Consistency key to good parenting

By Anita Doberman: Lifestlyes Columnist

Lately, my oldest daughter, Luisa, has been testing my ability to be a consistent parent. Every night, she asks to come in my bed when her younger sisters are asleep.

I have allowed her to do so on occasions, but since my husband’s deployment her requests have increased in duration — “Can I stay for the whole night?” — and in frequency — “Can I come to your bed for 150 days?”

With the arrival of our new baby, I have felt unable to give my children enough individual attention, and Luisa has found that in the evening, after her sisters are asleep, she can have her own special time with me.

This was before my husband deployed, before I had Livia, our newborn, and consequently started to function on a permanent state of exhaustion.

Luisa met my announcement that nobody could come to my bed with a tantrum and myriads of questions: “Why does the baby sleep in your room? I have come to your bed my whole life, why is it changing now?”

I felt responsible for Luisa having a hard time staying in her own bed. After all, I allowed her to come to our room and, as she pointed out, only recently changed the rules.

I needed a good answer. So, I looked on some parents’ Web sites, talked to a couple of friends, and asked my mother and my sister, both psychologists, what I should do. Everyone gave me a completely different answer.

My mom said: “It’s wrong to have kids come to your bed, but even more damaging to change the rules because it confuses the child and makes the parent inconsistent.” Inconsistency is a cardinal sin of parenting.

Perhaps my mom was right — maybe it would be easier to let her come to my bed at night. But what would happen as my other children get older? The family bed, with seven of us? Not an option.

Allowing Luisa to come to our bed was a mistake. To remedy the situation, I had to find other special times with her, and help her see that staying in her room at night was not a punishment.

I made some changes and moved the younger kids’ bed-time earlier, so I have more time to do projects with Luisa. After reading a story to her sisters, I sit on her bed and make up an adventure (she is usually the protagonist). She is slowly adjusting to the new routine.

I found a solution to my problem when I realized that no one could give me an answer, but that I had to follow my own intuition, and some common sense.

To make sure I can remain consistent with my rules, I bought a big calendar and wrote each child’s name and special mommy time with a different color.

I am certain to forget something or get my children’s times confused, my only consolation is that the resulting insult will not be permanent. Kids are amazingly resilient and will survive despite this and future instances of parental inconsistency.

So, with this comforting thought in my head, I hang up my rainbow kid calendar, and begin to wonder what else I can color code.