“Learning to Respect (My Own) Authority”
After a childhood of punishments and putdowns, I know what kind of parent I don’t want to be. The harder part? Figuring out how to be the very best mom I can when my symptoms try to get in the way.
The details of my teenage years are memory, but one memory remains clear: I was always grounded, in trouble for something. One day, I was sitting with my grandmother, complaining about losing all my privileges again and I’ll never forget what she said: “I wish your parents understood the difference between discipline and punishment.”
That moment has stuck with me to this day. I was, in essence, punished for ADHD symptoms beyond my control, including lack of motivation and impulsivity. At the time, I just didn’t understand the link between my ADHD and my persistent problems with authority.
Now that I’m a parent myself, I’m convinced there must be a better way.
Discipline vs. Punishment
According to Michael Dyson’s New York Times article, “discipline” and “punishment” are actually vastly different, though many of us get them confused.
Discipline comes from the Latin word discipuli meaning student or disciple. This suggests a teacher–pupil relationship.
Punishment on the other hand comes from the Greek word poine, a Latin derivative of poena, which means revenge, and forms the words pain and penalty. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to inflict pain upon my child, no matter how much psychological pain he may inflict upon me.
According to Diana Baumrind, there are four styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful. Baumrind describes authoritative parents as such: “Issue-oriented and pragmatic, they balance the needs of the child and his right to respect with their own needs.” Authoritative parents’ “goal is to teach children to value the same things that they do, with strict standards for conduct and verbal give and take.”
Her research shows that kids raised by authoritative parents are the most psychologically well-adjusted. When parents are loving and responsive, their children naturally want to be aligned with them. Also, the verbal give-and-take inherent to authoritative parenting teaches children how healthy relationships work.
This is the kind of parent I want to be, but how can I implement these constant standards when my symptoms make consistency so incredibly difficult?
It’s going to be tricky, but I have a plan to get started:
1. Set Limits
If I don’t tell my son when enough TV is enough, he’d watch nonstop. If I don’t show him that the world is bigger than that tiny screen, how will he learn?
I also will tolerate only so much screaming. My son knows that if he is being unkind he will have to go to his room and work it out. He also knows that if he needs my help talking through the problem, I am all ears.
2. Be Firm But Kind
There is nothing more heart wrenching than saying “no” when my son is staring at me with his big, watery blue eyes. And that lip… gets me every time.
But no, we cannot read another book. No, we cannot camp out in the backyard tonight. No, we cannot buy that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Shell right now.
Why not? Because I love you.
3. Practice Reflective Listening
I highly recommend The Explosive Child, by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. One of the main skills I took from the book was reflective listening.
For us, this means I restate what my son says to me. Then I ask for clarification and invite him to come up with a solution. If that doesn’t work, I stay quiet and let him think. Listening is such an important skill. Everyone wants to feel heard, understood, and accepted.
4. Model Good Behavior
As an authoritative parent, I am mindful of the fact that my child is always watching. He is absorbing my way of relating to other people and my coping mechanisms – or lack thereof.
If I want him to be a kind human being, then I have to show him what that means. I cannot make disparaging remarks about politicians or people in our family, no matter how much I want to. I have to be a role model of acceptance and caring. If I want him to take care of himself with exercise and quiet time, I have to show the high value I place on my physical and emotional health.
5. Keep It Real
When I slip up, am inconsistent, or don’t plan ahead, I acknowledge my faults to my son. Disagreements are OK as long as you are respectful. Almost any problem can be solved if we listen to each other and work together.