Dads of the Roundtable, Part 3: Disciplining

This post was originally published on my PhDadBlog.

Happy Father’s Day Week!

If you missed the first few parts of the Dad Roundtable, please click on the following links to catch up:

Part 1: Meet the Dads!
Part 2: What We Wish We Knew

As I mentioned in Part 2, this post concludes the answers to the same question, If you could have the answer to one question that would help fundamentally change the way you parent, what would it be?

Thomas’s reply below led us to an important discussion on disciplining that revealed a shared concern and uncertainty over how to handle disciplining, when being strict is too strict, when it’s not enough, etc.

THOMAS: I think I’d like to have a device that tells me when/if I’m being too strict. There’s a sense of responsibility to make sure your kid doesn’t grow up to be an a**hole that can sometimes impose an unrealistic expectation. When I get notes from school saying he was talking when he wasn’t supposed to, do I take them seriously or write it off as normal behavior for a 5 year old? More often than not I’ll give him a lecture or reprimand him for misbehaving, but a part of me always wonders if I should have just let it go and focused on what else he did during the day instead. My brain is constantly trying to sort what goes into the “Don’t Do That/Stop That” and the “He’s Just Being 5” categories.

MUNIB: I don’t want to derail this question, but Thomas, you brought up something I wanted to piggy back on real quick because it touched on a similar struggle I feel when it comes to how to best deal with an unwanted behavior. I think what I keep going back to, and what I keep struggling with, is my belief that in the most perfectly ideal situation possible, I would basically already be the embodiment of all the positive behaviors I want my kids to express. So that without saying a word, they’d see by example what they should or shouldn’t do. Obviously, I’m nowhere near this ideal, and so I think a lot of the challenges I face is because of this tension between yeah, I’m telling them the “right” thing to do, but no, I’m not necessarily showing them that in my own actions all the time. Because the fact is, sometimes I don’t want to go say hi to someone in a gathering, sometimes I forget to cover my mouth when I sneeze, sometimes I lose my patience – with both my kids AND my parents. And I’ve had 30+ years of experience. Sometimes it feels unfair to expect more of my 8-year-old than I’m able to accomplish as a 31-year-old. Know what I mean? As he gets older, I’m finding the “lecture” approach to addressing unwanted behavior less and less productive, and maybe even a bit damaging to the whole situation because he’s kinda sick of it too. I wonder if anyone else has a similar experience?

VAHID SMITH: The fact is that no one is perfect. Also we all have different roles to play as parents and children. At the same time we should all treat each other with respect. I don’t like talking down to my children and I try to tell them things like they are. If I think that they aren’t grasping something that I tell them, I try to teach them what it’s all about. Whether I am talking to my kids about behavior or some other topic, I want them to come to their own conclusions. I don’t want to feel like I told them what to think or do. That being said, I’m sure there are some occasions that I have told my kids “because I said so and I’m the parent.” I feel the more open we are and better we are at talking to our kids, the more likely we will be able to continue that into the teenage years and beyond; and that is something I worry about quite a bit. Unfortunately I’m not sure if I felt comfortable talking to my own parents about certain things. That is what I would hopefully like to avoid with my own children.

CHASE: As much as I would like to be the sympathetic and gentle father we see on TV, I also understand the need for discipline. I’m sure you’ve all seen your children go ABSOLUTELY INSANE and then what are we supposed to to? At that point, they’re not going to react to the dulcet tones of the father of the year, and it may even be they can’t hear anything over the din of their own cacophony. That’s when I physically grab their ass and let them know what’s what. This is an important counterbalance to their mother, who’s the far more compassionate one. She is my “strictness detection device” Thomas mentioned. If she tells me I was too hard on them, then I know to apologize and try make it right. Of course that won’t stop them from murdering me in my sleep twenty years from now, but hey, baby steps.

VAHID N’DOBE: Interesting Chase. I feel like my wife is my “strictness detection device” as well. In my experience as a child, the discipline was huge and most of the kids turned out to be well behaved and useful world Citizens. However, i see a conflict among parents especially in the Western Cultures, between disciplining the child and being lenient to avoid upsetting the child. Sometimes i feel like i’m the disciplinarian and their mother is the fun one who gives them their wishes. Being a bad cop….you’re not as fun as the good cop :-)…… However, It’s a sacrifice worth making in order to get it right. Hopefully, in the end they’ll realize why it was necessary. Of course moderation in everything. Being too much of a disciplinarian can make life miserable for kids, when their lives should be full of laughter and happiness. I’m trying to find that fine balance too.

CHASE: I will say, Vahid N’Dobe, occasionally bribing them with candy makes that aspect a lot easier.

VAHID N’DOBE: You know Chase, I will take your advice. I think that’s what my wife does often :-).

THOMAS: I’m glad you both brought up the conflict between mother and father with regard to discipline. My wife often tells me, “He’s only 5. You’re being too hard on him.” Sometimes she’s even suggested that I would feel differently if Rowan was my biological son, so it’s comforting to know you guys have had the same disagreements.

At first, her comments really made me doubt myself as a parent. Would I really feel less inclined to scold him for lying or misbehaving if I was his biological father? Does witnessing a child’s infancy grant you an invisible cloak with +20 patience? Eventually, I made peace with the fact that we’ll just always have a difference of opinion on the matter and chances are 15 years from now she’ll be saying, “He’s only 20.” I’ve also realized that my urge to discipline directly correlates with whether or not he knows better than to behave the way he did.

At the end of the day, he still kisses me goodnight, so I’ll take that as a sign that I’m doing okay so far.

MUNIB: Thomas, I think you hit on an important note there in the end, and that’s that he still kisses you goodnight. And I think Chase brought up a really important point too, and that is the willingness of a parent to apologize to their kids. I think that’s really important. It’s so easy to fall into this trap of realizing you did something wrong to/for your kid but feeling like you can’t or shouldn’t admit your mistake as a parent. But I think it’s really important to model that behavior for them from an early age. Or at the very least, try to make sure to make it up to them by spending some extra quality time. A night or two ago I messed up right before it was time to get ready for bed and my 8-year-old was really sad. So, partly to make myself better, sure, I made sure to spend some extra time with him playing a game or two after he got ready. Something we don’t often do. It helped end the night on a good note for both of us.

Come back tomorrow for Part 4! In which the dads share some of their recent parenting victories and struggles. 

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