Parenting "Village" — Do You Have One?

I remember when I was little — like, really little, before-the-divorce little — and my parents always told me that any adult/authority figure who was in charge of me was like my parent. So, if I was at a friend’s house, their parents were my parents while I was there and I was to obey them as if my own parents had asked something of me. And if I was at school, all teachers were my parents-at-school, and I was to obey them and listen to them just as I would my own parents. Shoot, even if we were hanging out at the Y, swimming on a summer afternoon, any adult or lifeguard was like my parent there, too.

I remember thinking how I never could get away from parents.

I also remember that if I got into trouble with a parent who was not really my parent, I actually got in trouble twice. The first punishment could be a timeout or even a little spanking from the adult/authority figure I had misbehaved for. And then, when that parent told my parents about my misbehavior, I got punished again.

I remember that misbehaving wasn’t worth all the trouble.

Now I am a parent and I tell my children the same thing. I tell them their teachers are their “parents” at school. I tell them they must behave for their friends’ parents and if they don’t, those parents have authority to pu them in time out or whatever mode of punishment fits their misbehavior. My kids know not to complain about teachers or other kids’ parents to me because I typically will side with the adult in the matter.

But things are different now. When I was a kid, I think most parents held the same view as mine did. Most adults/authority figures didn’t hesitate to correct me when I misbehaved and they sure didn’t hesitate to tell my parents about my misbehavior. These days, though, I don’t feel the same solidarity among parents. As a matter of fact, I believe I know which parents I can expect this from and it’s not a large number. I know that I can bring bad behavior to the attention of the parents of a few of the kids we know and they will be grateful that I addressed it and will also address it.

I’ve been in authoritative volunteer positions and been in the situation where a parent registered displeasure with my reactions and/or disciplinary measures because the child had simply told them that I “didn’t like him/her” so the parent was not happy. I’ve also been in the situation where I have taken corrective action (obviously not knowing whether the parent would be supportive or not) to realize that I cannot expect support from all other parents/adults when their children misbehave. My opinion of what constitutes bad behavior can be vastly different from other parents. Lots of parents say, “That’s just the way kids are!”

This blog I read via HuffPo recently really hits home on all five things this nanny cites as reasons why parenting is in a crisis these days. But #3 is one of the most important, I think, and also one of the hardest things to regain, once it is lost:

3. We’ve lost the village. It used to be that bus drivers, teachers, shopkeepers and other parents had carte blanche to correct an unruly child. They would act as the mum and dad’s eyes and ears when their children were out of sight, and everyone worked towards the same shared interest: raising proper boys and girls. This village was one of support. Now, when someone who is not the child’ parent dares to correct him, the mum and dad get upset. they want their child to appear perfect, and so they often don’t accept teachers’ and others’ reports that he is not. They’ll storm in and have a go at a teacher rather than discipline their child for acting out in class. They feel the need to project a perfect picture to the world and unfortunately, their insecurity is reinforced because many parents do judge one another. If a child is having a tantrum, all eyes turn on the mum disapprovingly. Instead she should be supported, because chances are the tantrum occurred because she’s not giving in to one of her child’s demands. Those observers should instead be saying, “Hey, good work – I know setting limits is hard.”

I really enjoy my time with my nieces and nephews because my siblings — having been raised in a similar manner — will parent my children and allow me to parent theirs. We enforce the same sort of punishments for bad behavior and expect good behavior from all ages of child. Once I understand where parents of my kids’ friends stand on this issue (and that’s not always easy to determine) it makes it easier to monitor those play dates and friendships because I know whether the friends live to the same expectations as mine or not. 
It’s frustrating to see bad behavior that I feel the need to simply shake my head and turn my kids away. I wish I believed that correcting bad behavior would have the intended effect of helping another child grow. But knowing that some parents would simply be angry with me for correcting their child keeps me silent. And if the bad behavior is pervasive enough, I simply urge my children to stay away.
What is your experience? Do you expect other parents and adults in authority to discipline your kids and inform you? Do you feel comfortable disciplining unruly children?


The Quiet House

I hope it wouldn’t surprise you that I am always trying to figure out how to be the best mother I can be.  I know I don’t have all the answers.  I know that there are some ways I have parented my children that probably aren’t the most ideal (for them or for me).  There are lots of moms out there that have learned and shared along the way.  (One of my favorites can be found HERE.)
When we first started having babies, the furthest thing from my mind was how I was going to discipline them.  I had that ever-present denial thing going on that told me my children would be perfect and wouldn’t need discipline. 
Okay, not really.

But you know what I mean.

When you look at your love of your life and you decide together that you’re ready to procreate, let’s face it:  your brain is not necessarily focused on the fact that should you be successful in procreation, about 3 or 4 years in the future, you’ll be battling pre-school battles and about 8 years later, you’ll be working on conscience formation with regards to right and wrong and then about 10 or 11 years later you’ll be on the cusp of those dreaded “tween” years.  (side note:  TWEEN?  really?  I suppose they came up with something to call 10, 11 and 12 year olds for marketing purposes, right?)

I didn’t think about whether I would spank or not spank my children.  Looking back, I think I was of the opinion that spanking never hurt me.  As a matter of fact, I knew some kids that I thought probably should have been spanked.  
Honestly, before I actually had flesh and blood children standing before me making me cringe with their whining or their hitting or their back-talking, I thought it would be easy to “put the hammer down” so to speak and keep my kids in line.  Yup, I knew it all before the kids came along.  
Nothing humbles you like raising children.
Even when my oldest got to the point where I needed to discipline her, I didn’t think much about what I was doing and what the long-term repercussions of my actions would be.  To be fair, she has always been a fairly obedient child.  Discipline wasn’t needed frequently when she was little.  Sure, she was stubborn at times and her fully-clothed bottom was on the receiving end of an open-hand spank, but all in all, discipline wasn’t something I was forced to think about with her.  
My second-born was a little different.  Since she and I didn’t bond with each other until she was around age four, the terrible-twos were…well, terrible.  She would do everything her father asked of her and openly defied me (as much as a two- or three-year-old can). 
As far corporal punishment goes, my second and third-born children got the worst of it.  But from what I’ve read some places, there are families out there that would claim I was way too lenient with my children.  Whenever I employed a spank, it was almost always just one spank, it was always open-handed and always on a fully clothed bottom.  I have never taken to striking my children with an object (thank God for that Grace!) even on their bottoms. 
I probably have not spanked in about three years.  Helen pushes me to the point the most often where I want to spank.  But I know it’s not going to work the way, ideally, I would want it to.  So I don’t do it, anymore.
This summer, I was holed up in the house during a hot spell with a new baby and four other children ages 2 to 10.  And I struggled with yelling.  Yup, just good old fashioned, “shut up!” and “you kids need to CLEAN YOUR ROOMS!” and “I HAVE HAD IT WITH YOU KIDS!!”  I realized right as school started that I had spent an awful lot of my maternity leave up to that point yelling at my children. 
When I observed this about myself, of course a change was on its way.  Oh my.  I really struggled with how to do this.  Because if I didn’t have a yelling outlet and I didn’t have a physical outlet, just how WAS I going to express my displeasure with my children over their disobedience/behavior/fighting with each other/whatever.  
Then one night, when Sarah back-talked and sassed me, I engaged her eyes and looked at her quietly.  She stopped with her snark momentarily, but then resumed with an exasperated “What!
And I asked her, “Sarah, do you hear yourself?  How do you sound?”
She was shocked into silence.  I hadn’t returned her snark.  I hadn’t yelled at her to speak to me with respect.  I hadn’t even reminded her of the fourth commandment as I am wont to do when she is disrespectful.
“Well,” I asked her.  “What do you sound like?”
And she thought for a minute and her face sunk into a resigned apology.  And she said, “I’m sorry, Mom.”
I have been using this tactic for about six weeks now.  And my house is a bit quieter.  It’s not A LOT quieter because, let’s face it, there are seven people living here and one is a newborn and three are rambunctious two-, five- and eight-year-old.  But the noise is different.  It’s not a tense noise, it’s a fun noise.  It’s kids being rambunctious and not a stressed-out mom who’s lost control with her kids.

I’m not perfect.  I still yell at my kids on occasion.  But the fact is, more often than not, I am taking a deep breath and pushing back gently on my children to evaluate their own words, actions and behaviors has brought on a different atmosphere.  I don’t know if this is THE answer to my discipline woes as a mom of five kids.  

I know that right now, at this time and place with my family, this has made our house a bit more livable amidst the chaos.