I’ve blogged about consequences before, but I can’t seem to escape the theme. It plays on my mind a lot.
In the past, I’ve explained how I try to parent my boys. I think that I talk a lot about my ideal parenting style. But, the reality is that I have my own stuff to deal with. So, this time I’m going to talk a bit about one of the ways that I try to mitigate my own stress and hang-ups.
I adore my boys, and I admire the amazing things that they’ve achieved. But, there are days when I get upset about things they do. And there are times – more than there should be – when I find myself seething and thinking along the lines of ‘they shouldn’t get away with that’.
When I get frustrated and angry, I am very prone to slipping into a parenting style that I recognise from my own childhood. I am quick to reach for a consequence. It feels like the right parenty thing to do, even if (in my calmer moments) I am certain that it’s not going to help anyone.
Eldest refers to it as a ‘banning tantrum’, which is a pretty fair description, really. I get angry and decide to ban things in a misguided attempt to convince the boys to make different choices. It’s definitely not one of my better traits, but, in the heat of the moment, I go straight for familiar patterns.
I think that I find banning tantrums difficult to stop because they’re very close to sensible boundary setting. So close that I often believe I am doing the latter, when I have actually slipped into the former.
Children do need to know where the lines are. And, often, removing temptation is the best way of moving forward. If we’re having trouble with electronic toys, taking a break from them can help a lot. If a particular toy is causing fights or being used as a weapon, banning that toy for a short time gives us a cooling off period and allows us to enjoy the toy again later. Banning things can be exactly the right call.
Equally, though it’s obvious that I should only discuss things when I am in full control of myself (strike when the iron is cold), it’s easy for me to believe that I am calm when I am actually quite wound up. It’s all too easy to believe that something is an emergency that must be dealt with instantly, when really it could stand to wait.
So, my husband and I have developed a system to help us cope with those moments when banning things gets too tempting. We have ‘ring-fenced’ precious things. When I am stressed and get tempted to start banning all fun and joy, I always leave the ring-fenced stuff alone.
When the boys were little, we ring-fenced bedtime stories and TV time. (I really needed to keep TV time, as it was the easiest way to give me a chance to make tea! Whenever I forgot my sanity and banned TV time, cooking turned into a drawn out disaster.)
Currently, the boys’ clubs are ring-fenced, Middly’s bedtime story is ring-fenced, Eldest’s special oldest child staying up late is ring-fenced.
Reading through, I realise that a lot of the carefully preserved good things have been about trying to end the day well. Maybe that’s because it’s easiest to have a good moment just before we all go to sleep and get a break!
We ring-fence one-offs too. Christmas and birthdays, special trips with friends – regardless of behaviour, there are always good things in life which are definitely going to happen.
I think that ring-fencing important things helps me to remember my better self, when I get ranty. It’s also one of the ways we show that we respect the boys’ boundaries. Any close relationship is going to have rough moments, and keeping certain things off-limits helps us not to go so far that it’s hard to get back.
In a lot of ways, ring-fencing pairs up with my thoughts on boundaries. It’s important to acknowledge that we all have boundaries, particular limits that are very important to us.
When we first met our big boys, they needed to be reassured that hitting was off-limits, no matter how cross I am, no matter what they do, I don’t hit the children. These days, I think they’re pretty secure in that belief and I am establishing my own boundaries around unwanted touching in return.
We have moved on from needing to prove that we won’t hurt them physically, but they still need our assurance that we won’t abuse our power in other ways. Our big boys are very aware of the power imbalance between parents and children. So we ring-fence the things that really matter to them.
It’s possible that, in time, I will get better at keeping calm and making sensible parenting decisions, even when I feel overwhelmed. In the meantime, I have my fences in place, and I endeavour to keep the stress relatively contained.