I find when I have had a stretch of being preoccupied that it's as if I wake up one morning and realize that my children have become hooligans. Because of my preoccupation, this time with getting M. off to her mission trip and B. leaving for scout camp and then figuring out how life is going to work without these two very capable people, I don't parent quite as actively as I should and our home life starts to look a bit like Lord of the flies. This is particularly true with the younger boys. In the past few days the incidences of whining, complaining, blaming, and general unpleasantness has escalated significantly.
As a result, we have to go back to basics, starting with first-time obedience. There are two boys in the house, who over the next few days, are going to have a boat load of opportunities to practice this skill. I also predict that my house is going to be very, very clean by the end of it. This is because in order to practice obedience there needs to be some request which required obedience. And because I am a firm believer in physical labor (particularly for boys) as an antidote for bratty, selfish behavior, I see floor scrubbing happening. J. also has some outdoor jobs for later in the afternoon as well. But no fun is going to be happening. Of course, I say this as I listen to great peals of laughter coming from the lunch table... don't feel too badly for them.
This is intensive, time-consuming parenting, but it is the only way I know to curb egregious behavior. The poor behavior must be corrected every time and the child must know it will be corrected every time. It is the only way that the child is forced to think about what he is doing and new habits can be formed. There must be no pay-off for the child at all, and every time there is it just reinforces the old, bad habit. For instance, take the child who whines and whines for something in the store while the parent says, "No" over and over until eventually the parent is so worn down that the child wins and the item bought. What did the child learn? That given enough whining the parent will eventually break down and give in; it just takes patience and tenacity on the part of the child.
So the boot camp is for me as well. I need to look carefully at my parenting and see the blind spots I have where I let poor behavior slide. I know I cannot take credit for all of my children's poor behavior; all people are quite able to sin all on their own. To take complete credit for all of my children's behavior, poor or otherwise, is prideful and does not fully acknowledge either the power of sin or the promptings of the Holy Spirit. But, I do have a responsibility to train my children so they can learn to control their sinful impulses. If I do not, then I am doing them no favors, I stunt their ability to function well in society, to make friends, and to be liked by others.
Update on M.: We received a postcard yesterday which she wrote the morning of the first full day. They were able to sleep in air-conditioning the first night since they got in too late to set-up tents. She really likes here leaders, which I'm glad about. She is on Merritt Island which it turns out is spitting distance to Cape Canaveral; her postcard had a space shuttle launching on it which thrilled her little brothers to no end.
After I hit publish, I thought about this post some more and realized that it was full of solely negative examples. Clearly an indication of how my day was going, but I couldn't leave it this way. When I am not distracted, I am better able to make use of positive training techniques. We still practice first-time obedience, but I am more purposeful about it. For instance, I will ask a child to come to me and if he or she does right away, saying, "OK, Mommy!" I make sure that they are coming for a positive reason... a hug and kiss, a treat, a story. I am also more on the lookout for positive behavior and am able to point it out to the child and praise them for it. This is perhaps why I don't have to hold boot camp when I am more fully aware of how I'm parenting. There is no need because positive behavior gains my attention, but when I am distracted, it seems only negative behavior garners a parental response. Hmmm... the things I learn about myself when I blog.