Charlie is 8 and he had a week of making some very poor choices. Ugh, I honestly had to sigh out loud right there because of how draining it is just to think about the parenting I've done, let alone, how draining it is to actually be the bad guy making parenting decisions lightning fast when punishment is required.
I've written a few times about what a star Charlie is, how he's my best friend and as a whole has every quality that if I were creating my best friend Frankenstein/avatar style, he'd be it. He's incredible and he's only 8. And it breaks my heart that he chooses to show other people his crazy side. A crazy side that lately has grown until there's no possibility that a bystander could see around it's far reaching spikes to the goodness of the little heart standing behind the broken sunroof in the friend's car or the broken light in the church ceiling or the teacher at her wit's end. I should stop there.
Pick any one of the mistakes he's made in the last week and I would likely just brush it aside. Talk to him, of course, let him know I'm disappointed and let him know what's expected and why and then he'd have to make it right. Is it this formula where the mistake lies? Am I that lenient parent of that child in class- you know the kind, every class has one- the one that other people know stories about, the one that you really don't want your angel sitting by, the one you give a little tighter smile to because you know he's undisciplined. Or is this where my mistake lies? -- Do I discipline him too much because I fear him becoming that kid?
I surely fear that. I love Charlie and I want him to feel love from other people. I want them to see how outstandingly kind and thoughtful he is and for him to watch that awareness come into their eyes and I want him to feel that awesome power of being loved and I want him to experience it over and over until he's just glowing. I'm so afraid that he's missing precious years of positive reinforcement. I lived on that stuff when I was a kid. I don't want to imagine his days devoid of it.
But time waits for no man and Charlie hasn't waited for me to figure out my balance on the parenting tightrope and last week was a doozy so here we are on the eve of the weekend before Christmas and I don't know how to discipline him.
From the parenting books I have read, you speak to a kid's mind by finding their personal currency- something they care about. Charlie is all about free- time. Grounding is a good fit. For each of the pretty major infractions he's had, he's sentenced to a day in his room. (just for posterity's sake, a normal grounding in my book is 1 hour in his room- the seriousness of the mistakes earned more.) But I don't want to ground him on Christmas. But his excuse for making a few mistakes was "I forgot", so obviously this is not a boy where I can put off the consequence. He has a very short attention span and punishment has to come swiftly or it just feels cruel in his mind.
At the same time, I'm not grounding him as retribution. I don't want to be paid back for his mistakes, I want him to learn from them. So what can I do to help him learn? What can I do to help him earn an ungrounding for the holidays? And here we are at the crux of why I'm writing this. The bow tie consequence.
I made Charlie a blue bow tie for church a few Sundays ago. To his credit, he wore it, but hated every minute of it. It was like watching a dog suffer the embarrassment of a big plastic cone on its head. He covered it with his hand, tucked his neck so it was hidden, screwed around in his seat so no one could see him- there wasn't a second that he forgot that he was wearing that bow tie. Last night when we were trying to figure out why Charlie was making such poor choices in such rapid succession, he kept saying, "I forgot" or, "I just wanted to". As I talked with him, I folded his clothes. We talked about how the bad was already done, we'd do our best to undo it, but he needed to be sorry. I folded his shirts. While I folded his pants we talked about how he was going to lose some freedom until I felt that I could trust him to make good choices again. We talked mostly about how his behavior needed to change immediately. That tomorrow at school he would be a shining beacon of self control or these morning lectures and sadness would continue until he got it. He was worried that he wouldn't be able to remember to keep his hands to himself. And I was feeling that is was truly unfair of me to expect him to be perfect. He's a little boy, they like to poke people in the hall- really, what's one little poke? Would I really ground him on Christmas if he makes one mistake? And then I remembered that for him, this wouldn't be 1 little poke, this would be the 100th poke, the 200th time he ignored a teacher, the nth time he broke something because he was being too wild. Charlie has used up his warnings and beyond. I'm supposed to be teaching him how to be an adult and I need to help him become someone who gets positive reactions from people. I'm all he's got for a life coach and I've let him be squirrely and because of that he's had too many eyes look at him like he's the bad kid. I need to reign him in. More than that, I need to teach him to reign himself in.
But could I really ground him on Christmas and would that do any good?
Continued after the jump:
Could I really ground him on Christmas and would that do any good? It would scar him right? I mean, you don't forget a scar, but do you learn from it? We rolled socks together and I came across that blue bow tie. We both smiled as he very dramatically tucked it deep into the sock drawer.
The next morning I brought Charlie into my sewing room and had him pick out the ugliest fabric. Then as we talked about the behaviors that were expected at school I sewed a length of hideous polka dot upholstery into a bow tie. Charlie grumbled that he knew how to act, but at the same time used the excuse of "I forgot" when justifying his rough-housing during the Christmas party. He watched me warily as a stitched. I reminded him of how he never forgot the blue bow tie for one minute when he was wearing it. Then as I clipped the final thread, I held the hideous new bow tie up to his collar. I told him that I knew that if he was wearing this bow tie that there wouldn't be one moment of the day that he forgot that it was there perched beneath his neck and that he needed to find a way to remember his manners with that intense a focus. I told him that this was his final day to find a way to remember manners on his own. If he couldn't remember on his own, if his actions weren't up to snuff today, then Friday, this bow tie would be the reminder. I told Charlie that if he didn't reign himself in, that Friday morning we would return to the sewing room and I would sew this bow tie to his shirt, unremovable and unforgettable.
I threatened my son with an accessory.
Good story or horrible story? The little guy broke down in tears. The school day is half over now and I'm hoping he's having a good day, but I'm really doubting it. I made my son cry and then I sent him off to be perfect. So, either he is behaving at school and feeling like a beaten pup or he is happy-go-lucky-nothing-matters-but-what-I-want-right-now Charlie and ensuring that his punishments stretch into the holiday weekend. Either one is terrible.
As much as I want to write a cute story to go along with his future life long disdain for bow ties, I didn't just threaten my son with a bow tie. I threatened my son with humiliation. I threatened him with embarrassment. And there is the real reason I am writing this. If he comes home from school today with a bad report from his teacher and I actually have to stitch a bow tie shaped scarlet letter on his shirt and send him to school to be embarrassed. Well- I can't do it. I knew I couldn't do it when I threatened it and so I guess my big game-changing play today was to threaten. It's terrible. I feel terrible. Years from now when he cringes at bow ties and is in therapy for my crappy mothering I didn't want to have to rely on a faulty memory. Here it is.
Good healthy motivation or psyche-scarring threat? Lenient vs. too strict. I don't even know where I fall. Most of the time I feel like I'm too strict; too harsh. He's a tough kid and I make him cry- my gut tells me that's the line right there.
And each time, I cross over it.
When I talk to other parents and my family, it looks like I'm too lenient so I end up backpedaling, "Sure he made a mistake, but it wasn't malicious; he's just rambunctious. He just loves attention and lacks impulse control."
What would I like to be writing about my handling of Charlie's week? What would be my ideal post about the perfect parenting answer..? Absolutely nothing comes to mind. Grounding him, yelling, making him empty his savings for each offense. Hugging him, telling him its fine, brushing it aside, building him up with praise. Both sides don't feel right. And I guess that's why I dove for something bizarre. I'm starting to believe that there's no great honor felt in disciplining- any variation of it. I'm either a demon or an oblivious push-over. The thing is, I'm okay being either of those- looking like an idiot or looking like a monster- if one of them would just put him onto the path to feeling loved.
Update for how school went: I got an email from Charlie's teacher (absolutely wonderful man) that Charlie was very quiet today but that he followed instructions better than any other day this year. When Charlie got home he was happy and laughed as he told me that he focused every minute on being good because he did not want to wear a bow tie. I told Charlie about the teacher's email and how proud I was of him, but then I sent him to his room to begin the first round of groundings. He doesn't seem scarred, but that's my little man. He sees the good in everyone and he trusts me. I included the photos of his Christmas list so I'd remember that he's only 8. He still has that baby handwriting. He's learning.
And I hope I am too.