On Crime and Punishment

Dear Kids,

Before your dad and I were parents, we talked about disciplining our future children. No, we didn’t sit around fantasizing about how we could torture you; although I know that is what you think.

Both your dad and I were brought up with pretty strict rules and consequences for breaking those rules. We both feel that your grandparents did a good job of raising us to be awesome adults. We wanted to be firm, yet fair with you.

I can’t speak for your dad on this one, but for me there were aspects of your grandparents’ approach that I wasn’t crazy about. For one, I felt like I was afraid of what they would do if I broke a rule. I wasn’t afraid of getting a beating or anything abusive, but as a little kid my brothers and I were spanked from time to time. Your grandparents were not violent people (HA HA HA…can you imagine Grandpa or ESPECIALLY Grandma being violent? It’s laughable, right?), but they did punish with a firm hand. I think this was probably reminiscent of how they were brought up.  And they turned out great too.

So when I was pregnant for the very first time, daddy and I talked discipline and punishment. We shared how we were disciplined as children, and I talked about what sort of behavior management I use with the teenagers I teach. Before any children were born, we decided we wanted to be firm, but fair. As for any other details, we would handle it on a situation by situation basis. At that time, we didn’t rule out spanking.

I can’t remember the exact conversation,or what Eddie did, but I do know that at some point when Eddie was entering the phase of toddler-hood where lines are explored and pushed, we decided we did not want to spank. Since thinking it through and talking on it, we have a number of reasons that spanking just doesn’t jive with what we are trying to accomplish as parents.

First and foremost, your dad and I believe in nonviolence; we believe that problems can be solved using words. Using your hands against another person for whatever reason (other than self-defense) is wrong. Your dad and I do not hit each other. It is not Ok for you kids to hit each other.  Therefore it is not Ok for us to use hitting as a punishment.

Telling you not to hit and then using our hands against you to punish you for hitting feels icky because it’s hypocritical. I can remember Grandma telling me that it hurt her more than it hurt me when she spanked me. I didn’t believe it at the time because I was thinking of pain physically. The few times that I have swatted a bottom or slapped a hand, I have felt so, SO bad. I cried right along with you.

If hurting another person physically breaks me like that, it’s the wrong choice for us.  Love should not be physically painful.

Photo of Cort and Eddie by mL photography

Photo of Cortney and Eddie by mL photography

Each of those times broke you a little too. I saw the hurt and confusion in your eyes. I saw trust seep away. I cried for that too.

We don’t want you to mistrust us. We don’t want you to feel like you can’t come to us. We don’t want you to be afraid of us. We never want you to think, “but what will my parents do to me?”

I grew up wondering that. Not because your grandparents beat me or were awful parents.  Quite the opposite, but things were just different, I guess. I am sure it didn’t all have to do with the way your grandparents punished me either. It’s not like every crime’s consequence was a butt-paddling.  Not even close. It’s just how things were done and it’s just how things were.

Dad and I just don’t see a purpose to it in our family now.

If the purpose of a spanking is to serve as a consequence for wrong-doing, we feel that we can do better. Since we don’t believe in violence (we see “violence” in this case as an act that physically, mentally, or emotionally hurts another person) as a consequence in the adult world, why would that be an appropriate consequence for our children?

The consequences we give {so far in your young lives} have ranged from time-outs to removing privileges. These have worked so far, so we go with it.

We also are firm believers in talking about problems. If one of you lashes out and speaks to someone rudely or inappropriately, we usually call for a time out and then a re-group to discuss why it happened and to discuss why an apology is not just appropriate, but needed.

If your “crime” is something potentially dangerous as hitting or throwing toys, you are removed immediately from the situation. You probably lose things as your punishment in that case. The point is, we go on a case by case, kid by kid basis.

We don’t consider parenting a job that requires us to “train” you, our children. We teach you and guide you  and show you how to be good, kind people. We help you to problem-solve, make decisions, and create and nurture relationships with people, hobbies, beliefs, and yourselves.

While we are happy our decision to not spank is backed by many psychiatrists and psychologists and pediatricians, our reason for making the choice is out of love.

All our choices with you kids is out of love.

Your dad and I want to be your safe place.

Safe places do not have hands that hit, rather arms that embrace.

When Kids Happen To Your Marriage

I have mentioned before that marriage is hard work.  Love is easy, but marriage.  That is hard.

Cortney and I never argue about money.  We never argue about who was supposed to do that one chore.  We never even argue about things like socks on the floor or leaving the toilet seat up.

Before we got married, we sorted these things out.  We quite literally sat down and made decisions about stuff as big as finances and budgeting to small things like who is in charge of which chores.  We compromised on things like the location of the dirty laundry basket so that socks and undies wouldn’t get tossed on the floor instead of put in the basket. And we both agreed that toilets come with a lid for a reason…to be closed when not in use (plus we had a cat at the time and no one wanted to deal with walking in the aftermath of a midnight splash fest).

The one thing that causes tension in our marriage is parenting.

I never feel so far away from Cortney as when we have just disagreed or misunderstood each other in terms of how the other is (or isn’t) handling a parenting situation. And I feel pretty confident he feels the same way about me.

I remember when I was raging with undiagnosed postpartum mood disorders, I wondered if I could ever like him again.

Sure, I loved him.  Loved him like crazy.  Had my heart melted every time I saw him being gentle and kind and fatherly with Eddie.  Every time Eddie snuggled and slept on him.  Every minute I loved Cort.

But I when the baby was screaming and he couldn’t fix it, I didn’t like him.

And I am positive that he didn’t like me.  I mean, I was screaming and throwing things at him for doing “it” wrong.  And neither of us knew what “it” was that he was doing wrong.

I know that  makes no sense; welcome to PPD! Weeeeee!

But seriously, when I was finally diagnosed, properly medicated, and going to therapy, I thought all those Blerg feelings would go away.  The ragey totally illogical, irrational dislike went away.

But certain tensions didn’t go away.

Since Charlie is small and easy, we generally don’t disagree on anything with that guy, but with Eddie? Let’s just say that so far, he is our challenge.  He has my personality (to a fault, unfortunately) and while Cort has learned how to deal with my moods and such (and I am better able to use my words when I am upset), he is not as adept at fielding Eddie’s explosions.

Not that I am either, I just understand where they are coming from better.  Usually. I mean, kids are weirdos, so sometimes he is a total mystery to me too.

Let’s see…here is an example…

Last night I went to put Eddie to bed.  Cort had gotten him a new nightlight and was putting it in his room while I supervised teeth brushing and such.  When it was time to go in his room and crawl in bed, he walked over to his new nightlight and fiddled with it.  It got messed up.

We call daddy down to see if he could fix it.  I told Eddie to get in bed.  He didn’t. I told him again.  He didn’t.  I told him he was going to lose book privileges and he finally, all sobby-like, crawled into bed.  At the same time, Cort announced the nightlight didn’t work and he would go get the old one.

Eddie lost his mind.

There was scream-crying and ridiculousness.

I knew he was upset because he believed he broke his new thing.  He was sad that his new thing didn’t work.  I told him it would be Ok; that daddy would either fix it or get him a new one tomorrow.

He didn’t stop crying, and he never once used his words to actually explain to me what was wrong.  He just got screamy.  And sobby.

He didn’t want to read books with  me; he didn’t even want me to be there.  The only thing he would say was, “Daddy.”

So I gave up and got Cortney.

I could tell he was annoyed that he was being asked to do bedtime yet again, but Eddie was having a fit and I thought he wanted Cort as comfort.

So Eddie is downstairs crying his face off…loudly, and Cort is sitting calmly in his chair with the information that Eddie would like him to come down.

And he sits.  And Eddie cries. And Cort sits.  And Eddie cries.

“Did you want me to go back down?” I ask.

“No.” He says as he logs in (or off, not sure) to his laptop.

I stand and watch him; he sits and pays no attention. Eddie, this whole time, sounds as if he has a flesh-eating disease.

“So are you going to go down or what?” I ask impatiently.

And that is when he explodes.  Or, since Cort never explodes, he gets all firm and grouchy with me.  “Yes, Kate. I am going. I’m just giving him a chance to get it out of his system. I can listen to it from here or in his room, and I would rather not sit there with him screaming…” and he trails off as he angrily descends the stairs to put his computer away and tend to the Screamer.

And the tension arrives.

I lie down for a bit to lick my wounds.  I know he was justified in being annoyed, plus with a screamy child, everything is at a heightened stress level.

At the same time, I am not a mind-reader and I didn’t know why he was just sitting there while our little guy freaked the frack out downstairs.  I felt he needed comfort and someone to explain to him that the nightlight situation was not life and death.  I didn’t feel that Cort had enough urgency.

He didn’t feel the situation warranted urgency.

We were both right.  And wrong.  And whatever.

In the end, he chilled Eddie out, read a few books, and got him to sleep.

I wrote a blog post.

We talked about it.  We know tensions ran high and that we snapped at each other because we didn’t use our communication skills in the moment.

As much as we agree and collaborate on almost everything, we still have moments of miscommunication or failure to communicate all together when it comes to parenting.

We are a team.  A good one.  We have more wins than losses.  But it doesn’t come easily.

I would say the biggest challenge in our marriage is being parents together.

The good news is we are always working on it.

The better news is that we are a committed team.  We are in this for the long, forever haul.

April 15, 2013

Monday, April 15 was anything but normal,  but as it goes with those who don’t live in the center of the abnormal but have small, current-event-oblivious-children, it was totally normal in Sluiter Nation.

We worked. We had daycare. We had a rampant case of the Mondays.  We came home and tripped over each other while dinner was  made.  It was…typical.

Cort was in the kitchen making chicken. I was trying to occupy Charlie so he didn’t turn into a hungry dictator before dinner was ready and Eddie was playing on the computer busy writing his “stories”.

The news was on because obviously.

We never thought about the news being on.  It is always on this time of day.  Charlie has never cared about TV and Eddie has lately been having his screen time while dinner is prepared, so the news is on because it’s not a kid show, but it’s also not something that will slip foul language.  It seemed neutral.

Until Monday, April 15.

“Mom, what is that ‘splosion?” he asked over my shoulder.

I turned to see Eddie looking intently at the TV coverage with a puzzled face. “Did someone drop a bomb? Did those people running get hurt?  Are they helping people?  Did someone go to Heaven?”

The questions came fast, but calmly. He sat next to me on the floor never taking his eyes off the TV that I was willing to just shut off by itself.

It didn’t and even though I felt like a total mom fail for allowing him to see this sort of tragedy, I tried to explain.

“Yes, buddy. It looks like someone let a bomb explode by all those people who were running a race. And yes, it hurt people. And yes, some of them died and went to Heaven. And YES, those people you see running? Are trying to help the hurt people.”

“That’s good. We need people to help people.”

And then he went back to what he was doing.

Dinner was soon ready and the local news had moved on to weather and sports and less heavy topics.  Eddie brought up the ‘splosion a couple more times, but didn’t seem scared or fearful.  In fact, knowing that people were helping people seemed to be what was most important to him.  That and that those who died went to Heaven with God and his Papa and his cat.

He is three.

He brings up death a lot, but not in a fearful or worried way.  He seems to just want to know about it.

And because communication is important to Cort and me, we encourage our boys (well, Eddie right now), to ask us anything at all that they may be thinking about.  This has come in the form of how seeds grow to why plants and trees die to why girls have a vagina and not a penis.

Someone recently asked me if Eddie is in the “why” stage.  I guess yes and no, but he mostly makes observations and then asks “what? where? when? how? who? and why?”  He asks all of them

I don’t feel like I spend a ton of time answering just “why?”  We mostly have conversations.

On Monday he didn’t ask why someone would bomb other people, but when we were having the conversation about it Cort and I did say the bomb hurt lots of people and to us, it seemed like a really awful thing to do to someone else.

Eddie agreed, “yeah, because hurting people is so so SO mean, right guys?”

Right, bud.

So maybe I am a mom fail for letting my son see the news, and we did our best to limit it the rest of the week.  But in the end, he felt comfortable talking with us about it and wasn’t afraid or worrisome.

I’m not sure that I could call it the right thing or claim some parenting strategy here, but I will say that his reaction to the whole thing helped me know we are doing something right with our parenting.

He asked questions, he told us what he thought, and we had a conversation that left him satisfied, but not afraid.

I’m still sorry that he saw it and that he now knows about that level of evil, but I’m proud of him for asking questions and responding the way he did.

clash of personality

I love Eddie.

I have to start with that.

He is my heart and soul and we have a deep connection due in part to our rough beginning, but also because of how alike we are in every possible way.

We get each other.

That is why I posted about our sweet moments yesterday.  They do happen.

But.

There are also the other moments.

The ones that seem to take up so much space in this house and in this family lately.

Which is what has been on my heart lately.

This post is an honest plea for advice or reassurance or honest feedback.

My son is going through what I really hope is just a tough phase.

But sometimes the doubt creeps in.

I don’t even know how long it’s been going on.  It feels like forever.  I know it started before Charlie got here five weeks ago, but it’s worse now that he is here.

I try to tell myself it’s just Eddie’s adjustment period, but it’s rough.

It’s like he is walking around with a faulty anger switch.

One moment he is sweet as pie, and the next you better check to make sure your head is still attached.

Each day at 5pm, I watch as Cort pulls the truck in the garage.

I listen for whining or chatting.  I watch out the front window to see how/if Eddie bounds to the mailbox with daddy for the paper and the mail.

When the door opens, I wait.

I let him talk first.

Most days I get, “Hi, Mommy!” before he even sees me.

Some days he is already crying because of something daddy would not let him do.  Those days I am extra cautious.  One ridiculous question (how was your day?) will get my face barked off with an angry scream.

He will be playing ever-so-sweetly with his toys or watching a show nicely when BAM!  A toy will fly through the air or he will walk past the coffee table and with one swipe whip everything onto the floor.

Or he will send his sippy or empty snack bowl sailing through the living room.

When I tell him to pick it up and put it away, he yells, “NO!  I DON’T WANT TO!” and then grunts and possibly slaps a piece of nearby furniture.

At dinner he will be eating nicely and then he will randomly start dumping food onto the floor.

We will tell him to stop and he will look straight at us and do it again.

We have taken away dessert and snacks and treats and TV time.

We have taken away the toys he throws.

We have issued time outs

He seems stunned each time a consequence happens, but it doesn’t stop his angry behavior.

He just starts hitting things (luckily, he almost NEVER hits people) or screaming as loudly and long as he can.  Or grunting at us like an rabid animal.

Even time outs have become more of a struggle.  He used to go, sit, and cry.  Now he is getting more rebellious and trying to scoot out.

We send him to his room to do his tantrums there.

50% of the time that works.  He will go down to his room, cool off, and come back.

But the tantrum is never fully over.

He will sweetly ask for the item (Mario Kart time, screen time on Cort’s tablet or my Nook, craisins before bed, or an episode of a show on Tivo) that he originally lost with his bad behavior.  When we tell him no, he loses it all over again.

Each time I sit and watch him.

I want to cave.

I know that is awful to admit, but it’s true.

I want to give in to his demands because I like to see him happy.

But I know in the long run that will create a horribly spoiled and demanding person.

So we stand our ground.

The other day he wouldn’t stop spitting at dinner.  Because I couldn’t set him in time out without taking five minutes to clean his hands and face of dinner, I snapped.  I grabbed his face and squeezed his cheeks together so he couldn’t spit.

“STOP SPITTING!  IT’S GROSS AND RUDE!” I said in a voice that I didn’t know I could use with my little buddy.

I held for one second longer before I let go, sat down in my chair, and stared at my plate.

After a pause, he started hysterically crying, “OWWWWW!!!!  Mommy HURT me!”

I wanted to crawl in a hole.

I wanted to pick him up out of his booster and hug him to my chest and apologize and shower him in kisses.

But I don’t want him to be the kid that spits.

I know he is also overdramatic.

My mom says it’s uncanny how much like me he is.

When I was that age, I used to stomp off to my room and moan, “WOE IS ME…NOBODY LOVES ME.”

He is like that.  Exactly.

I know I didn’t really hurt him.  I know I scared him because he has never seen me do that, but it didn’t hurt.

I would never hurt my children.

But I did scare myself.

I’ve always said I don’t believe in punishing with physical pain when my beliefs are that violence and pain do not solve problems.

But now I am questioning it.

My parents didn’t hit us (ok, an occasional butt swat, but it was never a first resort), but they did grab our face or under our upper arm when they needed something super annoying or out of line to STOP. THIS. INSTANT.

Do I feel good about it?

No.  And now I know they didn’t either.  It sucks to have to do that to what you love best in the world.

But what else do I do?

I can raise my voice now and give a look and Eddie cowers and quits what he is doing.

I sort of hate that.

And I try not to use that.

But he WILL. NOT. LISTEN lately.

Sigh.

I am frustrated.

I want more of the sweet moments back.  The ones we have at bedtime (when he is not fighting or stalling).  The ones when he and Charlie and I are all piled in my chair and watching Busytown Mysteries or Sesame Street.

I hate having to get angry, and I feel like I am getting angry most of the time.

Is this normal two-almost-three-year-old behavior?

Is my kid overly anger?  Does he have anger problems?

Am I doing the right thing?

Help. I feel like I am failing.

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