Finding the Art of Discipline

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

Order. The sweet dream of having a place for everything and everything in its place.

Or discipline. When children are not just punished but have and hold the concept of discipline. Their behavior is disciplined. They show discipline in their actions.

This is a concept. To discipline oneself is to tame the wild side. We discipline ourselves when we seek to limit the pleasurable things in life. It is not punishment. It is an attempt to acquire a good habit with enough strength not to fall back into old habits.

And it takes so much work!

During the holidays, I lose the discipline of healthy eating because we are celebrating. I re-learn it in January. The liturgical season of Lent helps drive home the point.

We lost other disciplines during that season of celebration and vacation. Now with a chore list and a clipboard, I seek to regain management over my wild brood of little ones. They run around like monkeys who come when I call, and quickly disappear after each task, only to be called back again.

I am working on calling them back and not just escaping myself into some more pleasant pursuit than focused parenting.

To acquire discipline there must be a vision. It cannot be merely a list of yeses and nos. I grew an impossible vision for my children by reading “The Little House on the Prairie” books alongside my daughter. I want children who help, who are part of the family, who feel responsible for their tasks, who know they must complete them. In “Farmer Boy,” nine-year-old Almanzo aspires to be useful, good and like his father. Working alongside his father, he develops a vision of the skills he must acquire. His parent’s expectations create an opportunity for him to develop a sense of who he is.

This is tremendously hard now, I think, with so many household shortcuts. It is possible to manage a home with hardly ever being at home. I could wash dishes more quickly by myself because I do not do them by myself; I do them alongside my automatic dishwasher. It will take longer to involve these children. They are younger and there is less they can do.

Then I sat down and made a list of the things we ask of them, adding some new things they want to do to feel grown-up (like washing dishes). Following the language of the “Little House” books, I frame the lists in grounds of “morning chores,” “afternoon chores,” and “evening chores.” Morning chores and evening chores take place before the meal. After the meal, some clean up is expected.

This is not a farm in New York. It is a home in a residential plot of homes. Yet, using the framework, this schedule is giving a new rhythm to the day. The wake-up, dress, complete chores, eat breakfast and begin their school work (we homeschool).

I do not know what happens in the later books. I do not know how Almanzo Wilder and his wife, Laura Ingalls, merge their two very different childhoods together. It does not matter. We are all trying to find a way to make things work. If we find our ideals and work backward from there, applying them to how we want the day to look, we might start to really enjoy this life we’re living.

“How do I want to spend my day?” is a guiding question for me. When I realize how far some things are from the ideal the hard work begins. First the ideal, then the plan and lists. After implementing the lists, I make notes. I might have left something off. An observation is made. Back to the drawing board, I create a new and a better list. The process goes on and on. By the time we master is, some new stage or life development will occur and we start again.

And that is okay. With each new process, we are stronger, smarter and more disciplined, ready to live out our ideals in a new way.

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

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