When I was in the “Hot Mess” phase of my life I would inevitably get really frustrated with my sons’ behavior at times and shout out a consequence for it. The problem was, I usually regretted my choice immediately, because I never chose well, and then was stuck with it!
As a young mom I adhered to one of the cardinal rules of parenting that was passed down to me through books, and older, wiser moms. You must follow through on the consequences you give. The problem became that the person this made the most miserable was ME!
When I entered the more “Mindful Mom” phase of my life, I realized that there was a better way.
One of the biggest changes I saw in myself thanks to my commitment to a meditation and mindfulness practice, was that over time I became less reactive and more responsive in all areas of my life, especially parenting.
Two things really changed in the way I gave consequences.
The first is that I decided it was ok to tell my kids I needed time to assess the situation. I used to think that doing so was showing them that I didn’t have a handle on them or the situation, but it really gave me time to:
- pause and breathe
- calm my body and mind
- respond to the situation in a way that made sense
- model for my kids that it’s ok to take time to think about things instead of reacting in the moment.
The second part of my consequence makeover, was choosing consequences that really fit the situation. A time out isn’t the answer to everything! I’ll give you a perfect example with a situation that happened with my eleven year old recently.
He was on the phone with a friend, and he asked if he could go with him to an event really early before school one morning.
I said no.
He started begging.
I said no again.
He told me it wasn’t fair.
I calmly told him that different families said yes to different things, and this was the end of the conversation. Even though he didn’t like my answer, it wasn’t going to change.
I walked into the kitchen and I heard him tell his friend on the phone, “My mom sucks.”
I started to boil inside.
I calmly walked over and asked him what he said.
He repeated it and immediately began apologizing and telling me that he didn’t mean it, he shouldn’t have said it, and he wasn’t thinking.
I told him I needed a minute by myself.
I went into the other room to breathe, and shed a tear or two. Even though I remember being a pre-teen and teen, and thinking the same things about my own parents, and it is pretty normal, I couldn’t believe that my son would be so disrespectful as to say it out loud. I knew this was a pivotal moment in my parenting career because disrespectful talk is simply not ok.
I got my game plan together and went back to my son.
The first (and most obvious) part to the consequence was that if he was going to talk so disrespectfully on the phone, then he lost his phone privileges for a few days.
The next part was my favorite though, and a proud parenting decision. He had to write me a letter answering the following three questions:
- What happens when you don’t think before you speak?
- Do you look cool when you say mean things?
- What will you do next time instead?
This is the letter that I got from him:
“I am deeply sorry for what I said, and I can’t express how sorry I am. I have experienced before what I have done and I understand how it feels. When you don’t think before you speak you can say bad things as I have done. You don’t look cool when you say bad things because it makes people have a bad impression of you even though it may not be the right one. Also, it makes you look bad.
Next time I will think before I speak and not speak negatively about friends or family. I love you to the bottom of my heart and can’t explain how sorry I am.”
This letter was the opening for a transformative conversation between the two of us. We talked about the impression he made on his friend. Does his friend think he respects his mom? Is that ok? Is that what you wanted? We also talked about the fact that when you talk about other people in a negative way you make the person you are talking to wonder what you say about them. You loose a lot of trust. You look anything but cool.
We were able to have a loving, calm, and productive exchange because nobody was yelling, I was sure of this move as a parent, and the consequence really made sense for what he did. Sending him to his room would have accomplished nothing.
If you struggle in difficult parenting moments as I once did, try these tactics of giving yourself time to calm yourself and regroup, and then choose a consequence that you truly feel good about.
I hope these tips serve you well!