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.

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Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Parenting Styles: Part 2, Falling into a Path

In my previous post I discussed the different sources of parenting information I encountered. In this post I share with you how my own blend of theories developed and why that blend is important to me.

I grew in favor of the attachment-style parenting as I considered the psychological theories behind attachment-style and Babywise approaches. As I said, the former is based on attachment theory, a relatively newer theory in psychology (1960’s). The latter, I think, is based on behaviorist theory, which has been around for over 100 years. I believe the age of the theories is the source of variance in how established each parenting style is. My generation’s parents would not have been raised with attachment theory in mind because it was not yet defined (though it could easily have been intuitively drawn from). They did have Dr. Spock encouraging a move away from rigid timetables in parenting.

En medio stat viritus. Attachment style parenting recommendations are possible only with difficulty when children are born close together. Schedules and structure in the home are important. But behaviorism negates an emotional life for children, in stark contrast to the psycho-dynamic theory it competed with. Believing my baby crying is her way of expressing distress, I want to respond. I cannot always respond. But a child does not need me to respond every time, and each cry has it’s own shade or tone that tells me if I need to run across the house or if it can wait. I have children with different personalities. Parenting is an art and no theory can be applied evenly across children.

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This one had to be have constant human contact.
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So we recruited help. Grandma flew in early to Virgina to California to hold baby.

Some children train more easily than others. Some sleep more easily than others. But all children exist. We are so ideologically driven its difficult to discuss this with anyone unless they believe exactly as you do. I’m in favor of the theory that makes life easier. For me, that means co-sleeping, nursing on demand, moving kids to a crib as soon as possible because I want my bedroom back, and singing before bedtime. I will have my oldest check on my youngest by asking her to see if the baby is in danger. What attention I cannot give successive children is fulfilled in part by the attention they receive from their siblings who are close enough in age to have similar humor and interests.

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In contrast to my first, my third happily lived here as an infant.

This is how I came to support free range parenting. I believe its good for kids and natural. But as Michael Brendan Dougherty points out, this is not be as possible as I wish it could because of the slow demise of neighborhoods. We’ve chosen to live in a small town where people do look out for each other. We’re not likely to have CPS called on us if our children, three years from now walk to the park a block-and-a-half away. But we support the idea! We encourage the independence not because we believe independence should be added to Aristotle’s list of virtues, but because freedom from adults facilitates children’s play, imagination and problem solving skills. We want to be a secure base. My newly emerged toddler (13 months old) runs to sit on my lap, runs back to the other children, back and forth. I’m her secure base.

My personality will affect how I parent. My husband’s personality will affect how he parents. I will hover more because I am more anxious. He will hover less because he does not multi-task well. Our children will affect the style of our parenting. The child who won’t stop crying, despite soothing attempts, will cry longer. Just as I wrote before about not worrying about what Kate Middleton wears after childbirth, we don’t need to get hung up on what other parents’ do. I have a problem when parents put forth parenting philosophies without being able discuss them. It would be nice if we could discuss them theoretically, but since the development of one’s parenting theory is an “every man for himself” battle in this society, it feels like we’re up against enough to show we’re making the right decision.

In the end, I believe, if you lived a stable life, the children will probably turn out pretty well. If life for you or your children was unstable, something in that’s child rearing will need to compensate. The compensation could come in the form of the partner you choose to raise your children with, or the parenting practices you undertake. Aristotle said for he who is immersed in a habit of vice that he would like to overcome, he can throw himself in the opposite direction (the brazen man should try to be overly cautious). Since his habit is in one extreme, he will not become the opposite extreme even if he tries, he will land somewhere in the middle. I had, perhaps, too much independence as a child, so we started with attachment-style parenting. As my habits settle and I become more and more the mother I want to be and the best fit for my children, I find that medio where peace and virtue are found.