What are the Disciplines for When Discipline Fails?

Musa was mad as his mother drove them away from dropping his big brother off at an event for older children. He wanted to go, too. Tagging along with his toddler brother and his mother was unworthy of all that was inside him. Something deep down in this four-year-old told him he was ready for bigger things. Out of sorts, he misbehaved all the way home.

An hour later, as they sat together at the kitchen table, Musa was still making his mother run through her entire repertoire of counter-insurgency parenting tricks until, frustrated and exhausted from battling his bad attitude, she simply stopped reacting and sat in silence.FullSizeRender-3

After a few minutes of silence Musa said, “It’s okay, Mom. You can make a thousand mistakes, and I will still love you.

Completely cured, she beamed love back at him and replied, “You can make a million mistakes, and I will still love you.”

But Musa said, “I don’t make steaks. I make hot dogs.”

Sometimes kids seem to think they were brought into this world to educate us rather than the other way round. Maybe they are half right. If we sometimes feel that our child is unmanageable or that being the consistent parent we are supposed to be is impossible, maybe that’s what we should be learning. Raising children is a full curriculum of messy, sloppy exercises in imperfection.

Our job is not to shape our children, but to build a relationship with them, a relationship that is reciprocal and mutually educational, a relationship that will sustain itself and sustain us both more and more as we go through life, a relationship that helps us find our center, as we help them define themselves more effectively in their environment.

Humans aren’t designed to be loners. We function much better in relationship. Therefore, the disciplines of parenting are the disciplines of relationshipbuilding, disciplines of learning through conflict, disciplines of leadership. This includes the art of being out of control.

Who’s Educating Whom? If we look beneath the surface to the relationship, we can get a glimpse of how they are helping us learn leadership—helping us learn that leadership is a matter of defining ourselves to the situation, a series of never-ending lessons in navigating the disturbing, uncontrollable dynamism of life.

This is why trying to manage children is a bad idea, why “Consistency” is not even a worthy objective sometimes, and why letting our children teach us is critical to the very challenging game of leading them.

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5 Responses to What are the Disciplines for When Discipline Fails?

  1. John S Green says:

    Good insights here. It sounds like you are saying the child is the father of man. I thought that was a Montessori quote but when I looked it up it was credited to William Wordsworth—both intuitive individuals. Happy new year!

  2. Rick says:

    Thank you, John. Happy New Year to you, too.

  3. So well said, Rick, thanks. It seems that in relationship-building, listening (that is, not talking!) is a real engagement challenge, as I keep learning over and over. This has been especially useful today in my relationship with Carolyn as we sort through, discard, pass on, or pack over 30 years of stuff as we prepare to move close to you!! I’m looking forward to Happy New Year …

  4. Rick says:

    Yes. Listening! seems to be one of the hardest lessons to learn–at least for some of us. We think we are doing it, but unless the other person feels heard, we haven’t done it.

  5. Dee Franz says:

    Thanks Rick and Happy New Year! i just picked up a copy of “The Listening Life” We all need to embrace listening more in this world full of distractions!!!! Your Decatur gang misses you! Dee

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