For The Days When Discipline Feels Like Revenge

The last two weeks peeled back an ugly layer of truth at our house: our parenting, had, um, “room for improvement”. Maybe I shouldn’t lump my husband into this – I (not so) secretly believe he’s a better parent than me. So, sorry, husband.

The reason for this realization was the birth of our second child, who arrived in grand fashion April 18. I heard a few people say that when the second baby comes, the first child regresses and acts out. But for some reason, I thought, being the veteran parent I am, that we would somehow sail past this stage into postcard-perfect, family of four bliss.

After all, I’d parented my first child for three and a half years, and I knew his antics. I readied myself for two-child parenthood with fanciful thoughts of including John as the big brother/helper. The newborn would be the wildcard, but really, how hard could it be? No problem. We got this, I mused arrogantly to myself.

Yea, I thought it would be grins and giggles the whole time, I guess. Oops.
Yea, I thought it would be grins and giggles the whole time, I guess. Oops.

Eh. Not so much.

It turned out, the new baby was the most predictable, being a baby and all, and a rather calm one at that. He rarely cries, and he does all the baby stuff: poops, eats, sleeps, contorts his face in all sorts of humorous expressions. You know, the fabulous, usual goodness of babyhood.

The older child, on the other hand, suddenly became unmanageable. At least temporarily. I don’t think much changed in his behavior. But the real problem was we could no longer micromanage him, which we had apparently been doing.

We felt suddenly out of control, staring helplessly at the darling monster we’d created by not being consistent and enforcing discipline.  Frustration mounted. Yelling happened. Crazy eyes. Finger pointing. You know, bad parenting. All despite my best efforts to keep cool.

The greatest misery, however, has been me facing myself, my lack of self-control in my reactions and the awareness I didn’t have what it took to parent two.  That all the predictors of first-child behavior were right. Blergh!

Perhaps it’s no surprise, but the more the oldest misbehaved, the harder it was to like him. Love him, sure. Definitely. But like him, well, it felt a little iffy when he acted like a punk. Which was more frequent now.

I’m going to go ahead and admit it: when your kid tests limits and flips his mum and dad the bird around potty and meal times, discipline starts to feel like revenge. Yup, revenge. Like, “You wanna try me, boy? I’ll show you who’s boss.”

That’s not loving correction and guidance anymore, folks. That’s when we lose our self-control. And at night, we beat ourselves up over all the ways we failed our kids, and we wonder if maybe it’s the discipline that’s the problem. Maybe we’re being too hard on them. Maybe we shouldn’t punish them so often. 

But it turned out the discipline, a necessary part of parenting, wasn’t the real problem. I needed to admit that sometimes, I just wanted revenge.

I know – it sounds so bad to say it out loud. But really, that’s what it was. In the angry, button-pushing moments, I wanted him to pay for taking my time, inconveniencing me and being the biggest tiny punk in the neighborhood. “Nobody puts Mommy in a corner.” My responses that were intended to stop his bad behavior just became resentful, knee-jerk reactions to getting disrupted.

Ah, but that’s not just being a bad parent. That’s being a bad human. I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want revenge to motivate any of my relationship interactions.

Discipline, I reminded myself today, is for correction. It’s for the child, not for me. And this is where you’re, like, “Duh,” but this was big for me.

In order for me to sleep well at night, knowing I parented from the right place, the right heart, I need to remember discipline is for the child, not for me. It’s not my personal frustration release. It’s not payback.

Discipline will only feel okay when there is correction, which is for the child, and reconciliation, which is for restoration of our parent-child relationship.

I benefit from the whole, restored relationship, rather than holding grudges against my child, taking revenge with punishment or slapping labels on him so I can shame him into acting how I want, which never works, by the way.

I know this realization isn’t new, and our intentional practice of it here at home is barely 48 hours old. But as long as I’ve immortalized the message here, I can hold myself accountable. And you can ask me how it’s going too.

So here’s to many moments of feeling okay, or even warm and fuzzy, about how we loved our kids when we go to bed at night. May you and I have more happy memories than regrets.

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