Choice or Consequence

We had a tough day Saturday.

Pumpkin was completely out of sorts.  More than just your average 2-year-old tantrums, she was willfully disobedient and destructive.  She broke her sister’s toys.  She threw her shoes instead of putting them on.  She intentionally ran away from us at the store so we’d have to chase her. But the worst was the whining.  Oh! The whining! It felt like she was using that slowly-letting-air-out-of-a-balloon tone of voice just because she knew it would break me.

Oh and by the way?  It totally did.

For the first time ever and after lots of warnings, we delivered a consequence – she wasn’t allowed to attend a birthday party later that afternoon.  I couldn’t believe how guilty I felt about punishing her.  I texted B from the birthday party (which Peanut still attended) about how I felt like Pumpkin’s poor behavior was my fault because I hadn’t let her be active enough in the morning.

Do you see the problem here?  I blamed myself for my daughter’s choices.

I do this all the time – blur the lines between my parenting and my childrens’ behavior.  And nobody wins when I do it: my kids get squishy parenting and I feel terrible.

There are things I could have done to set Pumpkin up for success throughout the day, yes.  Allowing her to watch TV for two hours in the morning was not a fantastic parenting choice.  Having no activity (structured or otherwise) until nearly lunchtime was another way I invited poor behavior into the day.

Instead of seeing these as failures and beating myself with them, I’m going to take them under advisement for next weekend and plan accordingly.  Waking up and turning the TV on makes for a lovely cup of coffee and a terrible rest of the day. Lesson learned.

As for Pumpkin, she is learning that her choices matter.  When her choices show us that she won’t be able to positively interact with a group of peers, we will set her up for success by keeping her home.  When I think of it that way, it seems less of a punishment.  Instead, we are simply believing our daughter when she shows us what she needs.

Somewhere in some unvoiced part of me, there’s an assumption that the product of good parenting is well-behaved kids.  Even as I type it, I’m shaking my head; I don’t believe that and I know that’s not true for my family.  So what is the real product of good parenting?

Looking to my kids’ behavior as a barometer of my parenting success is a mistake. It may be that the real product of good parenting is a safe environment for kids to make their own choices and receive right-sized consequences. What they do in that safe space isn’t about me, it’s about them.

My hope is that the environment we create for Pumpkin promotes fewer moments of whiny, angry, frustrated destruction and more moments of wonder.

And there are, indeed, moments of wonder.

But whether I’m celebrating her highs or walking with her through her lows, I would do well to remember that her choices are her own. Even when a birthday party is on the line. Even when I haven’t set her up for success.  Even though she’s only two.

And that’s exactly as it should be.