disciplining toddlersI’ve always been kind of a bad ass. I’m not trying to brag, but people don’t generally mess with me.

Maybe it’s due to my line of work, which has given me a thick skin and above average people management skills. I’ve been a bartender for over 20 years. Behind that bar, I’ve always been known as the woman to send the difficult customers to. For some reason, even the most ornery jerks don’t abuse me.

It’s not that I’m mean — quite the contrary, actually. I just possess an air of “I’m not going to take your shit.” And it works. On everyone but my toddler. Mom’s a bad ass – but apparently he hasn’t gotten the memo.

Having mastered the nuance of dealing with the general public, I was sure that when I had a child I would have no problems with discipline. I imagined myself as one of those mothers who could administer “the look” and have her child fall into line. You know “the look” I’m talking about – the one that makes your child stop whatever he’s doing, apologize profusely, and go make you an omelet?

Yeah, right.

I used to hate it when people would say, “you have no idea how hard it is until you become a mother.” But you know what? Whatever images you have in your mind about the mother you will be, whatever fantasies you have about the way your children will act — you might as well abandon them right now.

You have no idea how hard it is until you become a mother.

My son just had his second birthday, so I guess I should have seen it coming. Everyone has heard about the “terrible twos.” I, of course, had heard of them, too. I just couldn’t imagine any event or circumstance that would turn my child from a sweet, smiling, satisfied baby into a whining, pissed off, impossible-to-please toddler.

There’s not a whole lot of need for discipline when you have a baby. They just spend the whole day “being.” They eat, stare, smile, and play with their fingers. Then baby turns into older baby, and they do much of the same – with a little more mobility. They eat, stare, smile, start to mimic and crawl. You see them start to eye things out of their reach and begin to childproof your home. At this point, your house still looks like a home – not a succession of empty rooms with toys strewn about. You believe you’ve got the mothering thing down. Yay, you!

Then the child starts crawling really fast. More childproofing. Then one day, he walks. It’s so cute! Look at him stumbling around, falling on his adorable little butt every few minutes. Aww. Then one day he stops falling. He begins moving around the apartment with ease, grabbing everything he can get his hands on. You still believe that your house can look like a normal home, not an empty space with furniture and toys that is so childproofed not one of your decorative relics remains.

Your toddler has to learn not to touch things! You can’t rely on childproofing – that’s lazy!  

You believe this advice, and the succession of “no” begins. Then the time-outs follow. If your house is anything like mine, you start existing in an endless loop of consequence and correction. I refuse to allow my toddler to turn into one of those screaming, arm-flailing, tantrum-throwing children that I see in Target on occasion. I certainly refuse to become one of those exasperated moms who is negotiating with the terrorist –  handing the little tyrant whatever it is he’s screaming for to squelch the looks of judgement she’s receiving from the horrified shoppers. But I’m beginning to wonder if I have any choice in the matter.

You see, I’m not a lazy parent. I don’t constantly indulge my child. I spend my days trying to correct his behavior and teach him what is acceptable and not. It works about 40 percent of the time. That is not a whopping success rate — is it? What am I doing wrong?

The really frustrating thing is that he listens to my husband about 90 percent of the time. Yes, my husband is a foot taller than me, has a lot more bass in his voice, and is generally more intimidating. But if that is the only reason my son is listening to him, I throw my arms up and surrender. This scenario reminds me of when I was a dog owner. We took an obedience class and the instructor explained that it is easier for men to train dogs because the dog was more apt to respond to a deeper, more commanding voice. I do not have a deep, commanding voice and I’ve never used physical intimidation on anyone in my life.

I’m screwed.

If motherhood has taught me anything, it is that children are born with personalities. I’m not a sociologist, psychologist, or any other kind of “ist,” but I know in my heart this is true. My child is beautiful, spirited, smart and defiant. His young mind is also not hip to the subtle nuances of my personality that generally garner me instant respect. Oh well.

Turns out, as much as I thought I would be — I’m just not one of those moms that discipline comes easy to. I have to work at it every day. I’ll continue to do that — hoping one day the tides will turn in my favor. But the next time I see one of those exasperated moms in Target, instead of looking down the end of my nose in judgement — I’m gonna give her a wink.

(photo: Suzanne Tucker/ Shutterstock)