Everything we want our kids to be, makes them a challenge to raise. Independent and self-reliant free-thinkers who will make the world a better place – that’s what we wanted and that’s what we got. Here’s how we coped with the attitude that sometimes came along for the ride:
1. “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed”
When my boys were toddlers, they pulled that old favorite – a public tantrum – only once and when it happened, I refused to react.
I looked away and shook my head, sad and dismayed.
End of tantrum.
I’ve seen kids throw themselves on the floor of a grocery store because their parents wouldn’t buy them a candy bar. The parents freak out and scream at the kid to behave.
Then they give in, and buy him a candy bar.
I always want to lean in and whisper to Mom and Dad, “The kid is five years-old; what’s your excuse?”
2. Calm is better than crazy.
I have control issues and insist on maintaining poise and dignity, even when ice cream is on sale. This is why I rarely raise my voice. When I was a teacher, I flat out refused to allow my students to have that kind of power over my moods.
They simply were not that important and, as a result, I maintained control over my classroom.
Home life worked the same way.
Besides, yelling is counterproductive, ineffective, and I look ridiculous.
The boys smirked at me the one or two times I lost my cool. And that, in turn, made me laugh. The vein popping, twisted lips, and loud voice are kind of funny. So I took it down a notch or two.
The up-side of staying calm? When one of my kids did something truly dangerous, like running in a parking lot or turning on Sean Hannity, the shock of my loud voice, shouting, made them immediately stop.
3. A clean mouth is a happy mouth
After their teething/biting phase, we had a nice peaceful home for a while. Then the boys turned four.
That’s when cursing took hold and a few grown-up words found their way into conversations. All of a sudden, they were name-calling and pushing boundaries.
Most people blame me – after all, I’m the Irish one with a temper. But what most people don’t know about my mild-mannered partner? Dude’s like a Hebrew version of the dad in “A Christmas Story” – cursing, but with some Yiddish words and a much bigger nose.
Really, our kids didn’t have a chance.
I explained that words matter, our house is a haven, and they’d have to earn the right to call someone a “damn fool.” It’s not like they work for a living or have to call customer service for help understanding the cable bill. What the hell do they have to be cursing about?
When that didn’t work, I washed their mouths out with soap. Calmly, without hysterics, I’d swish away all the nastiness. They would gag a little and burp bubbles, but after a few “Dial Treatments,” they stopped calling names.
4. You’re all wet.
At some point, I hoped a cold shower would cure bad attitudes in toddlers like it cured libidos in my college boyfriends. Come to think of it, the results were about the same.
Jake would stand in the water, with arms folded, and ask, indignantly, “Is this how you treat your gift from God?”
5. Stay positive
We formed house rules that focused on what we wanted to see, not what we didn’t.
“Use kind words” instead of “Stop cursing.”
“Walking feet” replaced “Don’t run in the house.”
“Bring mommy a drink” rather than “I’m going to sell you to Mexico if you don’t stop wrecking shit. I hear they pay top dollar for two little white boys.”
You get the picture.
Marc and I had to agree on the family’s governing principles. For example, table manners. If I insisted that everyone chew with their mouths closed, while Daddy breathed through his mouth while eating, the kids would naturally be confused.
We had to get together and decide – are we going to be a family of zoo animals or are we going to behave like human beings?
And then we have to enforce those rules and guidelines every single day. Even when we don’t want to. There are days when Marc would rather lick his fingers than use a napkin. But he plays along because he really does want his kids to be polite.
And for those days when I’m about to run away without leaving a forwarding address, I still remind my kids to slow down, chew with their mouths closed, and hold the fork the right way.
At some point, they have to catch on, right?
7. Model the behavior we seek in others
I had to ask myself, at the beginning of this parenting adventure: How do I behave when I don’t get what I want? Do I take no for an answer? Am I polite and gracious when I lose?
That’s when I decided to stop throwing a shot glass at my friend Julie when she beat me at Jenga.
Try it yourself.
Do you yell or scream when you’re angry? Do you start a fight in your local bar?
Then don’t be surprised when your little boy catches a felony the first time someone outside the family says no to him.
A friend once said that parents shouldn’t do two things in front of their kids: fuck or fight.
I disagree with the fighting part. Marc and I sometimes argue in view of our children to show them how it’s done. We don’t call names, yell, bite, or humiliate.
It’s not a sporting event.
And obviously the serious fights are hashed out in private, simply because we don’t want to burden our kids with grown-up details, or teach them the really bad curse words.
But Marc and I have different opinions on politics, sports, and music, to name just a few topics. And sometimes that’s good for children to see.
We show them how to fight nice and disagree without being disagreeable. No shot glasses needed.
8. If you’re looking for sympathy, you can find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.
I try to remember not to get angry at bad choices. Disappointment and guilt is a homerun. More often than not, mistakes are teachable moments. When our kids fuck up, and they will because we all do, let’s not feel sorry for them.
We should give hugs, love, and kisses, but fight the urge to make it all better. Help them understand the consequences of their actions.
If they don’t like the consequences, they can always change their actions.
That’s how it works.