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Is the Timer Up on My Love? – Rethinking my Parenting Choices

I’ve known it was time to retire the Sunday Reverence Timers for a while now.  Then the final straw came this week when I asked Magoo to reset his to zero during church because he was goofing around and being loud.  He went hysterical, sobbing his heart out, and begging me not to reset his timer.  Begging!  He didn’t want to lose out on spending time with me.  “PLEASE DON’T RESET MY TIMER?!” 

Looking at his little face, I was hit with the harsh reality of how sometimes the best parenting intentions can go terribly, terribly wrong.  What I actually thought was, “I am a horrible mother.”   

Do you remember the Sunday Reverence Timers?  I blogged about them.  A couple of months ago we came up with The Best Idea Ever for helping the kids learn to be reverent in church.  We gave them each a watch with a timer that they started at the beginning of the meeting and if they were ever crazy or disruptive, we reset it to zero.  The amount of time they had built up on their watches by the end of the meeting was like kid/parent bonding currency.  They had that number of minutes to do any activity they chose with me or Dan.

I liked that it did not involve actual punishment for poor behavior or reward them with food, that it provided good family bonding time and that it would teach them how to behave themselves in public settings where quiet is required.  It seemed perfect and for a couple of weeks it was.

Then things started changing.  They got really persnickety about making sure we spent every second they had earned playing with them and only them and Dan and I started watching the clock as we played Legos or made cookies, as though we didn’t want to spend an extra minute with them.  We love spending one-on-one time with our kids and we do it frequently but adding a timer into the mix made it feel like a chore.

Another thing that bugged me was that they weren’t learning to be reverent in church because they wanted to, they were learning to be reverent in church OR ELSE they would lose their parents’ approval, time and what seemed like – love.

So this Sunday, when Magoo violated the terms of our agreement, I felt like it would be inconsistent parenting not to reset his timer.  At the same time, he was begging for one more chance and he’s FIVE and an hour is a long time to sit still and the whole thing just seemed really ridiculous and unfair.  Did he really need to beg me for mercy so I’d play Candyland with him for 45 minutes?

I caught Dan’s eye and mouthed, “This is not working.  It feels wrong.”

“Yep,” he nodded.

And on the way home we rolled out the new plan that involves timers the kids can use for their own enjoyment and personal improvement to see how long they can be quiet in church.  It involves everyone doing a self-evaluation on the way home, giving ourselves a 1-5 ranking on how respectful we were.  It also involves massive game time and family activities every Sunday with no timer because we just like being together.

I’m coming to realize that the only thing that’s really consistent in my parenting style is that it’s consistently being overhauled and hopefully improved.  One day I come up with what I think is the best parenting tactic ever and then a day or a week or a month later, I start to notice the flaws in my thinking and it’s time to start over.

I guess the trick is to get to a point where I’m not using parenting “tactics” at all, where I’m just comfortable in my skin as a mother and I parent intuitively, led by unconditional love.  I’m not there yet.  I still need ideas and initiatives and tips and tricks to help me keep going, to keep me focused on improving.

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