This past Saturday we went out with a bunch of friends for Mexican food. I ordered a combo platter that included an enchilada, a burrito, a tamale AND a few tacos. (That has absolutely nothing to do with this post but our waitress was impressed so I thought you might be too.) My girlfriend ”Tess” and I were comparing notes on our day and gauging our respective exhaustion levels.
I don’t really remember her day because I was way more interested in my combo platter, but I do remember mine, and it was exhausting:
It was a Saturday and it was just me and my little girls (3 and 5 years old). What to do? What to do? We usually go out for lunch on Saturdays, but I had so much food in the house, I decided to eat at home.
My girls were cuckoo. I mean totally bananas. I have no idea why they were so amped up, but they were. I don’t think they would have been so crazy at a restaurant. It was like they made a list of “All The Things That Annoy Mommy” and then during lunch, they went through them one-by-one:
Let’s play with our food. Yeah! Good idea!
Let’s wait until mommy sits down with her lunch and then tell her that we need ranch dressing and peanut butter and cantaloupe and a bunch of other stuff—and then we won’t eat any of it! Yeah! Brilliant!!
Let’s yell from the bathroom, “I’m pooping! It’s a bad one! Come wipe me!” so mommy has to get up AGAIN…and then when she comes in say: ”Hi, mommy! No poopie. Just pee pee! Pee pee, pee pee, PEE PEE!!!!!!!!”
After Sweet Pea (the 5 year old) got up from the table for the third time instead of sitting down and eating her lunch, I had had it. I was tired. They were so crazy from the moment we sat down that I needed a “stopper.” A FOR-REAL ”stopper.”
And that is when it hit me:
As parents, we have two ways that we can go about dealing with behavior that doesn’t please us. We can roll our eyes and passively say something to our kids as they run by like “Stop It!” —or we can stop them.
If we do the passive “Stop It!” thing, chances are our kids will tune us out and just keep doing what they’re doing (I would), so we won’t get results. Well…we will get results, but they probably won’t be good ones.
If, on the other hand, we stay ON our kids—in their faces and up their asses—we will likely end up with better results, but we will be exhausted.
It is a lot of work to be a good parent. I’m not saying that I’m so great, but I really do try. I am all over my kids. I mean I am ON THEM and I am hard on them, almost all the time—about almost everything.
Just today, I took the girls for manicures (they only get “polish changes” but don’t tell them that) and the guy sitting next to me totally called me out:
Lovey (3 years old) was yucky and whiney and Sweet Pea (5 years old) was antagonizing her by being alive. I know they were excited about getting their nails done, I know it’s hard to be patient—but we were not at home and I needed them to not act the way they were acting, so I laid down the law.
I explained in no uncertain terms that we would be leaving if they didn’t get it together. I also reminded them that if I said it, I meant it…and then I tossed in some other hard ass mommy stuff and that was that.
The guy next to me was all: “I have kids their age and…wow, you don’t let them get away with anything.”
To which I replied: “I know. I’m hard on them. My friends tell me that all the time. But I never listen to my friends and my kids are really good, so you can judge me all you want, I don’t care…” and By the way, you’re getting a manicure—and you have a PENIS— so how about you lock it up there, Shiny Buff?
I got lucky at the manicure place because after our “little talk,” my girls were back on their game. Of course I don’t always get those results, but the more I get to know them, the better I get at choosing my approach.
I have learned over the years that there are several different Parental Approaches that can be used to discipline a kid. The trick is to pick the most effective one for any given situation.
I can’t stand when Lovey (3 years old) starts her sentences with ”I want…”
“I want chocolate in my milk…”…”I want to wear a dress…”…”I want an oompa loompa!”
UGH…No one cares what you want, Lovey. Come back when you can vote.
Admittedly, Lovey starting her sentences with “I want” is not a huge problem as far as juvenile problems go—but it does bug me, and I am the mommy, and a doctor did have to rip up my stomach to pull her out, so if I want to do something about Lovey starting a sentence with “I want,” I believe I can.
Unfortunately, the “Hard Ass/All Business Approach” only works with Lovey if Sweet Pea is included. If I just use it on Lovey, she will fold up and break down. She’s very sensitive. In order to avoid crying, I have to dig deep into my bag of tricks for her.
Sometimes I go with the Negative Reinforcement Parental Approach.
Lovey, you are delicious, but it makes me insane when you start a sentence with “I want…” In fact, it bugs me so much that the next time you do it…and I hate to do this…but the next time you do it, you won’t get dessert tonight…and believe me, sister, we’re having good dessert.
Lovey does not like that punishment.
No dessert??? That’s enough to make anyone think twice before exhibiting annoying behavior because without dessert, what’s the point of dinner?
Threats, as a Parental Approach, can also be very effective—but they are tricky. Proceed with caution when it comes to threats because it’s easy to get screwed.
Here are some of the finer points of a good threat:
1. Threaten with something that hurts them, but also benefits you. The biggest punishment in our house is “Losing the privilege to pick out your own clothes.” It kills my girls when they don’t get to pick out their own clothers and it kills me that there is a bunch of stuff in their closet that never gets worn. When I am looking for a good threat, pulling their privileges to pick out their own clothes is my go-to. They hate when I choose their outfits and I LOVE IT. Winner winner, chicken dinner!
2. When you’re about to throw down a threat, it’s instinct to take away something that they love—just make sure that you don’t love it too. One year, on Halloween, when Sweet Pea was three years old, she told us that she couldn’t get to the bathroom in enough time to pee, but she could. Trust me. The bathroom was really close. Cody said to her,”I swear, if you pee on this floor, you’re not going trick-or-treating.”
And then everything went into slow motion.
But he did, and she peed.
It was Halloween, the best day EVER, but we couldn’t go back. We had to follow through. The threat had been made and now it was just hanging there, taunting us.
It sucked. But it was a learning experience, for all of us. We learned a lot about parenting and Sweet Pea learned a lot about us. When we say something, we mean it. Even if that means no fun size Baby Ruths for them…or me.
3. While threatening, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Pull something that they like, but not something that you need. Like TV. Everyone takes away TV. It’s a no-brainer. Who doesn’t love TV? TV rules. (I wish I was watching TV right now.) But I’d have to be an idiot to take it away from my kids because sometimes I need it for them. I don’t need it a lot—I don’t even need it every day—but I do need it sometimes so I can get something done or just get a little peace and quiet so, over time, I have taught myself not to land on TV as a threat or punishment.
Which leads me to my last, and favorite, pointer about launching a good threat:
4. Make stuff up. I do this a lot. It works with everything from ice cream to events. Here’s an example:
During the summer, my family lives in Northern Michigan at an overnight camp for kids. At night, after dinner, there is always an Evening Program. My girls love Evening Program. And what’s not to love? It’s a bunch of campers and counselors on stage dancing or singing or doing something entertaining. My kids are young so they don’t get to go to Evening Program every night (they need to go to sleep) but on some nights–special nights–they get to go. Since they don’t always know when we are going to let them go, Evening Program was the perfect “Fake Threat.” OK, you know what? I have had it. I have asked you guys THREE times to do what I say but you’re not, so guess what? No Evening Program for you. Is there anything else you want me to pull? You know I’ll do it.
And they would go nuts.
Of course, after I pulled Evening Program, they would be perfect little angels, begging and pleading to go, but I would stay strong with ease because Hello? They were never going in the first place.
Good one, right?
Parent Voice, as I’m sure you know, is a tried and true Parental Approach. It can be very effective, but there is a time and a place for it. You can only use Parent Voice when you’re sure you will be heard because it’s a very low, very even, very deliberate vocal tone coupled with warning verbage that usually goes something like this:
Parent Voice is a very popular technique for a very good reason: It usually works.
But sometimes it doesn’t, and then I have to yell.
Yelling, to me, is a big deal. I try not to yell a lot. I don’t like yelling, especially in my house. If you want someone, GO GET THEM. Don’t yell across the house. Yelling makes me anxious and it’s loud so then I can’t hear Eminem.
I really only pull out The Yelling when A) My girls have pushed me to a point where I’m about to lose my freakin’ mind and B) I think I have a shot of it working.
I feel like kids who get yelled at a lot eventually become immune to it, and then it loses all of its power. BUT if you don’t yell a lot, and every once in a while you bust some out, it will scare the crap out of your kids and they will know you’re not messing around.
Finally, sometimes I fall on the Flat-Out Defeated approach:
This is where I go when my only other alternative is a valium. I don’t like to over-utilize the Flat-Out Defeated approach because I don’t want my kids to perceive me as weak or vulnerable. Sometimes though, I am. But because I don’t use the approach a lot, it has never failed me.
If you want to try it, this is what you do:
Put your hand to your forehead, sigh audibly and shut your eyes. Shake your head from side to side (very slowly) like you are going to start crying (and maybe you do a little bit—because honestly, you just can’t take anymore)—and then you say to your kids: “You guys, I can’t…I just can’t take it anymore. I am begging you to be good. You are killing me and I think my head is going to spin off of my body. So, please…FOR THE LOVE OF THE LORD, will you please just…STOP?”
And then my kids will be all: “Look at mommy, she’s a wreck. We broke mommy!! We beat mommy!! But wait. Did we? DID we beat mommy or is she reverse psychology-ing us by acting all worn out and defeated?… Curses! I think she IS faking it— so really, SHE won. Damn that mommy! SHE’S SO SMART!!!”
And then I walk away smiling because, at least for that moment, they are right.