When the boys were little, I often would sing them songs as part of our bedtime routine. Most of the songs were ones I had learned from my Dad when I was little (Molly Maloney, My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean, Peas Porridge Hot) and then I added a few of my own (Lulla-lulla-bye, Maybe, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, You’re Not Alone). They each had a special routine: I would sing them the songs in “their own” order and/or I would change words to the songs (It was always “My Doggie Lies over the Ocean” and “Molly Baloney” with Josh).
Sometimes I would “make up a song” and sing it to them. It often started with something like “I love you when you’re happy. I love you when you’re sad” – to the tune of “Skinnamarink” by Sharon, Lois and Bran. I would then make up lines for all the ways I loved them: I love you in your underwear, I love you when you win, I love you when you lose, I love you when you stand on your head, I love you when you sneeze etc. Most importantly, I would always remind them that I love them when I’m mad, or when they are mad, or when they freak out or I freak out, or when they cry, or when they say I’m being mean etc. etc.. I wanted them to always know that no matter what, I loved them. The song usually made them giggle, then laugh and often they would come up with some of their own lines (e.g. do you love me when I stink?).
Last night while I was cleaning up the dishes after dinner, Gabe walked by and said “You know why I like punishments in this house”?
He quickly clarified :”Well, I never like punsihments, but you know what I mean”.
I did know what he meant (although the word “punishment” is not one that I generally use in our house – it must be a carryover from elsewhere. We typically try to use the word “consequence” as I always want the kids to be mindful that they are the ones making choices – that they have certain consequences tied to them… but I digress – just wanted to clarify the importance of the choice of words)!
Gabe continued, “Last night we (Gabe and Zach) got a “punishment” before dinner (and let me tell you it was a doozy of one, and I was mad), but we were still able to sit down and have a normal dinner, and talk and chat like normal. The punishment didn’t change that”.
I knew exacly what he meant by this too. And it’s funny, because it is something that I generally struggle with: separating the act from the person. Or being able to “move on” once the consequence is in place. I often am tempted to hold a grudge, or withdraw, or be cold as an “additional” consequence I guess. I guess somehow it is supposed to make the person “pay”. I know it is not right, but it is an ongoing battle for me. However, hearing Gabe say this was really really good. It helped reaffirm that I need to keep working on this as it does make a difference, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
It was also perfect timing as just that morniing, while we were getting ready for the day, Rob and I were discussing both trying to improve on giving feedback, or dishing out consequences in a positive way – without our child feeling shamed, or shunned, rejected, or unloved. We decided that we needed to really try to look at these times as “teaching opportunities” rather than rants of our frustrations, and then follow up with reaffirmations of our love for the child who is receiving the consequence or feedback.
After Gabe’s comment, I told him that it is important that they always know they are loved. No matter how mad Rob and I can get at them, it does not change our feelings for them. Ever. We may not approve or like the behaviour, but it does not change how we think or feel about them as a person. They are loved. Period.
It is important for them to all remember that as parents, we may be older and wiser, but we are certainly far from perfect. At times, we do make mistakes, we do sometimes overreact or react the wrong way. We may give conseqeunces that are too severe, or not give enough consequences. But, at times, they do need – and deserve – the reprimands, the guidance or they need to hear what we have to say (without the sugar coating…not that I ever sugar coat anything). They need to have boundaries, limits and consequences, and they may not always like them. At times they may screw up and we will certainly “discuss it”. But all those things never ever ever change how loved and adored they are. I hope they never ever doubt that.
Maybe I should just start singing that song again before bed: “I love you when you’re happy. I love you when you’re sad. I love you all the time even when I’m really really mad”.
Love you guys