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The Discipline Dilemma

It seems like every other month or so my son decides to spend time in the Little Imp Gym, working out his "NO!" muscle and running Escape from Mommy sprints. I don't know what it is -- Grandma Withdrawal Syndrome since coming home from our trip? Just getting back to normal? The full moon? -- but Jack is currently experimenting with every button I have, trying to find out what happens when he pushes them all at the exact same time. I am trying to come up with a counterattack that doesn't bring CPS to my house.

I know he acts out when life is a little bit out of whack. His radically different disposition when Molly moved in taught me that much. And I know these episodes pass. One morning the switch will flip from Mostly Horrid to Mostly Sweet and I'll stop thinking about my failure in the discipline department every five minutes. But while we're IN the Mostly Horrid phase I am wracked with guilt and insecurity. I never really know how to handle him, and I have yet to find what works.

Time Out is the discipline method of choice among my mom friends. It works well for most of them. Their little monsters sit obediently in the Naughty Chair or on the Naughty Step and dutifully apologize for their transgressions upon release. For some of these kids even the suggestion of Time Out incites a change in their behavior. In our house we call it Sitting in a Corner and the other day my little boy put HIMSELF in the corner. For fun. And sang a little song. And let himself out a minute later and smiled angelically when he caught me gaping at him. Sitting in a Corner does not work so well for us. It's how I choose to handle things most of the time, but he often returns to the scene and repeats the crime, so I'm not sure he's getting the message. I tell this to my friends and even though they don't say so, I know they think I must not be doing it right.

My parents favor tactics I'll call Letting Them Know Who's In Charge. I like this approach because I'm not the kind and understanding type. When Jack acts like a brat and KEEPS acting like a brat even though I'm telling him to stop, I get ANGRY. I'm not proud of that. I wish I was more like my almost infinitely patient and sympathetic husband, I really do, but that's where the frustration sends me. The Mean Angry Mommy is what comes naturally to me, but I think my success rate with this method is even worse. Most of the time, Jack thinks I'm joking. At worst he laughs at me and at best he hangs his head, but rarely does he just STOP. When he threw a fit in Caesar's Palace because I ran out of pennies and told him we were leaving the fountain, there was no amount of growling into his ear, no threats I could make, no authority I could dredge up to scare him or force him to stop making a scene. When I tell my folks about things like that and how hopeless it seems, I'm embarrassed, because I know they think I must not be doing it right.

I've tried a little bit of everything, with little to no effect. I watch other people discipline their kids and wonder what I'm missing. Not everyone gets their kid perfectly in line, but I swear they're all doing it better than me. Jack is rarely horrid in public. He's not even all that bad at home. Most of the time discipline is barely on my radar. There are just strings of bratty days when he goes from being rotten over here to being rotten over there and the constant application of the iron mommy fist is exhausting. The only thing that appears to work, and by "work" I mean "stops the pitiful bawling" is removing him from the situation. Distracting him. Sticking him in his crib to work it out on his own, which often isn't a punishment since he LOVES hanging out alone in his crib. I'm grateful I can do SOMETHING, but I don't feel like I'm successfully disciplining my child so much as surviving. Just another thing to feel failure-ish about.

But then sometimes I ask myself: what can I expect from life with a two-year-old? Maybe surviving is as good as it gets.