What do parenting books, classes and seminars teach above all else? Consistency. Why then, dear reader, if I know the answer to all of my parenting problems, why for the love of my children can't I be consistent?
I don't think I am the only parent on the planet with this issue. In fact I know I'm not. I live with a parent who seems to have the same issue. So my poor children have something all the books, classes and seminars say is completely detrimental to their health and well-being, inconsistent parents. *Sorry honey, not trying to throw you under the bus or anything, I'm just saying...*
My latest inconsistency occurred over the last two mornings. Mrs. B, my son's third grade teacher, requests the kids bring a "healthy" snack every day. Since it is listed on their homework assignment, my son is being vigilant about it. Now the problem comes in when his idea of "healthy" and my idea of "healthy" collide. I, for one, consider fruit snacks to be little gummy piles of sugar dressed up in the shape of a fruit. He, on the other hand, considers them to be fruit. It says so right there on the pouch, "fruit snacks." So, there was an incident yesterday morning over our differing views of "healthy." Thirty seconds before heading out for the bus, he was lobbying for fruit snacks. I said "it's an apple or nothing buddy," and he begrudgingly put it in his bag and stomped off to the bus without a backwards look.
*Now, I hear you all talking amongst yourselves. Why does she buy fruit snacks if she thinks they are pseudo candy, and why does she wait until thirty seconds before the bus comes to discuss healthy snack options? Well, all I can say is that you perfect parents don't need to be reading my blog, so there!*
Back to the snack, this morning we dealt with it about 3 minutes before the bus came. *See, I'm making progress.* I asked if he had eaten his apple at school yesterday, and he assured me he had. Then I ran through options in my head. I didn't want to force the apple issue two days in a row, because I thought that would be cruel. And I couldn't deal with Mrs. B getting to know the real me this early in the year by seeing him eat a peanut butter sandwich on a hot dog bun, because I am out of real bread. So what did I do? Why, I let him take the fruit snacks of course. Mother of the year I am not.
Just to explain myself, I was thinking, 'Okay, he ate the apple like I asked him to yesterday, so I will let him have a semi-candy snack today. Besides, the teacher can't complain, right? It says "fruit snacks" right there on the package, doesn't it?' I don't think letting him have a pouch of fruit snacks one day a week is an awful thing to do, especially since he ate his apple yesterday. He assures me that half his class last year brought Oreos for their "healthy" snack, and he was the only poor sucker with an apple. It wouldn't surprise me to learn this was at least half true. But, in his mind today I am sure he was thinking, 'My mom is crazy. Some days fruit snacks are bad and some days they are good. What the heck? I better just grab them and run before she changes her mind.' I didn't exactly give him my reasons for letting him have the fruit snacks today versus yesterday. They had a bus to catch, remember?
So obviously consistency is one of those things I struggle with. I try, I really do, but sometimes it's just not easy to be consistent. In fact, I think it's one of the hardest things you can do as a parent. I've thought about praying for it, but I think it would be a little like praying for patience. Don't pray for it unless you want God to give you a reason to have to be consistent over and over again with your children, and frankly I don't know if I could handle that right now. So instead, I pray that God will help me show them love, mercy and grace, which seems to work better for me.
And God gave me a big opportunity to show him all three on Sunday night. My 8-year-old laid-back son threw a flat-out-throw-down-on-the-floor-crying-kicking hissy fit. I hadn't seen one of those out of him in years. He was overtired, overwhelmed and OVER IT! He was supposed to help do a "five minute tidy," but he decided to drag around and let his sisters do the heavy lifting. His discipline was to be sent to bed 30 minutes early. It was a teaching moment. If you don't do your chores at night, you don't get to play. You go straight to bed. Well, that's when the fireworks began. Now normally throwing a fit because you have just received some discipline would result in punishment. I try to discipline (teach), instead of punishing, but as with everything else, I'm not always consistent. As sometimes there is certainly a need for punishment. Anyway, I directed him to his bathroom to brush his teeth and then straight to his bed. By the time we got upstairs he was hysterical and promising to do better and begging for a second chance.
I left his room to give him some space and when he calmed down to a sort of hiccuppy snivel, I went back in. That's when I decided a new approach was necessary. I knew punishment at this point would be inappropriate. I sat on his bed, held him in my arms (not an easy chore when he is only five or six inches shorter than me) and prayed over him. I used to do this almost every night when he was little, but it's been a while. I asked God to give him comfort and to help him calm down. Then I asked God to help him obey his parents, so he would live a good, long life. (The first commandment with a promise. Gotta love that!) He calmed down while I prayed and then he went to bed peacefully and agreed he would do better the next time he was asked to help around the house.
So, I was inconsistent. I completely let him out of his chores and chose to give him a little mercy and grace. It had been a really long weekend that we had overbooked for our kids, and he was just done. I knew he didn't need my usual reaction. I knew that would just escalate things to an even bigger blowout. So, I gave him what I thought he needed. Should I react that way every time he refused to do chores? Absolutely not. He'd take advantage of it in a heartbeat. But does being inconsistent that one time make me a good parent? I don't know. I do know that in this case I did the best possible thing for him and consistent or not, that makes me feel good.