — far from it.  Most were just so far removed from their potential that they forgot they ever had any. Some never knew they had any.  It is an understatement to say that their focus was misdirected, considering where I met them.  I used to ask them what they wanted to be when they were children.  Most didn’t remember — at least, not in the introductory phase of our relationship.  But they all loved to talk about the things they’d gotten away with, the profits they made and/or how they were wrongly convicted/imprisoned.  The criminal mindset is a fascinating study.  It is not as far removed from a victim mentality as one might think.  Both originate in childhood.

Holding an unwilling child to the responsible course is beyond painful.  I speak from experience.  But what is the alternative?  Is it worth suffering the pain of a child’s anger to save them the pain of a lifetime of irresponsible choices?   If you’re any kind of parent, you will hurt every time your child hurts, regardless.  Might as well make it count.

What child understands that love and discipline are interconnected?  Discipline must always have within it the element of love — i.e., “I care enough about you to force you to act in a better way.  In a way that you will come through experience to know, and I already know, is the right way.”

Some people might object to my use of the word “force.”  Self-assessments indicate that I lean toward a more authoritative style of parenting, whereas my daughters’ father is permissive.  This disparity makes me the enemy.  I do not enjoy being the enemy.  I have said many times that I am not my daughters’ “friend,” and I am not running a household democracy where “every vote counts” but neither am I a “because I say so” kind of mother.  When reasoning fails to convince my child of the appropriateness of my standards, and when no explanation suffices, I have to fall back on what I know. and what I know is that I know best.  What teenager believes that?  I know I didn’t, but my life was very different from the life my children enjoy — or would admit to enjoying, if they knew how good they had it.  I have done my best to raise them to know.

At some point, we have to stop questioning and/or beating ourselves up as parents and let our progeny make the choice to follow our example or instructions — or not, with the understanding that those choices have consequences.  We do them an even greater disservice by preventing them from experiencing the consequences of their choices than we do by failing to impose limits.  Life will teach them what the best of parents could not persuade them to learn while under the umbrella of their protection.  I like to think there will come a day in the lives of every parent and child when that child will say, “Mom/Dad, you were sooo right!”  Until that day comes, hang in there!  If you are doing the best you can with the information and resources you possess at any given time to keep your offspring alive and well until that “Countdown to 18” clock runs out, I say you are ahead of the curve!  And that is commendable.


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