Pediatrics 101: Parenting and How NOT to Discipline your Child!

I had aced my three-month Pediatric rotation and devoured textbooks on effective child rearing. According to the books, disciplining children was a cinch: set reasonable and clear boundaries, use time-outs, and divvy out firm but consistent consequences mixed with encouragement and affection. How hard can it be?

Now a self-proclaimed expert on all things pediatric, I confidently dished out parenting advice to frazzled mothers at the outpatient pediatric clinic. Some seemed one step away from dumping their kids off at the nearest orphanage. In my know-it-all tone I insisted, “Above all else, never, ever lose your temper and resort to spanking. Stay calm and in control. Remember who’s the adult,” I said, pointing to my head. The mothers all nodded and agreed as though I were Dr. Spock himself.

Thus, when I became pregnant, I knew my children would be well behaved, respectful, and nothing like the little heathens I saw acting up in church or throwing temper tantrums in the aisles of Kroger’s! My children would say, “Yes, Ma’am” and dutifully do exactly what I asked with adoration shining up from their sweet little faces.

When I actually had a child of my own, however, I wanted to SUE the lying authors who wrote all those useless parenting books—their advice proved nothing more than slicked up hogwash. Take for example:

Time-out: According to all Pediatric textbooks, spanking should NEVER be done. Use time-out instead, they insist. So when my 2-year old ran away from me in a busy mall parking lot heading straight for a busy intersection, where, exactly, was I supposed to DO the time-out—in the middle of said busy parking lot or intersection? I think not!

When Steven was around two, he sassed me big-time. Per instructions, I put him in the corner and told him he would stay in time-out until he apologized and showed some respect. While in the corner, he shrieked loud enough to make the neighbors need hearing aids. Per instructions, however, I completely ignored him—until he got so mad he ripped a large chunk of wallpaper right off the wall! He was reaching for another bubble in the paper when I dashed over to stop him.

What was the punishment for ripping wallpaper off the walls during time-out? Stick him back in the corner so he could finish the job?

I snatched up his naughty little flailing body and spanked him! Or tried to spank him! Steven had this annoying but impressive ability to contort his body like a circus performer, his arms fanned behind him like a shield, until my palm could never quite make contact with his rump. But hopefully, from the steam pouring out my ears, he knew I was mad. (As in angry, not insane, though he was rapidly pushing me toward the latter meaning!)

With my own words coming back to haunt me, (“never ever, lose your temper and resort to spanking”), the next time Steven sassed me, I decided to give time-out one more try. Maybe this time, it will work.

I put him in his bedroom and closed the door and informed him he couldn’t come out until he apologized. This time, he left the wallpaper alone, but in an act of defiance, slammed a toy metal truck into the wall above his bed and bashed in a large hole! I galloped in before he punched through the wall a second time. So what was I supposed to do now—put him back in time-out so he could turn his bedroom wall into Swiss cheese? And where was my husband when I needed him?

I picked up Steven’s rebellious hide, but yet again, my talented contortionist managed to twist and turn out of my grip, leaving my hand slapping at the air multiple times before I gave up in frustration. I gripped his arms, my eyes no doubt demonic, and informed him if he ever bashed holes in the walls again, I’d spank him even harder! My spankings were a farce, of course, but peering up at my venomous expression, Steven must have concluded he oughtn’t press his luck by laughing in my face. I then administered the real punishment: making him sit through a tedious dissertation on appropriate ways to express anger, with ripping off wallpaper and bashing holes in the wall NOT making the list.

Luckily, Nathan and I survived the terrible twos (and threes, and fours and fives) with only a couple more walls disasters. Just don’t ask us about Steven’s creative use of squirt bottle ketchup to add a garland to the Christmas tree…

When Eliza was born things spiraled downward into endless sibling squabbles—24/7— and about the STUPIDIST things: whether to eat at Burger King or McDonalds, who got to feed the kitty, and my favorite, who got to pull the lint from the dryer trap. Ever the diplomat, I suggested Eliza could pull off half the dryer lint, and Steven could pull off the other half. Sounded reasonable, except Eliza pulled off 75% of the lint, and Steven roared, “No fair! That’s not half! Mom! Eliza stole my dryer lint!” I wanted to scream and bang their heads together, but instead pointed out through clenched teeth, “What difference does it make? It’s just dryer lint! It’s all landing into the rubbish bin anyway!”

Odd/Even: Exasperated with my squabbling duo, I asked a patient of mine—a clinical child psychologist—what she recommended. She dished out the following brilliant advice: “Assign each child to either an odd day or an even day. If it’s the 3rd of the month, for example, the odd child gets to choose. If it’s the 4th, the even child gets his way. Makes everything fair and squabble-free,” she said, raising her hands skyward, a giant smile plastered across her face. I went home elated and informed my husband, “Our parenting nightmares are over.”

I explained the clever plan to my kids and waited for their enthused endorsement. Instead, the following conversation ensued:

Steven: “I’ll be even, and you can be odd. Even Steven—it rhymes!”

Eliza: “No way! Even begins with “E” and so does Eliza, so I should be even, and you can be odd.”

Steven: “No, it should be Even Steven and Odd Eliza.”

Eliza (arms crossed indignantly): "Odd Eliza? I’m not odd. Odd means strange. Like an oddball or weirdo.”

Steven: “Well, I’m not odd! You’re the weirdo.” He then pointed and taunted, “Liza is a weirdo! Liza is a weirdo!”

Eliza: "Mom! Steven called me a weirdo. Make him stop."

I flopped my head into my hands. How had the best parenting advice ever degenerated into this? Then it dawned on me…maybe all wasn’t lost...

Perking up, I slapped my forehead with my hand and with a cheery voice said, “You know what? Mommy got it all wrong! It wasn’t supposed to be even and odd, ‘cause no body wants to be odd, it was supposed to be even and non-even days. And guess what? Today is a non-even day, so whoever chooses non-even gets their way today.

You guessed it---now they squabbled over who got to be non-even, especially after Steven pointed out that with 31 days in January and six other months, he would get his way seven more days a year than Eliza. That went over big…

My conclusion? Even the best parenting advice from America’s top pediatricians and child psychologists failed miserably for me. Time-out may work great for most parents, but if I’d continued with it, our house would have ended up condemned by the Health Department. And spanking proved more effective for swatting mosquitoes than punishing children.

Thus, I muddled through their childhood on a wing and a prayer and did the best I could, hoping I demonstrated by example how to become a well-adjusted, happy, caring, productive member of society. I prayed daily they didn't end up serial killers or on the couch of some psychiatrist lamenting their dreadful childhoods and adopting Kelly Clarkson’s song, “Because of You” as their theme song.

Somehow both my children have evolved into wonderful adults, despite, and not because of, any great parenting skills on my part. I think my deep, unconditional love for them, plus a lot of fun and laughs and meaningful discussions along the way, must have atoned for my many mothering faux pas. It is written, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Thank God!