“I can’t make you do anything.”
I can still remember the first day I said it to my son. He got in trouble for not being nice to his friend who was over. When the playdate was over, he was sent to his room to sit on his bed without toys. It wasn’t the harshest punishment in the world but enough for a four-year-old to throw a fit over.
“When you do something, there is a consequence. That means something else happens. It can be good or bad.”
In my head, thoughts of physics laws tossed around along with the very real fact that I was in the midst of a custody battle with a full-blown custody evaluation. You know, the type of investigation into your parenting style that makes you wonder if giving your child a Happy Meal is grounds for losing custody.
I was a bit stressed to say the least. In my head, conflict thoughts bounced around like a ping pong ball smacked by an Olympic ponger. Pap pap pap pap pap.
Disciplining Your Child and Conflicts in Co-Parenting
There are so many schools of thought on disciplining your child, disciplining a toddler to be exact. They are a tough crowd to say the least. From gentle parenting to corporal punishment, the parenting styles vary. It’s hard enough to stay the course in discipline.
The one time my son got a “hand spanking” from me left him crying and me sobbing in my bedroom. I’m not a spanker. It truly did hurt me more than it hurt him. A kids time out would be much easier on me.
It’s harder when parents don’t agree. Co-parenting rules vary from case to case and those who co-parent with a narcissist can have bigger conflicts that result. The courts will ask you to agree to basic things but the reality is you can’t control how the other parent disciplines your child when they aren’t with you.
With all going on, I questioned my own actions.
Styles of Disciplining Your Child
Parenting experts say to pick your battles and do what you can to prevent situations where you child will be tempted to misbehave. At the end of the day, parenting experts agree that disciplining your child, regardless of the style you choose to discipline your child, gets the best results with clear and simple communication.
Child discipline methods must have a foundation that includes:
- Set rules and be willing to follow through with them.
- Keep rules simple.
- Define consequences clearly
- Be consistent and don’t back down.
It can be hard to discipline your child in front of his friends at the part with all the other mother’s watching, often judging your parenting skills.
Not Disciplining Your Child: Raising Kids as Co-Parents
My direction in raising my son and disciplining him was founded in not creating more conflict. There was plenty of conflict running around the family as it was. You see, my son had a choice to not be nice to his friend. I had a choice to punish him. He had every opportunity to ignore my punishment which could lead to another punishment.
Essentially the kid learned very early from me that he had choices to do the right thing and learn what the consequences of his actions would be. Someone once told me that the best way to instill respect when raising kids is to instill the fear of God in them. That’s the idea behind, “Wait ‘til your father gets home and grabs his belt,” right?
As I explained to my son that I can set rules and he will have to live with the result of his choices, I could hear the disagreements from his father. I was being easy on the kid and encouraging bad behavior. I had no rules.
Not Disciplining Your Child or Offering Choices
To be clear, there were consequences in my house. And things would escalate if punishments weren’t “adhered” to. What the heck does that mean? I have a certain level of control when my son is small. I can literally pick him up and place him in his room and then tell him to stay there. Kids’ time outs are nice but there needs to be some agreement for it to work.
I can’t make him. I can go back and re-do the pick-up, place and tell but I can’t make him. But instead of forcing the issue, my choice was to not force discipline on my son. It was to find his motivating factors. If he didn’t adhere to the punishment, a bigger one would happen, one that I could control like not taking him to his friend’s birthday party or a movie he wanted to see.
See, I knew that at some point the kid would be too big to man-handle. At some point you just can’t pick them up and put them where you want them. Ideally, in raising kids, the child gets to the point of wanting to do the right thing. They understand the value of being nice, kind and good. They also see the motivation for both good and bad behavior.
Co-Parenting Rules About Discipline
After a long court battle over the course of three years, the co-parenting agreement was something like 50 pages. Boiling down the punishment aspect, there is really just one line, “no corporal punishment.”
That leaves a lot of interpretation to what can and can’t be done. Over the years, I stuck with my choices method of discipline. Dad’s house was a bit harsher. Punishments were excessive from the moment a bad behavior was done. Say a mean thing and lose your toy forever type of stuff. It was dad’s choice and nothing I could do about it even though I didn’t agree.
The thing with co-parenting is you find liberation – freedom – when you accept that you don’t have control. That being said, my son absorbed what mom was doing and what dad was doing. It got to the point that at my house he would self-punish.
He knew the rules and if he broke it, I’d ask what the consequence was or should be (if it was a new type of incident). I can’t count the times my son walked up to me and handed me his most prized possessions to relinquish them forever.
My advice to those in the midst of creating those co-parenting rules:
- Understand your parenting style and your ex’s
- Think about it from your child’s perspective
- Be specific on the most important aspects
- Keep the rest general – it might get ignored anyway
- Be very aware of the differences
- Accept you can’t control what happens at the other house
- Don’t judge what happens at the other house, stick to your style.
You’ll find that you can put just about anything you want into a court order. You’ll also find that enforcing parenting styles is nearly impossible. The courts just don’t have time for the bickering (and that is how they see it).
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Taking Ownership and Learning About Consequences
While it made me proud to think that my son learned to take responsibility for his actions, it broke my heart to think that he held every little rule to such a high standard that breaking one meant the harshest standards.
This is the danger in co-parenting, the toxic nature of kids starting to absorb all bad things and their responsibility. It shouldn’t be that way. I’d let him set the punishment theme but usually would adjust the time. Sometimes you just need to keep talking through things.
I feel lucky because my son is an extremely respectful young man. I get complimented on his behavior at other’s homes often. It makes me feel good that he chooses to make the right decisions and treat others with respect.
I don’t know that my parenting style and discipline choices are the perfect way to raise a child. When I look back, I certainly see how he is a product of both households. His relationship with me is strong and he hasn’t fallen into the teenager mode with disobedience (at least not yet). We have mutual respect. His relationship with his father isn’t the same; it’s actually the opposite.
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