“How can it be that I am losing an argument to someone who learned to tie their shoelaces last Tuesday?” – Most parents at one time or another.
The Debate: Part 1
“So, can I have ice cream?”
“No. I told you that.”
“Because, you didn’t finish your veggies at suppertime.”
“I had some of them!”
“You had two of them, and that’s only because I started getting angry.”
“I’ll have them now…” (Here come the tears. Crap.)
The Debate: Part 2
“No. It’s too late. You should have thought of that half-an-hour ago.”
“That’s not FAIR!”
“That’s absolutely fair. And don’t yell at me.”
“Fine, but we’re having popcorn while we watch the movie.”
The Debate: Part 3
“No, you’re not.”
“What?!!!” (Oh, oh.)
“What do you mean, ‘What?’ ”
“But POPCORN’S NOT DESSERT!!”
“Popcorn is a treat. And treats are a reward for eating your vegetables. Your body doesn’t need popcorn, it needs vegetables. So, if you don’t have one, you can’t have the other.”
“Well I didn’t know that!! You didn’t say that!! You should have told me that!!”
“Keep that up, and there’ll be no movie.”
(Wait for it…)
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!” (stomp, stomp, tears, tears….slam)
I’ll assume, Dear Readers, that you have no more spare time than I do to read online parenting columns. Out of respect to your precious down-time, I will not transcribe the forty-five minutes of cocooning, weeping, and attempts at self-healing which followed the “Desert & Popcorn” clash of titans.
I will say that, as with all of these parenting Armageddons, there comes a point where you wonder: Did I stick to my guns for so long that I ended up shooting off my big toe?
Experts agree that one of the most effective methods of shaping children’s behavior and maintaining their respect is to set clear ground rules and follow through on them.
I agree. Except for those moments when I seem to be following through for so long that the bat comes all the way around and I end up smashing the back of my head with my own swing.
Sometimes I feel I owe myself a pinch of inconsistency.
For instance, there have been family movie nights, before which uneaten broccoli has found its way into the compost bin instead of into a certain little girl’s tummy. Despite that squandering of an extremely wholesome vegetable, popcorn was magically not considered a treat or a desert on that occasion. Rather, popcorn suddenly fell under the category of Small Pieces of Vegetable Turned Inside Out By Microwave Technology.
It is corn, after all. Sometimes giving in is just…just…eeeaaaasy. Don’t we deserve “easy” sometimes?
Like that day when you secretly swung by the drive-through for a donut-sneak, and after being sooooo careful not to drip sugar coating or jam filling on your pants, you knock the bottom of your take-out coffee cup on the gear shift and go to work with a big brown stain on your thigh.
“Oh!” You’ll say to a colleague, “I didn’t even notice that! Ha! Those darn kids, they must’ve been playing dress-up with my stuff again!” (Blaming my children…I am a horrible person).
Or the time you agreed to stop by the grocery store, just to pick up a quart of milk. You grabbed some granola bars for lunch snacks, some ready-made sushi for yourself, a fresh tin of coffee (‘cause you’re not going to be forced through the drive-through the next morning after what happened last week), several packs of gum, and the latest copy of People magazine (why shouldn’t you enjoy your guilty reading pleasure during your fifteen minutes of alone time…in the bathroom?)
What you didn’t remember to buy was…a quart of milk. Your punishment? No easy breakfast the following morning, ‘cause the kids just won’t eat dry cereal. Or Eggs. Or that healthy bread with bits of nuts and seeds, which is all that’s left in the pantry.
I think that, biologically, your brain has an automated reaction which will trigger inconsistent parenting when it senses you have been shouldering an unhealthy level of stress for an unhealthy period of time. You’re probably aware of it. It generally makes itself known as a little voice which prods you at the height of an angry debate with your child. It sounds a lot like you, and says things a lot like this:
“What are you doing to yourself? Is she going to keel over as a result of an iron deficiency she developed five minutes ago after not consuming three florets of broccoli?
I mean, do you want to watch this movie, or you wanna fight with a six-year-old? Get your head on, man. What about the other kid? Does he get to watch the movie? HE ate his broccoli. How’re you gonna work that?
How about this: no cake, ‘cause that’s desert. But *#@& it. Give ‘em the popcorn. I mean, after all, it is corn, right? A vegetable. I mean, the stuff is so good for you they actually make gasoline out of it. Treat yourself. Call her back, give her a hug, stuff that bag into the microwave and get a glass of wine. You’re not ruining her future; you’re buying yourself two hours of peace and quiet. Besides, there’s no milk in the fridge; save your fight for tomorrow at breakfast”
It’s a voice of reason. It’s looking after you. It knows that it’s a jungle out there, and you’re all out of mosquito repellent.
The only person who doesn’t realize what a jungle it is your spouse, who will inevitable hear you say “Okay,” to popcorn, and jump in with, “What?! I thought we said no desert! Sweetie, when we say ‘That’s final,’ we have to stick to our guns or they’ll run right over us.”
Really? Someone’s gonna get run over, and it ain’t gonna be me.
“Okay, then. You deal with this.”
“Where are you going?”
“To the drive-through.”
“In your pajamas??”
“Yeah. That way I don’t have to worry about jelly drips.”
You can’t hear what your spouse is saying, ‘cause the voice is drowning out all other sounds.
“Way to go, tiger! Let the three of them work it out. Get yourself a treat. Heck, get yourself two treats. Jelly, jelly, jelly!
Although, may I suggest also getting the kids a quart of milk. I have a feeling this isn’t over.”
Hey, even the inner voice knows when things are final, and when things may have a little fight left in them.