At one time, those of us who are now parents were just innocent bystanders
judging observing other people parenting their own children. We watched as they played with, dined with and yes, even disciplined their kids. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all had opinions about those parents and the job they were doing for better or worse.
Long before I had my own babies, I would see moms and dads do things and think “I will never do that with my kids” or better yet “my kids will never do that.” It’s not about being judgmental or self-righteous. I truly believed that I could do things differently.
Then I had kids.
The minute that my daughter was born, my perspective was forever altered. Instead of standing by as an impartial observer, I was the one making the decisions and dealing with the consequences. It’s a heck of a lot easier to stand firm in a hypothetical situation than it is when a two year old is sitting on the floor of the grocery store, wailing at your feet.
No parent is immune to the unpredictable tantrum of a toddler and regardless of how the situation is addressed, there are always repercussions. Stick to your guns and not only do you have to deal with an unhappy child, but the reactions of onlookers as well. Do you haul the offending child out of the store and leave your cart (and the half hour’s worth of groceries) behind? Or do you stay in line and suffer the glares and comments of other customers and pray the clerk will make it snappy? On the other hand, you can opt to give in “just this once” and face the possibility of how this will impact future shopping trips down the road. Spoiler alert: it’s not good.
Parenting is an amazing undertaking but it’s not always pretty.
Take a recent trip to our neighborhood pool for example. My daughter can now swim well enough to play in the pool independently under the watchful eye of an adult. Apparently with this new swimming ability, she’s also developed “pool ear.” Pool ear is a mysterious force that compels my child to spontaneously dive under the water any time that I give any sort of instruction, thereby rendering her unable to hear what I’ve said. It seems that this affliction is most dominant when it’s time to leave the pool.
I’ve seen many other families help their children out of the pool when they’re reluctant to leave. Typically there’s an advanced warning, which we use as well, some sort of “five more minutes” announcement. Then maybe one follow-up warning if their children are also victims of “pool ear” and may have missed the initial warning. Finally it’s time to get out. We like to think that our children will be the ones who hear an instruction and instantly obey without hesitation. If your kids do this every time, then well done. But sometimes the fun is too alluring and obedience falters. In this case, the parent must become The Enforcer and help their child to obey. Too often it goes a little something like this…
Mom (aka The Enforcer): I know you’re having fun, but it’s time to go.
Kid: (I know I should do what you say but I can’t hear you under the water so I guess I’ll keep playing.)
Mom: It’s time to leave. I will give you to the count of 3 to get out of the pool.
Kid: (I love swimming. Swimming is so much fun.)
Mom: 1…2… I mean it. It’s time to leave the pool. 2 and a half… I’m serious. We are leaving. 1…2… Get out of the pool now.
Kid: (This could go on forever so I’ll just keep swimming until she gets mad.)
This goes on and on until the offending child finally decides they’ve pushed it far enough or The Enforcer has offered up some sort of alternative consequences (e.g. if you don’t get out now, we’re not coming back for a week.)
Of all the ways I envisioned raising obedient kids, this is one area I actually stuck true to my pre-parenting opinions, mostly because I find the scene above to be utterly annoying as an observer AND as a mom. So here’s how it goes in our family…
THERE IS NO TWO AND A HALF.
Me: Time to leave.
Pinakalicious (aka my daughter): (spontaneous compulsion to dive under water and ignore me).
Me (when she comes up): Get out of the pool now. 1…2…3. (Reaching into the pool and pulling Pinkalicious out of the water).
Usually I don’t get to three. But she’s a child and so sometimes I do. If she isn’t climbing out by three, I’m helping her out of the water myself. If I have to get in the pool to do so, then that’s what happens. I don’t like it and neither does she, but I’m not about to stand on the side of the pool and count to three six times until my daughter in all of her six year old stubbornness has decided to do what I say.
I’d like to say that I’m a parenting guru with perfectly well-behaved children, but I’m not. I struggle in so many ways all the time. But if there’s one thing that I want to make sure my kids know, it’s that I will never stop trying to be the best parent I can be, even if that means I have to jump into the pool to teach them about what it means to follow through when I set boundaries.