Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Posted by Leila
Yesterday's post was incoherent even by my parenthesis-wielding standards.
I think yard work makes my brain a little woozy.
Since the kind of blogs we like to read are the ones with pretty pictures featuring awesome yard sale finds, fabulous food ideas, and vintage quilts, I surmise that all the vast readership of Like Mother, Like Daughter share our taste.
Yet, I will now not talk about those things.
Even if it means that you will click away for a place with shots of retro curtains blowing through a cottage window, I just have to tell you one thing.
A truly happy home is one in which the people love each other and enjoy each others' company.
So, you know what is the one "technique" I witness the most for getting a kid to behave? The one most moms rely on, as far as I can see?
The one that DOES. NOT. WORK. ?
It goes like this: Mom is shopping, sitting in the dentist's office trying to read a magazine, or chatting with other moms at Princess's dance class.
Eventually, she notices that her darlings, who are, let's say, between the ages of 3 and 8, are Not Behaving.They are whining.
They are bickering.
They are hungry.
The are bored.
They are brats.And at that moment she whips it out:
The Weapon of Mass Destruction of All that is Meaningful to Her.
She actively engages in tearing down her own house and sowing her fields with the salt of discontent. She says, without a flicker of thought:
"If you don't stop, you won't watch a movie tonight [get ice cream, go to Disney on Ice tonight with Grandma, get a toy, go to Six Flags next week, play a video game....WHATEVER]."
Now, let's take a look at all the reasons this is a terrible thing to say to a child.1. Has she ever been a child? Does she not know how deadly boring it is to be dragged to the grocery store or to be made to wait for eons while some pointless activity, such as waiting in a waiting room, is being carried out?
Did she plan for this inevitable boredom? Did she bring a coloring book, a book, a toy she keeps just for this type of moment? Could she take a walk with them, look out the window with them, produce a snack?
Does she show any humanity whatsoever in acknowledging to this child, this fruit of her womb and suffering, this hope of her future, that she has indeed put him in a wretched situation over which he has no control and is developmentally unable to see beyond?Does she really think that a six-year-old has the whole picture of his day in mind? Has motherhood really taught her so little?
Does she make any effort to express to him her intention to keep things as short as possible, to get him out of the mess she's gotten him into, to go so far as to cut short her own enjoyment (if such is what she is experiencing at the moment in a conversation or perusal of goods) in order to make his suffering less, if he will just stick with her a little longer?2. Did she take a look to see if he is still bundled up in his winter coat, hat, mittens, scarf, and boots while being dragged through some overheated godforsaken temple of doom that sucks up all her attention; does she even realize that he's burning up and can't tell her, because he's only four, and developmentally unable to separate his desperate boredom from his physical distress?
Does she look at her watch to notice that it's lunchtime, and then remember that he only had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, and that while she's pawing through the clearance rack he's reacting to a dip in blood sugar that would make even an adult crabby?
Has she packed a protein snack -- a few nuts and a half an apple, a piece of cheese and a dried apricot or two, a granola bar -- to tide him over?
Does she seriously have so little mercy that she would go so far as to say to him, "you should have eaten your lunch" when it's now 5:30, with no end in sight to this nightmare they are in?
3. Did she notice that the warning signs of this full-blown whiny crabby state actually began about fifteen minutes ago, and that up until then he actually behaved remarkably well for a prisoner with no recourse to due process?
Did she take any steps to ward off this terrible behavior with remedies for his physical state, sympathy for his plight, or distractions for his mind? Or does she react to him only out of habit, when she notices strangers or persons wholly indifferent to her ultimate happiness (the other ladies at baseball practice or the doctor's office) casting disapproving glances her way?
Had she told him before they arrived exactly what she expected of him? Had she warned him of likely consequences before the meltdown began?
Does she have no insight into the injustice of such lopsided values?4. Speaking of injustice, does she know that her threats can only produce bitterness in one too young to truly understand all the consequences of his behavior?
If she has been so foolish as to promise a far-off good (for what can he know of those? and what if uncontrollable circumstances render them moot?), what can withholding it teach a person whose horizon is at the maximum 10 minutes?
Does she know that he will only taste the bitterness of the dawning realization that this person who should know and love him best is willing to take away things that seem impossibly good -- for no reason that he can see.
Small children are naughty.
They are naughty for a variety of reasons, only a very few of which stem directly from their will.
If the reasons come rather from externalities (boredom, discomfort, hunger, helplessness), what control do they have over them?
If they stem from their will, what does revoking distant rewards accomplish?
Better to give a spanking then and there, risking imprisonment, most likely, than to engage in such futile efforts as threatening to take something distant and wonderful away.
But better still to have known that such behavior was at least a possibility, and to have taken steps to prevent it, if only out of self preservation!
5. What are her motives, anyway?
Either it really pains her to have to deprive her child of a good -- and I guess we would all like to think that we are so very selfless when we have recourse to this method -- or there is some calculation going on here that doesn't reflect well on this lady's purity of character.
Is there a tiny bit of her -- and I've been here too -- that wakes from a stupor of laziness and just wants some control, and just wants a little revenge? Is there a part of her wonderful crystal soul that wants to get back at these creatures who are preventing her from just shopping in peace or just reading a magazine?
And does she really think that the child of her bosom doesn't sense this weakness, and won't exploit it to its fullest?
Because he will. Because, most of all,6. It doesn't work.
Like I said, they can't think that far ahead, so they are reacting (if they do) to the fact of the threat, not the meaning. It's a little dance they've danced before.
If they cry, they appease her for a second, and nothing gets solved. They are still bored, hot, hungry, and crabby.If they are defiant, they get her rolling with a whole host of threatening gestures that make her look very dumb -- their revenge. They are completely in control!
If she threatens something silly, they don't really care, and anyway, whining really works on her, as they know -- they can get her to give in on the ice cream.
I've seen moms who threatened to withhold desserts hand them over before the meal -- after being worked on by a skilled operator.
If she threatens something huge, they know they can work it around. No way is she ruining Grandma's evening out, so they know that's bluster. No way will she cancel vacation -- they know Dad will bail them out of that one.
A young child doesn't have the long view, so none of this crosses their mind at the time, but habit will give them the assurance that things will work out in their favor, even if they can't figure it out right away. So anyone who uses this "technique" is --
--training her children to outwit her.And the final proof that it doesn't work is that there she is, the next time, in the same rut with them -- not planning, not thinking ahead, ignoring, and then threatening.
(And not incidentally, showing them that consideration of strangers' comfort is of no consequence.)
I sit with her at every game. I see her every week at the store. I have seen all of this, and done a little of it myself.
And, saddest of all, I see that she doesn't enjoy being with her kids, because they are always misbehaving and never listening. It's possible that occasions will arise when you need to take away a treat. Keep counsel with yourself and wait and see. If justice demands that you do so, show your children that you are sorry that they can't enjoy something they had looked forward to.And please, for the love of all that is peaceful and holy, think of something else to do to get them to behave! I will help you.