I have written and re-written this article more times than I’d like to admit. Every time I thought that I had finished, something just felt off. After a lot of reflection and a great discussion with my husband, I realized that my challenge is with the word ‘discipline’ itself.
If you were to ask anyone besides my husband, they would very likely say that I don’t discipline at all. To most outsiders, I am probably a little too relaxed, and we’re just lucky with a well-behaved child. We are very lucky to have such a wonderful child, but we also work very hard to create a respectful relationship that allows us to be a little more relaxed. We don’t discipline her. We respect her, recognize her wonderful spirit, and work to fulfill our role as parents by anticipating unnecessary challenges. This process takes time, love, and a great amount of prayer for Mary’s intervention.
On the outside, you will see a beautiful girl making snacks for herself, choosing her own colorful outfits, and usually, stomping in the closest mud puddle. She also has a say in what we have for dinner (usually “corn-on-the-bob”), and helps plan our vegetable garden. Many of the choices that she has would be off-limits in some households, but to us, there is no need to exercise unnecessary control. She is clothed, so why would it matter if she is wearing a pink flower dress with a shamrock sweater and green rain boots? The girl loves color. She also often chooses her favorite ‘corn-on-the-bob’ or peas for a dinner vegetable, but she’s eating vegetables! It’s OK if we eat them a little more often than we would like. We respect her, and so she gets to exercise her voice.
That being said, we draw very strict lines when it comes to safety. A hand is always held when we are in crowded areas, parking lots, and close to water. She is not allowed to wander off on the property without one of us, carseat is a must, and stairs are not yet tackled alone. These lines, and a few others, were drawn early and with many patient conversations. Unless the situation becomes dangerous, we always have a quick conversation explaining our reasoning behind something that we have to do, and we always give her the option to remove herself before we help her.
This method, as you can imagine, requires a bit more time and patience than other methods. However, we have found that giving her the opportunity to make these decisions, and arriving at a point where she can say ‘ok, I understand that it is not safe’ fosters her intrinsic confidence and trust. It can be challenging to be patient. Sometimes, when I’m tired, or I have to eat again to battle the insatiable pregnancy hunger, I think for a moment about just removing her from the situation and coping with the consequences later. I am happy to say that I really can’t recall a moment where I have done this, but the thought serves as a reminder that I need to turn to Mary more often for the strength to recognize that Clare has her own unique needs, and I have to let go of my desire for unnecessary control in certain situations.
Clare is an actual person. She isn’t just a malleable child. She functions with passion, purpose, and intent. She also may have a plan and mission for the day that makes perfect sense to her, but I don’t completely understand. In these moments, I turn to Mary for guidance and reassurance. I recall her respect for Christ’s mission, even though she didn’t completely understand the magnitude of His purpose. She likely didn’t understand all of His intentions as well, as we are reminded in the story of Jesus remaining in the temple when Mary and Joseph left to return to Nazareth.
When I find myself becoming frustrated, I try to remember that I may not completely understand Clare’s intention in a particular situation, and that she is of course inherently good. She does not begin her day thinking “How can I make this challenging for mom?”. Instead, she goes about her day trying to learn, enjoy, and grow. As her mother, it is my job to work to understand her needs and desires, and to recognize that it is OK if they are different from my own. We work together to love and enjoy our day, while deepening our respect and trust for each other.
Mary has served as a wonderful teacher to us, showing us that we are nurturing and fostering a beautiful light of spirit. We’ve created a great balance of play and conversation, rooted in respect. For us, this balance of quiet and peaceful discipline remains, as long as we always return to Mary’s example of her great love and respect for Christ’s magnificent mission.