Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you!
So, I know my background looks a lot different today for those watching me on our YouTube channel. This episode is coming to you from our home in the Caribbean. Now the interesting thing is we were not here for almost a year. So I’m adjusting to being here again and redoing the room, changing the colors on the walls, changing the decorations. It doesn’t quite feel like me yet. It’s a strange feeling. But we’ll get there. Right? We’ll get there.
Today I wanted to talk to you about the true meaning of “discipline.” Discipline is such a loaded word. Right? At least it feels like that to me. And perhaps that’s because when I was a child, discipline was kind of a time bomb.
My mother didn’t discipline us at all. She just guilted us into everything. She’s very passive-aggressive, and I hate to admit that that guilt she loaded, out of the siblings, worked best on me. So, she really had me whenever she started looking sad, or I thought she was angry. It really worked well as far as controlling my behavior. Now, I said it worked well, that doesn’t mean it was healthy. Right?
On the other hand, my father and that’s where the ticking time bomb part comes in. His rule was he could spank you with a belt, but he would only hit you three times. Now, what do three times mean? Well, three times meant you weren’t going to be sitting on your bottom for two to three weeks. If you’re lucky, one week. But the thing was that you never really knew what would bring about this explosion. There were really no rules in my home, and some of the rules made absolutely no sense. They were like catch-22s. For example, I was allowed to date when I was in high school, but my father couldn’t know about it, couldn’t know about my boyfriend, and he no way could be aware that I was dating. It kind of led to a very compartmental life.
And of course, since there were no clear rules, it was really easy to walk into a minefield and have a bomb just go off. I remember when the entire family was sitting at the dinner table, and we were all joking around. This was not a big deal. Everything was just light, and it was one of those unusual moments in which all the family members were laughing. We were joking, and then suddenly, my dad went ka-boom! And at that point, I was in trouble. I had no idea why I was in trouble. He had the belt out, and he was hitting me.
So, on the one hand, I had a very passive-aggressive mother. On the other hand, we didn’t have a very involved father that would just go off. And no clear rules, no guidelines, no nothing. We just kind of had to figure it out as we went. And that meant that I had no fallback when I became a parent. I know that many of my friends who come from healthy families could refer back to their parents about rules and their parenting skills, and I didn’t have that. So, I really had to begin by defining what discipline meant for me.
So, discipline. What is the definition of discipline? When you look it up in the dictionary, it says it’s a practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior using punishment to correct disobedience. I’m sorry, it sounds like we’re in a communist country there. The definition is really steeped in control and fear. And the reality is that, at least for my generation, that seemed to be a very common practice. We were afraid of our parents, so we behaved out of fear. But as I said, in my case, it was really confusing because of the way that my parents parented or didn’t parent. I don’t know how to describe what they were doing.
There is no question that authoritarian parents have tons of rules and not a lot of warmth. That was definitely the case with my father. He used to have the saying where anything we wanted to do, or he felt that we were going off the reservoir, he would say, “I paid the piper, so you have to dance to my tune.”
Now in my case, I was absolutely terrified. And whenever I heard my father say this phrase, I remember just kind of freezing and thinking, “What do we do now? Do I smile? Do I cry? Do I walk away? Do I not walk away? What will keep him from going off?”
So, we were all trying hard when we were young to follow these non-existent rules. But of course, that means that at some point, this control, this harsh discipline tends to backfire. And there’s rebellion, and we certainly saw that in our home. Some of my siblings chose to experiment with drugs. Some of my siblings got pregnant when they were teenagers. It just completely backfired.
So, what really is the most important task that we as parents have? When I think about it, I believe that it is to mold our children into adults. People who are prepared to thrive in a world full of rules and boundaries. Persons who can be individuals and find their own happiness. Right? But this definition of discipline that I just shared with you doesn’t work with our ultimate goal, right? At least, I don’t think it does. So, that really made me wonder, “What is a better meaning of discipline for parents?”
If you listen to the word “discipline.” Discipline shares the root with the word “disciple.” And really, a disciple is guided. A disciple learns. It doesn’t mean you control, and you constantly punish. It doesn’t mean that there are natural consequences or that our kids shouldn’t have consequences for poor choices. But there’s a big difference between a natural consequence and a subjective punishment. Right? At least, I think there is. A key point here is my uncertainty, mixed feelings, and self-doubt that emerge from how my parents chose to parent.
So, as I said, “disciple” is somebody who learns, somebody who’s guided. If we focus on the word discipline and this idea that our children are disciples, then our job is to teach and guide positively. As a parent, I want my children to reflect and grow from their mistakes, not to be terrified by them because we all make mistakes. Mistakes are good. It’s how we learn. I keep reminding my children, “you cannot learn without making mistakes.”
Mistakes imply that we are being educated. Think about it, mistakes apply to learning a new skill like painting or riding a bike, swimming, or whatever we want to do, or however it is, we want to grow. We are going to make mistakes.
Now, some of those mistakes are choices that we make. Right? And when we make those types of mistakes that come back to hurt us, we really need to sit down and reflect on them to grow. My thing is that I really want my children to learn from natural consequences rather than from arbitrary punishments.
I want my children to learn to understand that discipline equals freedom. Freedom! Think about it. Discipline allows you to practice the daily habits that get you the things that you want. And I was thinking about that specifically when it came to me. My parents never asked me to do homework. In fact, most of the time, I got in trouble for doing homework. But here I am. I have a Ph.D. How did that happen when I had no parental encouragement, no parental support, and in fact, both my mother and father constantly got in the way of my dreams, my aspirations? Well, self-discipline. Self-discipline is how I got there. I had to learn to set rules for myself, to set guidelines for myself—both personal behavior, educational aspirations, and I had to go out there and figure it out. Because I didn’t have home support, it meant I made a lot of mistakes—lots and lots of mistakes. But the reality is, we have to create those set of guidelines, those set of habits, that set of behavior to keep ourselves on track to meet our goals. If we want financial freedom, we have to have financial discipline, like I don’t like to carry debt, so I must pay off my credit card at the end of the month.
If you want to have relational freedom, you have to have relational discipline. I met couples, especially when I was young, that used to curse at each other all of the time. And I remember when I was dating my husband, I said, “I don’t want us to ever use profanity with each other.” I felt like if we lost that self-discipline, it would blow up into one of these ugly things that I saw, especially in my home. People are cursing at each other and screaming at each other. I think in all of the time that we’ve been married, sixteen years now, I’ve yelled at my husband maybe twice in a fight, and it was a fight behind closed doors. That’s another thing that we talked about. We really didn’t want to fight in front of our children. We didn’t want to do that.
It isn’t to say that we don’t bicker or we don’t disagree, but part of our relational discipline is not to have blow-up fights in front of our children. And certainly, we’ve never ever had a fight in public. That belongs in the privacy of our bedroom. But that also means that we have a lot of freedom, we have a lot of comfort. I never have to worry about the things my mother had to worry about—never knowing what would happen when she went out with my father. Never understanding if she could feel comfortable in a public setting because of his temper or his willingness to become a nuclear explosion.
So, in my case, definitely, I tried to apply discipline to every aspect of my life—self-discipline. And when I have that self-discipline, I feel more in control and more free to be myself, act, and understand the outcomes.
Now, sometimes I don’t have that self-discipline. Right now, I feel very discombobulated. We’re in this total process of moving back into our Caribbean home, which I’m still trying to convince my husband to sell, and it’s just an adjustment period. Since I come from a very unstable childhood home, I always crave that stability. When I don’t have it, I always feel discombobulated and uncomfortable. And I have to struggle back to get myself back to the center. You know, get my zen back on.
So, the big thing for parents, especially parents like me, is, how do you discipline when you might not have learned to discipline yourself? So, back to my story, I really struggled to learn self-discipline. It was a really, really big struggle. My greatest challenge was having relational discipline. I wanted to avoid negative consequences at all costs, which meant that I wouldn’t tell you if you made me uncomfortable. If I was unhappy, I wouldn’t admit it. I would put up with things that healthy people don’t put up with. And I certainly didn’t understand that I should reward myself for good choices or reward myself when I did something really difficult for me.
Now the reality is that even though I sometimes think, I wish I had been a younger parent. I don’t know that I would have been a good parent. I really don’t. It took me a long time to understand myself, learn to be myself, and process a lot of the damage done in our very abusive home. So, by the time that I was 40 and I became a parent, at that stage, I had learned a lot about self-discipline and how I wanted to go about disciplining my children. I really, really placed a lot of emphasis on talking with my kids when they were young, redirecting their behavior, and rewarding their good choices.
I really thought I had it under control, especially because I never lost control. If I felt myself getting really angry, I would give myself a timeout. If I found myself raising my voice, I would give myself a timeout. Get away from the situation, calm down, come back and deal with it. But then the girls turned four, and that approach continued to work really well with one of my twins, with Emmi. But Andy was another matter altogether. I was not prepared to deal with an oppositional child. I was not prepared to deal with a child with ADHD in the severe range and is so hyperactive like you won’t believe. She makes the energizer bunny look like nothing!
So, I really, really had to rethink my approach. In fact, in the next episode, I will share the only time I ever spanked one of our children. How that one action categorically and factually changed my parenting journey.
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