I was 23 when our first child, a daughter we named Jennifer, was born. My mom had cancer and was admitted to the City of Hope 5 days after that. Mom died 3 months later. I missed having her around for many reasons, just one of them being the fact that I could not ask her for advice. But we did okay, my husband and I. We handled the diapers and the interrupted nights of sleep and the why-is-she-crying times.
Our son, Brian, was born 5 years later. Once again we traveled through that exhausting but precious baby stage. Jennifer loved her little brother, and things were good.
Until, oh, let’s say 3-4 years later when we started experiencing the typical, occasional clashes between brother and sister.
I discovered I didn’t know how to help my own kids successfully resolve their problems. My Mom wasn’t there to ask. I hadn’t received an education in this area; and, as we all know, kids don’t come with manuals. So I signed up for a parenting class. I needed to learn effective parenting techniques.
Two of the principles we discussed were Choices and Consequences. We learned about giving a child choices so they can feel that they have some power and control over what they do. We also talked about the consequences of their choices, both good and bad – what was an appropriate consequence and how to administer it in a loving manner.
At this time, it seemed like every evening meal was a struggle. We constantly heard, “I don’t like that,” or “How much do I have to eat?” or “How much do I have to eat to get dessert?” It was exhausting.
One night Brian didn’t want to eat dinner. Remembering what I had learned in class, I said that was fine; it was his choice. But told him the consequence of that decision would be that he couldn’t have anything else to eat that evening. Even when I reminded him he was going to a birthday party after dinner, and he wouldn’t be able to eat cake, he was still fine with his choice. He was all smiles and looked like he had just won the lottery. He did NOT have to eat dinner!!!!
He felt a little different when he was served cake at the party and I whispered in his ear, “Don’t forget, you can’t eat that because you didn’t eat your dinner.” He burst into tears and ran out of the room. I felt horrible for him, but also realized this was a positive step in the right direction for both of us. We both learned from that experience, and although I can’t say parenting has always been as easy as that night turned out to be, what I learned in that parenting class helped me tremendously throughout their childhood.
A few weeks ago when I was at Brian’s house, he and his wife had gone out to dinner and I was serving my grandson, Owen (age 5), and my granddaughter, Ella (age 3), dinner. Owen looked at it and asked what it was. I could tell by the way he was looking at it, he wasn’t going to be a fan. It felt like deja vu.
I told Owen dinner was a chicken and sweet potato casserole that his Daddy had made for us. Owen said that he didn’t really like it, and then with a rather sad face and a slight shake of his head he said, “Oh, man, I’m for SURE not getting any dessert tonight.”
I wanted to laugh. I know I smiled. But not only because of Owen’s reaction, but also because of the training he had already received from his parents. Without a word from me, he knew what his choices and his consequences would be.
It made me wonder if Brian found a manual somewhere.
Brian helping with dinner. I guess he figured if he wanted something to eat that he liked, he needed to fix it himself. 🙂