Bad! Bad Mommy!

I took Christian to his preschool class this week. It’s held at a local college and part of the class is “parent education.” So while the kids play, the moms (and one dad) sit in a circle listening to the “parent educator” – I don’t know why they don’t just call her “teacher” or “professor.” This week’s topic was reading, but then we were encouraged to discuss any issues we’ve been having with our kids.

As the class went on, I began to feel worse and worse. First the educator talked about reading to our kids. She said it’s never too early or too often. Big fail on our part. We read to Rose from the womb and she loved it, but Christian won’t sit still for a book. We can hold his attention a little longer with a “touch and feel” book, but still, he squirms and complains. He’s 15 months old and he just started sitting down to read with us. We feel bad, but it’s the best we can do. We also feel bad because he’s not talking. He only says two words – “hi” and “bye.” By this age, his sister had been speaking for six months and already started to put phrases together. Must’ve been all that reading.

Even worse, one of the moms in the parenting group talked about smacking her kid’s hand when he reaches for something dangerous, like the stove or an electric socket. No one in the group thought anything of this but the parent educator warned that this kind of parenting will result in a combative kid. She said the kid will learn to solve problems with violence if his hand gets smacked.

During this discussion, I kept my mouth shut and focused on what horrible parents we are. Not only do we smack hands away from dangerous stuff, but sometimes — albeit very rarely — we spank Rose. That’s right, I said it. We don’t put her over our knee and beat her, just one swat on the butt when no other recourse gets her attention.

As the teacher went on and on about teaching violence, I had CSI-style flashbacks. Spanking Rose. Rose hitting Christian. Rose hitting her father. Rose hitting me. Oh my God, we’ve raised a pugilist! Just give her a few years and few more spankings and she’ll be the next featherweight champ!

As I was thinking about all of this, I heard the teacher talking about time-outs, and how they’re not to be used as punishment, they’re just a “break” for the kid to calm down. Yeah, sometimes, but what do you do when your kid has just picked her brother up by the neck, as Rose did the other night? Is that the point where you say, “Okay, Sweetie, seems you’ve been naughty. Take a few minutes to calm down in the time-out chair, okay?“

Let me tell you, we weren’t feeling “time-out” when Rose almost broke her brother’s neck. Matt screamed at her and sent her to her room while I comforted Christian and then I sat hugging myself, shocked and frightened at what had just happened. And I was angry too! At that point I wanted to take Rose over my knee and spank her. I wanted to ground her for the rest of her life and take away all of her toys. I wanted her to pay.

We didn’t do any of that, though. Matt just blew up at her and sent her to her room. She realized how serious the situation was by the tone and volume of her father’s voice, and she did not come out until he went back and talked to her, as I still sat there, frozen. I know Matt told her that she should never pick anyone up by the neck, because that could kill them. I don’t know if that approach works or just gives her ammunition when she decides that killing her brother is a good idea. And usually I hate when Matt yells at the kids, but this time, I felt it was warranted. Plus I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

As I sat in the parenting class, I kept thinking, I don’t need this class for Christian, I need it for Rose! The irony is that I attended the same class with Rose when she was her brother’s age. I think I was a much better parent to Rose then, just as I’m a better parent to Christian now. It’s Rose who throws me for a loop. I thought turning four was going to calm her down, at least a little bit. But it turns out four is just as bad as three. And I’m just as bad a mom at four as I was at three.

I need some parenting help. I need a whole overhaul of my parenting system. I need to find an effective way to discipline Rose and Christian, and to motivate Rose to comply when I tell her, for example, to put on her socks for preschool instead of dallying and making me mad. Matt and I need to find out how to control ourselves when she pushes our buttons. We need to know what to do when she does something truly egregious. We need to stop yelling.

We need to find someone to teach us all of these things. Maybe this parent education class is just what I need. Maybe I can sneak in questions about how to raise Rose in conjunction with her brother. If not, I’ll have to find another way. Got any ideas?