Let me explain the demerit system. An untucked shirt equals two demerits. Disrupting class can earn you four. Five demerits lands you in Saturday school for one hour. Simple, right? If only motherhood were so clearly defined. How many minutes of timeout does one earn for dumping an entire plate of dinner on the floor? What about taking your diaper off and rubbing its contents on the walls?
As mothers we must forge ahead and retreat in distinct measures. But what I always hold to – as we march through potty training and manners – is that as both teacher and mother, my end game is the same: independence and growth for the kids in my care.
After a decade in the classroom, and half a decade mothering, I found these five concepts to hold true on both fronts.
Being a teacher requires a certain level of censorship. You must always think before you speak, because your students look to you as the example of good behavior. If you lose your cool, they smell it like sharks circling chum.
My own children are the same way. They poke and prod to get a reaction. They want my attention and they will take it any way they can get it. The ten second rule has been my touchstone. If I ask any of my children to perform a task and then count those age-long seconds before stepping in, they will usually comply.
Ten seconds can feel like ten years, but it will be worth it if it results in independence. Parents know how to wait it out. We know how to play the long game.
You cannot teach someone how to write a proper introductory paragraph, much less an entire essay, without practice. No good teacher assigns only one draft.
Parenting requires the same level of repetition. How many times a day do parents remind our children to say, “You’re welcome” or take their plates to the sink, or put their books back on the shelf, or that the tag goes in the back of the shirt?
It’s not wasted breath. It’s reinforcement of an idea that will nest in their minds and eventually become second nature. We might feel like parrots, but we know that one day it will sink in so we continue past the point of no return.
Unfortunately, one cannot give demerits to one’s own children. But to be honest, demerits rarely work in the teaching world either. A punishment system based on fear and negative consequences often leads to world-class rebellion.
The best way to discipline both students and my own children is to help them understand consequences. If you did not complete your homework assignment, you will not be able to participate in discussion with the rest of the class. If you did not put your dirty clothes in the hamper, you will not have anything clean to wear tomorrow.
The learning of consequences is a lifelong lesson. Many adults are still sifting through this one, which makes the concept all that more important for us to communicate to our children.
I have had to apologize to my class more than once for the mispronunciation of a word, the definition of a certain archetype, a character’s last name. No one likes the teacher who claims to know it all. Because no one knows it all.
As a parent, I find myself apologizing on a daily basis. I’m sorry I raised my voice. I’m sorry I didn’t listen more closely. Inevitably, I hear my kids chirp back, “It’s okay, Mommy.”
Children are great granters of grace. They’re resilient and earnest and their unconditional acceptance has been my greatest lesson. Parents need that grace more so than teachers because we don’t clock out. Our home is their home, and we will take all the second chances we can get.
It is easy to see the low test grades, the misplaced modifiers, and the tardiness and want to call it quits. But you have to keep trying because you never know which words you speak will get caught in the net and stay. I ran into a student at the grocery store, grown and married, who told me he never forgot reading “Lord of the Flies” his freshman year.
As parents, we don’t often see the results of our efforts when our hearts need it most. There are long, dark days when we feel as though our kids have stolen our marbles and hidden them for good. But when our children finally share or help another child on the playground, and we glimpse the kind of adults, spouses, and parents we hope they’ll grow up to be, we’re reminded that the small stuff really does matter.