Before having children, I never really had an idea of the type of parent I would become – at least, I don’t remember having any real, tangible notions. After all, I had been around some pretty badass moms long enough to know that even the best laid out plans get launched out the window the second a baby arrives.
But I did know one thing: I was going to listen to my friend, Sherille, who gave me some of the best advice: No matter what happens, if you give your kids an “or else” statement, you better follow through. So, choose your consequences carefully, because if you aren’t going to follow through, then you will lose the battle – every time.
We were at a friend’s house years ago when I learned what she meant. Her then 3-year-old was in the middle of the most polite meltdown I have yet to witness. I mean, instead of just yelling “NO!”, there was a lot of “No, thank you!”, and “please, no!”, and “oh lord!”. I was actually in hysterics at how polite this meltdown was, and yet in awe that my girlfriend was able to calmly and without cracking a smile tell her kid, “I’m going to count to three and you are going to stop or we are leaving”. Her daughter didn’t cave, and neither did she. And just like that, she packed her shit and left. On the way out, she said, “you bitches are laughing now, but you just wait; your turn is coming.”
In that moment, Sherille became my inspiration, and five years later it was that incident running through my mind the first time I counted to three to my out-of-control two-year-old. We were at a baby shower and she was not behaving. Let me clarify, we had been there maybe thirty minutes, she was spinning in circles, ripping off her dress, and all sorts of other nonsense. I said to her, “listen, I’m going to count to three, and if you don’t stop by the time I get there, we are leaving”.
Sure enough, she got her two warnings, and on the third I packed it up and we walked out. My friends couldn’t believe I left, and I think they were as bewildered as I was when I witnessed my friend dish out the same consequence years earlier. This counting to three happened ONE more time, a week after, at a kid’s birthday party.
And that was it. In the last four years, I have never made it back to three.
In that moment, I didn’t want to leave my friends and the party. Of course, I wanted to stay and enjoy quality time with a group we’ve affectionately named the Wolf Pack. But that moment wasn’t about ignoring the crummy behaviour and pushing through so I could hang out with my friends. It was about deciding what was acceptable behaviour by my kid, and teaching a lesson properly the first time, so there wouldn’t be MULTIPLE such occurrences in the future.
Even before 1-2-3 Magic Parenting, I knew the power of counting. I’ve actually never read the book, but from what I hear, it’s basically the same principle. And while some critics say it’s wrong to give children two chances before they actually have to behave, I would argue the opposite.
For one, they’re kids, and kids need reminders. This is perfectly, OK. Also, I usually never make it past one anymore, anyway. So, while you may need to count to three in the beginning, once your children know you mean business, there is no longer any confusion about who is in charge. (It sure isn’t them.)
Let me be clear, by meaning business, I mean: When you say you’ll leave, be prepared to leave. When you say they are going to their room, be prepared to put them in solitary. When you say they aren’t going to be able to go the birthday party, be prepared to send the gift in an Uber. If you are going to utter these “or else” statements, be prepared to follow through – every time.
Truth be told, the best part about this whole process is you aren’t going to concoct these ridiculous ultimatums or threats that aren’t plausible. You begin to choose your words carefully, and authentically, and teach your child that it is important to say what you mean and mean what you say, always.
Fast forward four years and my once spinning nudist at the party is now six and her little sister is two. Her sister is now learning the power of three – and the big one is warning the “new generation” that mama means business, so don’t test her. Funny enough, she said last week “baba counts a lot, but nothing happens with him,” as if to let her know that mom will always follow through if I start counting, so be warned.
That doesn’t mean your kids won’t act out. In fact, they will because they are KIDS. I’m not looking to raise robots, rather respectful little human beings who understand that thinking before you act, and knowing your audience and circumstances are essential.
Besides, I don’t want them to become the spoiled teenagers everyone loathes, who do whatever they want without thinking of consequences, and then blatantly disrespect the rules others set out for them (in homes, school, etc.) because they’ve never had a real consequence, but rather a bunch of empty threats no one has ever followed through with.
As they grow, the consequences change. Thing One said and did some pretty messed up shit last week, and I didn’t need to count to three. Upon picking her up from my parents’ home I calmly said, “You were in the wrong. What you said was disrespectful, and your unwillingness to see that right now means you are spending the rest of the day and night in your room.” Full stop.
She cried and begged and said she was now willing to apologize. I said, “that’s fine, but you are still going to your room. Any further discussion will get you tomorrow morning in lock up as well.” Being sent to one’s room may not have any effect on me (hello sleep!), but to a six-year-old, it’s a life sentence.
And so, despite the pleading from her, the little one, and the grandparents, Thing One went on her not-so-merry way to her room. The next morning she awoke, came to apologize and then asked to call her grandmother to apologize as well. She did – and just like that, we grew together. I didn’t need to count any more with her, because she’s growing and understands more than simple counting. We spoke about why we each made the decisions we did, and then moved on.
Incidentally, my mother scolded me for punishing her granddaughter. My, how things have changed.
A few weeks back, my girlfriend, who had been at that party all those years ago (and who now has a little one of her own) said to me, “I remember that time you plucked A from the party and left. I never forgot that moment. It’s really stuck with me.”
So, while you may not be looking for validation from your friends, the reality is that all those times you sacrificed to teach your kid a lesson, there has likely been another mom out there, watching as you try to raise children who aren’t little monsters, and realizing that when it comes to consequences, if you want to be successful, it really is all in the follow through.