Monday, June 15, 2009

6/15/09 When old meets new

My mother told me about a time once when my grandmother (her mother) shocked my mother's misbehaving older brother by sticking him in the shower with all his clothes on. My mother remembers thinking of that as being a harsh measure, and when I first heard it, I thought so too. My mother never had to resort to anything like that raising us.

But that was before I realized: at the time, my grandmother was in the same boat I'm in: two boys and a girl. (My grandmother actually went through more than that, including burying premature triplets after the two boys, then having another girl for a total of 2 boys and 2 girls.) Still, by today's standards, that's a harsh physical punishment, one that especially positive parenting would discourage.

Tonight, once again, was marked by the usual struggle to get the boys to respond to anything I tell them. Whether I'm asking, reminding, telling, instructing, demanding (I don't plead)...doesn't matter, I'm routinely ignored. By bathtime I'm especially short-fused. Once again, I was completely ignored when I asked, reminded, told, instructed and then demanded they get undressed for the bath. Katrina was also fussing -- happily a rare occurrence these days -- so I was in no mood for extra steps.

When Katrina was done with her bath and calm, Julian had just barely started to get his shirt off. I asked myself, what's the first tenet of positive discipline? Natural consequences. What's the natural consequence for still having your clothes on when it's bathtime?

Well, how about, you get in the bath anyway??

And so, I pulled Julian into the bathtub, fully clothed, and sprayed him with water. It's bathtime, and if you can't get your clothes off in 15 minutes with numerous warnings, so be it.

I hoped it would finally break the hysterical giggling-ignoring state the boys were in, and it did, moreso than I expected. Julian howled and wailed, and Gabriel screamed and shouted at me and tried to stop me. Normally he cheers on any action against his brother, but I'd crossed a line and kicked him into protective mode. But I did succeed in finally, finally getting them to stop ignoring me and tearing apart their room instead of getting ready for bath.

What a remarkable intersection of old-fashioned physical shock discipline and modern-day natural consequences. However, no matter how you look at it, old school or new, I doubt it worked, as both boys clearly blamed me for their misfortune and only responded obnoxiously when I asked them what they thought I should do instead ("how about I spit in your face, Mom?"). They don't connect their own actions to consequences. They can learn to avoid unpleasant things, like Mom flipping out, for practical reasons, but I'm sorely skeptical they'll extrapolate any larger lesson from it.

They calmed down by storytime, and with the forgiving amnesia of young children, both gave me very sincere hugs and kisses goodnight. And I...well, I hope I can go my grandmother's way on this one, who probably didn't give the incident another thought.


No comments: