My parents were relatively permissive. I never had a spanking although my mother used guilt masterfully. My brother received corporal punishment once. Doogie smart-mouthed a neighbor and sassed and swore at our mother for chastising him. Dad, who normally left discipline to Mom, got involved at that point.
Our parents believed it was easier to do a chore themselves than to get us to help, which was true, of course. Aunt Prudence criticized our upbringing. Auntie raised our cousins with strict obedience to the Mormon values of work, thrift and church attendance. On Saturday mornings, Doogie hung around throwing rocks in the vacant lot waiting for our cousin, Beaver, to finish mopping the kitchen floor or some other chore before he could play. I read hundreds of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries while cousin Buffy practiced the piano.
My brothers and I were lazy, useless kids. I did no homework until 9th grade when teachers began posting our grades and my pride kicked in. Oddly enough, my brothers and I, like our more disciplined cousins, grew up to be hard-working, responsible adults—although I do wish I’d learned to play the piano. We and our cousins turned out like our parents. Apparently their examples were more important than their parenting styles.
I wish I’d realized this 30 years earlier. I’d have had a lot less angst raising my children. All those guilt-inducing Relief Society lessons—some of which I taught—about the wickedness of the world and Satan lurking to pounce on untaught, undisciplined children. Instead of just doing what comes naturally, I tried for perfection. Maybe it was self-criticism that kept me from emulating my parents. Anyway, I tried to be a strict, in-control parent, but that’s not my nature. I could do it some of the time, but not always, so I wasn’t consistent. Besides inconsistency, my discipline methods lacked dignity. Chasing kids around the house while brandishing a wooden spoon is not quite the “Divine Calling of Motherhood “ image presented in RS lessons.
For some reason, I never thought of more civilized methods of discipline, like Time Out. When I could no longer catch the kids for a smack on the bottom, I switched to psychological warfare. I stopped quarrels with a pretend phone call to Dr. Smart, the child psychologist I kept on retainer in a kitchen cupboard. I staged loud conversations telling the good doctor that my children were driving me crazy. The kids watched, a mixture of fear and awe on their little faces, as I listened to the doctor’s advice. “Yes. What a good idea! I’ll try that.” By the time I hung up the imaginary phone, quarrels were forgotten as the kids bonded together in concern for their mother’s sanity.
Our kids would have had easier lives if they’d been blessed with smarter parents, but they’d have missed some interesting developmental adventures along the way. Children with normal parents do not attempt careers as stand-up comics or try to obtain an LDS temple recommend by adhering to every item on the checklist except belief in Joseph’s Smith’s divine calling and the literal translation of the Gold Plates.
Each of our kids acquired some of our best traits—as well as some of our negatives. Maybe instead of working so hard on our kids, we should have been working on ourselves.