Now that my kids are getting so dang old, I occasionally have brief panic attacks in which I fear that I missed Something Important in this parenting gig.
Yes, the kids are potty-trained, they eat vegetables, and they keep up with their homework. You know, it all seems like it’s going pretty well. But then something small will come up, like that time when I realized that my kid doesn’t know how to use a can opener, or something big will come up. Something way bigger.
Over the summer, we were talking about some other family’s deeply held religious traditions and practices, and that is something we just don’t have. I said something along the lines of, “Oh, my gosh! Have we ever actually conveyed any coherent value system in our family? I mean, really, have we?!? What values have we even taught you girls?”
I can’t remember the context, exactly–maybe this was at dinner?–but the four of us were all together, and my voice was definitely rising in panic.
That’s when my sweet smart-ass daughter M deadpanned, “I think the most important thing you’ve taught us is that it doesn’t really matter if you’re kind. Like, you can just treat people terribly and it won’t have any impact at all.”
M is not mushy, that girl. But she knows how to subdue a mother’s panic. And kindness is not bad for an over arching family value.
I had another mild freak out when I was chatting with a parent who was talking about grounding her kid. We have never grounded either of our girls (knock on wood). Which is great, yeah, but honestly, what the heck? I mean, it seems like there’s very little discipline going on in this household at all! Is this some seriously terrible parenting? Have we ever disciplined these kids?
I pretty much had to rack my brains, but then I gradually remembered the many, many discipline measures over the years, with varying levels of success. Back in the olden days, when the kids were very little, and I’d put them in a “time out.” M was a beast: she refused to cooperate with time outs, and she’d run, rage, and flail instead. I used to watch those reality nanny shows, baffled, wondering why it never worked for me. Then, later, J would sit on the time out step like a good little soldier, lower lip plumped out in remorse, then tearfully hug me at the end of her 90-second sentence. Just like on the TV shows.
I also remembered our “flower” system, which was basically like a sticker chart, except that the girls each had a little decorative pitcher, and when they did something especially delightful they’d earn an extra flower for their pitcher’s bouquet, and when they were naughty they’d lose a flower. I still have the pitchers, too, although these aren’t the original flowers — that was back when everything was pink and purple.
And, yes, come to think of it, there have been other measures implemented over the years, but I’m not going to get into anything recent enough for the girls to care. And these days the girls know well enough what sort of behaviors would make us really angry, and so far, they’ve avoided all of that. Which, when you think about it, is a kindness for everyone involved.