It’s not exactly the best parenting practice to negotiate with your child.
I’m not talking about the “if you help we mow the lawn, I’ll pay you $10” type of negotiation or even the “let’s see if we can eat this whole gallon of ice cream–please don’t tell your mother” type of bargain. I’m referring to the “if you do X, I’ll do Y” type of agreement where X is something that needs to happen anyway.
Taking a bath is hardly worth extra dessert, though sometimes the offer is extended just to avoid the shouting match that’s brewing. Certain things are non-negotiables… and these are the things that often lead to the biggest battles.
My lovely red headed wife once dragged me to a parenting class in nearby Takoma Park. Those unfamiliar with the area shouldn’t get me wrong—I love tye-dye as much as, if not more than the next guy, but there’s something about Takoma Park that drives me up a wall.
Does it have something to do about the time I attempted to sell my books in a hardware store there only to be outsold not only by the individuals who had written biblical defenses of traditional and modern marriages (two different authors!) as well as the home published Beowulf comic book? Nope. That was merely embarrassing (as well as a day of my life that I’d like back).
Does my disdain have anything to do with the pretension of declaring yourself a nuclear free zone? No… but by the way, if you LITERALLY BORDER ON WASHINGTON, D.C., what good does making such a declaration serve beyond making a stated preference for merino wool and homespun candles redundant?
My disdain for the area is completely due to that parenting class… and the mindset of our fellow attendees. “Don’t negotiate with your child,” the instructor repeated numerous times that evening. With the “advice” that would then follow, it became more and more doubtful whether she’d seen an actual human child.
Alleged advice was given along the lines of, “guide your child, but never compromise with them.” In the time since this less than magical evening, I’ve forgotten much of the specific “guidance” that followed.
I do recall the moment I’d truly had enough however.
“If your child refuses to get dressed for school,” the instructor advised, “send them in their pajamas. In a few days they’ll realize the benefit of dressing appropriately.”
I could feel my stomach clenching. I wondered just how much more of this nonsense there was to endure.
“What if they won’t bathe,” someone from the back of the room inquired. My curiosity was mildly piqued. Were people in this room actually learning something?
“Use the same approach,” the instructor replied.
I interrupted before she could offer more special advice. “I violently disagree,” I insisted.
For a moment it became clear to me that maybe the instructor realized she was completely out of her depth. You can only read slides for so long while hoping that time passes quickly. Here someone was potentially offering a different opinion. Perhaps a courteous discussion could consume the remainder of those 90 minutes or two hours..?
“Why wouldn’t you let your child learn for herself,” she asked me with far more condensation than she should have.
Because I don’t have to let me children touch the stove to teach them that it’s hot. There are some things we can teach them that they actually don’t have to learn for themselves. I realize that not touching the stove is actually guidance since technically I’m not offering a reward not to do so.
Being able to spend the evening somewhere other than an emergency room doesn’t count.
Regarding school however, it’s hard enough to learn your way through adolescence without having the reputation of being the smelly kid or the one who showed up in their pajamas that one time.
Life isn’t the Breakfast Club. Not every kid has “being Ally Sheedy” to fall back on. There’s a reason not everyone has run a race in snowshoes… some things are just too hard to attempt as well as completely unnecessary.
When the instructor offered, “we could agree to disagree,” I was completely done and I decided to spend the rest of my time roaming the halls until my lovely red headed wife had also had reached her fill. We’d have laughed about everything on the way home had I not still been seething.
My top goals as a parent are “keep them breathing” and “keep them safe.” Their happiness is important too, but it’s neither 1 nor 1a in terms of priorities.
If you’re still with me, when I sat down to compose this post I’d intended to write of the now legendary tantrum in Disneyworld, but I guess I was distracted with this still too-vivid of a memory. The tantrum will have to be Part Two.
To be continued…
Note: I’ve since published and unpublished part 2. It turned out to be a bit dark. My kids are awesome and nothing on this site should even suggest otherwise, so for now let’s just say there was a meltdown as Disney. Could it have been avoided? Maybe. Was it an ordinary part of childhood? Absolutely. It was merely one of those things that always seems to catch you by surprise. That’s all.