Problem with rules is that you have to reinforce them. Discipline is a pain. Who has the time or energy for the tantrums that erupt when you put your foot down? The only reason I ever follow through with my parental threats is that I see hints of The Beast that will be if left unchecked, and I could not bear to live with such a creature.
You know the beastly friends that your kid invites over for play dates?—oh come now, every child has at least one Beast friend. They’re like motivational guest speakers visiting your home. Their Napoleonic behavior moves you to say, “Yes! I will build up my parental spine. Yes! I will make my child pick up after himself, I will insist on please and thank you, and I will take back my iPhone!” Because God forbid your child turns into a replica of his snarly/whiny/disrespectful Tasmanian Devil of a playmate.
Forget what’s good parenting/bad parenting, how can anybody tolerate existence with an itty bitty being suffering massive megalomania. How can anyone stand the embarrassment of their wolf child let loose in other people’s homes? After age three, it’s not cute when a kid snatches food out of your hands, or ignores your request to stop banging the table with his plastic bat, and after age five, it’s flipping obnoxious. You know that horrible little guest, who never lets your kid have a turn? Can we just cram that mini-fascist in the freezer to chill out until it’s time for him to go? Would that be wrong?
And when that other parent comes to fetch her small scourge on humanity, you let that mom know her Napoleon had a bit of difficulty sharing and that he even told you to “shut up.” Perhaps you should not be surprised when the response you receive from the other parent is neither embarrassment nor a reprimand of her kid. Instead she simply says to “Feel free to tell Napoleon if he’s being rude.” Ohhhh. Both you and your child are so relieved when that beastly ball of Beezlebub is gone.
At bedtime your child discovers his favorite toy car—the one Napoleon had been fondling all afternoon, asking if he could have it—is no longer in the car box or anywhere else in the apartment. You both know exactly who has it. But how do you ask the other parent to tell her son to return it without out-and-out accusing her son of stealing? You email her, “By any chance do you notice a new yellow and black car in Napoleon’s collection? Napoleon seemed very fond of Max’s favorite car and now it’s missing.” She responds, “Oh! Napoleon said Max gave it to him as a gift! I guess it was a misunderstanding. He’ll give it back to Max in school tomorrow.” Really?
I guess it’s parental instinct to believe the best of your own child. Ultimately, I don’t want to judge other parents. Parenting is a hard enough job without others looking down their noses at you. I spent the first five years feeling desperately insecure as a new mother before I finally began believing that I know what I’m doing—most of the time. Every kid has his or her individual personality. People young and old have different ways of asserting themselves, different levels of receptivity to new ideas and routines, attention to details, consideration of others. So who’s to say I would fair any better in reigning in Napoleon?
But man, it chaps me when I witness a child acting like a jerk and the parent ignores it. If I let you know that your 4 year-old cut in front of my 4 year-old in the line for face-painting, please don’t shrug your shoulders and tell me we have to let her cut or else she will cry. If that same behavior would be unacceptable performed by an adult, fix it now before the kid turns into that unacceptable adult. Let her cry, eventually she’ll stop crying, and the respect you instill in her now will be worth that headache—because you won’t be able to carry her off if she has a tantrum when she is older.
Max sometimes grumbles when I ask him to do something.
“Can you change your shirt?” I say.
“Why are you asking me?” he says. “I don’t really have a choice, do I? You’re forcing me.”
That amazes me. I am amazed that he believes I can force him to do something, when I really can’t. It’s all an illusion, this parental power that he’s endowed upon me. If he refused to switch shirts I would not wrestle him to the ground or beat him up for a wardrobe change. We’ve argued several times about his choices in clothing and I usually can’t convince him of my point. I have to bite my lip when he goes to change his shirt because I want to say, “Really??? You’ll do what I say???”
I’m relieved to have some authority in my household. It’s going to suck when he realizes my authority is mostly in his head. Some parents consider me lax. A few consider me demanding. We parents pick our battles with our children according to how much energy we have left at the end of the day, what kind of behavior we can live with, and our sense of responsibility to society to raise a human being who will not be a jerk to everybody else. It’s a constant give and take between our kids and ourselves as parents. Who they are is determined by many things, one of which is parenting. I am happy to say that I not only love my child, I also LIKE my child and think he’s a cool person to hang out with.
And then one week after the Rocky Horror Playdate Show he asks if Napoleon can please, please, please come over to play again.