This past Thursday, prompted by recommendations from not one but two special education professionals, we trekked to Children’s Hospital so Luke and I could visit with a psychologist and determine whether he might (like his brother) have ADHD. Honestly, neither hubby nor myself were 100% convinced that Luke would be diagnosed. We thought that if he perhaps did have some of the markers, his symptoms at this point were mild. But, when we learned that ADHD and dyslexia occur together up to 25% of the time, we decided it was best to cover our bases.
During the course of the hour and a half we spent talking with the psychologist, she asked innumerable questions. Most of them were about Luke, but some were about our family life. When she asked me about how we discipline our boys, the strangest thing happened. I drew a blank. The more I sat there searching for an answer, the more shocked I was to realize that we don’t discipline our boys very often. I couldn’t decide where to go with that realization in terms of answering the psychologist’s question. I decided to come clean.
“This is going to sound strange, but we don’t discipline our sons very often. We set clear, realistic expectations, and our boys most often meet them.”
“Well, when you do have to discipline, what kind of discipline do you use?” she inquired.
“Most often we take things away from them…their iPads and video games, opportunities to play with friends, that sort of thing. But we’ve never done it for more than a day or two. They respond to that type of punishment fairly well and typically avoid having to repeat it,” I told her.
She seemed appeased by my answer and moved onto another question. Quietly, though, I wondered if she thought I was either a) lying to make our boys sound better than they are or b) simply another overindulgent parent with little control over her children. The test came when she asked our boys to sit on the floor across the hallway from her office while she asked me some questions. She told them it would be 10 minutes and that they needed to be quiet. At one point during the interview I started to become uncomfortable because it had been too long and they had been far too quiet. When she finally opened the door, I checked the time. They’d been out there for 20 minutes. I peered my head around the corner to see that Luke was shutting down the Dragonvale app he had been playing on my iPhone and Joe was putting his homework back into its folder. I felt vindicated. My 9 and 11 year old sons had sat alone quietly on the floor in a dull hallway without any adult supervision for upwards of 20 minutes without incident. See. They are good kids, just like I said.
Maybe it’s because our boys struggle so much with their issues that we go easy on them with other things. Their rooms are messy. The number of chores they’re asked to complete is minimal. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve chosen to let go of some things so that they can be kids. Their school work takes such an enormous amount of effort that we cut them slack in other areas; it’s not right when they break down in tears because they’re overwhelmed and miss their friends. We do expect things of them. We expect their best effort on their school work, but not A or B grades. We expect them to be polite, most of the time. We expect them to be kind and to try to get along with others. We expect them to work out their own differences and to recognize their own responsibility in a disagreement. We admonish them if we feel disrespected. In exchange for these things, though, we’ve given them a voice in our house and our trust. We ask their opinions. We let them make choices. And, yes, we pick our battles. We’ve decided that it’s better to give in on the things that don’t really matter so that when we ask them to yield on the things that truly do matter to us we’ll have the backing to gain their easy compliance. They understand that as part of a family sometimes they get what they want. Sometimes they don’t.
I don’t expect that our boys will never need more serious discipline. They’re boys. They’re getting older. They’re going to make bad choices. We all do. When I make mistakes with my sons (which happens far more often than I wish it did), I openly apologize to them. I show remorse. I make amends. I am not the Queen of Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do. I’m the Duchess of I-Try-To-Set-A-Good-Example. I told our boys the other day that my job is to make sure that they grow up to be the kind of men I still will want to spend time with, the kind I will invite into my home again once they’ve vacated. Discipline is important. My actual job as Mom, though, is to make sure they feel unique, important, and unconditionally loved, and not to ride them like cheap circus ponies. Just don’t tell them I said that. I’ll lose my edge.