February 23, 2014

when someone else disciplines your child

We went to visit family a few weeks ago, and it was a very good trip. The boy slept well, our kids played together really well (my son chased after his older cousin most of the time and they seemed to adore each other), we ate well and visited. It was really a great time. Except for this one blip that took me by surprise.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the floor with my son as he played with some big Legos. My husband and niece were somewhere else at the time, and my SIL was in the kitchen near us. He started hitting a Lego against the wall. The second time he did it, I started saying "No wall. Don't hit the wall." He kept at it, looking at me as if to challenge me or as if he didn't understand. I was about to take it away when my SIL dropped what she was doing and came and picked him up, announcing "Okay you're getting a time out. You're old enough." She sat him on a chair and faced him to the wall. He started crying in bewilderment, then got out of the chair. I sat there slack-jawed, wondering what in the world just happened. (On a side note, we hadn't started using time outs yet as we didn't think he was old enough)

I said nothing, and she went back to what she was doing and we all moved on as I put the Legos away. I knew I needed time to process what I'd witnessed. I wasn't angry, it was just a different experience for me.

Days later, the memory of it started getting under my skin. Why did she take it upon herself to discipline him right in front of me, as if I weren't there and wasn't doing the job? I felt a bit marginalized, defensive, and curious. I love my SIL and know she only has good intentions. I prayed for wisdom, and then researched the internet for clues. I finally realized that it must have been family dynamics -- she comes from a big family where I was willing to bet it was just part of the deal. I had to decide what I was comfortable with and somehow get this across to her without damaging the relationship or making her feel bad. To "speak the truth in love."

I discussed it with my husband, who was surprisingly neutral, my mom who was just as surprised as me, and my friend who has the perspective of an aunt of a toddler. I emailed my SIL explaining my surprise, conveyed my affection, and offered an alternative of my preference for future family gatherings as nicely as I could put it.

She wrote back the next day and confirmed what I'd thought, that it was just part of her family dynamics and that she didn't mean to hurt me at all. We worked it out without more than a speed bump in the relationship.

The lesson I've learned is that, if I'm going to spend time with others for a while, it's a good idea to communicate these expectations ahead of time so there are no weird surprises. It also helped me focus on my own expectations about appropriate discipline.