Not Their Friend

We’ve been having some discipline issues around here recently. The girls have been talking back to me in a way that is not appropriate for 5-year-olds. Both M and J have had emotional outbursts that can be described only as tantrums. Age 4 and the first half of age 5 were nearly tantrum-free, so this flashback to age 3 was unexpected and unpleasant. I’d say something innocuous, and see one child or the other go rigid, rise on her toes, and clench her jaw before letting out a shriek. Despite my efforts not to, I would feel my own muscles tense and my blood pressure rise in response.

During the Reign of Tantrum Terror, also known as the Terrible Threes, I prided myself for being unflappable in the face of the girls’ outbursts, trying to show them how calm thought can work in one’s favour. I used to count slowly to 3, using both my speaking voice and my fingers, refusing the temptation to try to raise my voice over theirs. At 3, off the culprit went to time out, sitting on the floor facing a wall for a minute per year of their age. It didn’t matter if we were home or out in the world. If there wasn’t a wall available, a tree would serve just as well for a time out location.

I’ll confess that I had allowed the thick skin I developed during the Terrible Threes to melt away. At the same time, my children had learned to say, “No.” The first time that one of my daughters said “No,” when ordered to time out, I lost it. I yelled at her to go to time out, and this time she followed my instructions. I immediately knew that throwing a tantrum of my own wasn’t going to help things. All I was doing was validating the effectiveness of their unacceptable behaviour.

My relationships with both M and J became increasingly charged over a couple of months. My husband finally had to step in with some very constructive, but painful, criticism. He pointed out that the girls had learned that they could argue with me, and I was failing to rise above. I needed to remind them that “because Mom said so” carried weight.

He was right, of course.  I had been so enjoying the recent explosion of both girls’ critical thinking that I had been inviting them to offer their own opinions, and trying to show them, whenever I could, how I reached the conclusions and decisions that I did. In my attempts to encourage them to question the status quo, I had put myself in the position of their friend, not their mother.

I shed a few tears, and slept on it. Once I’d marshalled my thoughts, I sat M and J down at the dining table for a conversation. I told them that I appreciated their ideas, and loved our discussions, but I was the mother. When I asked them to do something, I meant that they should do it immediately. If they had questions about the why of things, they could ask them later, and I would decide whether or not they were open to discussion. I would also be the one to decide when they could be discussed. The girls would go to time out when I told them to, and they would listen to me. Period.

After a week of maintaining my icy calm, and an average of 3 time outs per child per day, we’ve settled back into solid mother-daughter relationships. Much as I hope to be a friend to M and J when they are grown, I am exclusively their mother in the here and now.

Do you find yourself becoming complacent and compromising your parental authority? How do you fix it?

Sadia is a Bangladeshi and British working mother of twins and American army wife living on the Texas-Mexico border. Her thoughts on matters of parenting, twins, and parenting twins can be found at Double the Fun.

7 thoughts on “Not Their Friend

  1. I recently read the 1-2-3 Magic book on disciplinary theory. Touching on one of your points, it was such an aha! moment for me to hear the characterization of an “adult temper tantrum”.

    In the midst of drama, it’s so easy for my blood pressure to rise. I have to remind myself often not to fall into the same behavior pattern (raising my voice, stomping around) as what I’m trying to teach the girls NOT to do.

    It’s definitely easier said than done…but it makes so much sense to me.

  2. Like Mandy, I love 123 magic… for ME!

    I am very prone to an adult temper tantrum and even though I know everything works out better if I stay calm, sometimes it’s just so darn hard.

    Good on you for taking back the Mother role.

    PS do the girls call you Mom or Mum? :)

  3. Love this post. So often these days we are encouraged to let our children negotiate. Bad move. Sometimes the best things for kids is to learn obedience. It gives a great foundation for the rest of their lives. Thanks for sharing about your experience.

  4. Marcia – it’s Mom or Mommy. :(

    However, both girls pronounce “vitamin” “correctly”, with a short I rather than a long one.

  5. Right now my 21 month-old boys are experiencing an inexhaustible number of fall-down-on-the-floor-screaming-tantrums everyday. Most of the time I can’t even figure out what the cause of the tantrum was! That’s how random they are! It’s very easy to get frustrated and let my blood boil. But fortunately I remember when my daughter was this age. I had just brought the twins home from the hospital and all of the sudden my perfectly sweet girl began throwing amazing tantrums. I took it very personally because I thought she was upset with me and the babies. Maybe she was, but now I realize how much of it is age related and so I am able to have a clearer vision with the boys. They aren’t trying to negotiate yet, like your girls are, but they are certainly frustrated with their limits. It’s hard to grow up! I’m a pretty firm mom — for example, if they get mad and starting sliding their plate around the table, the plate is quietly taken away. They’ll get it back in a minute, but do it again and lunch is over for that child. In the end, I hope we’ll get through these tantrum years and I’ll end up with very well-behaved and respectful children.

  6. I used to work with a mom whose rule was “I don’t argue with children.” Such a great rule I think. When her kids would try to talk back or argue or negotiate she would just look at them and say “I don’t argue with children. You are the child, I am the mom, you do what I say.”

    I definitely think that children are “little people” with thoughts and feelings and desires of their own. But I don’t always get my way and neither do they. I’m glad your girls are back on an even keel.

  7. i find wen my girls throw tantrums for attention
    the best way to deal with it is to not macke a sean
    stay firm and just sit next to them or some ware in the room and quietly watch them until thay are finishd

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