I started this as a comment on my friend April’s latest post, then realized I had far too much to say for the realm of a blog comment.
I did not go to parenting classes. At no time did I have a sit-down with my own parents and mine them for tips, tricks and guidelines on how to raise a child. (Besides, I have two girls, and my mom raised three boys. The two situations plainly have no common ground. When was I ever going to use sage wisdom on how to to avoid being hit by a pee stream that could be intelligently controlled?). At the time our first child was born, we only really knew one other couple our own age that had kids, and we rarely saw them.
What I’m getting at here is that I’m self taught, as I believe most parents are. Sara and I are making it up as we go, armed only with the memories of our own upbringing and our desires to mimic or improve on them. Or if that doesn’t work maybe we’ll just throw the whole thing in the crapper and create something brand new. There are some days we’d like to. The truth is, you don’t need a fully fleshed game plan on the day your child is born. In their first year they’re going to spend spend half of their time sleeping, half of their time eating, and the other half of their time pooping . You don’t even need to have a rough draft to deal with that, but you will need lots of coffee and an open prescription for Ambien until they decide to start doing the first two on your schedule.
There is no set day when you need to know everything about how you’re gonna raise your kids. There is no morning that you wake up and all of a sudden need to know how to act. It happens too slowly. You end up making one new decision after another and before you know it you’re parenting. Yeah… surprise! What you do need is a framework to hang all those decisions on. You need a unifying theme. This is mine: I’m in charge.
Kids may be young, but they are not stupid. By age five they understand cause and effect far better than you might think you do. If you give in to their every whim, fulfill their every wish, give them every time they ask for when they ask for it then you have just taught them that they are in control, not you. I will not be that guy. Hell no. I’m in charge. What I say goes. While you live under my roof, my word is law. And yes, it is a dictatorship, and I am the dictator. I did not spend twenty years of my life doing what an adult told me to do only to have my child take over that job for another twenty. I did not fight for my right to party so that I could be the one serving the drinks. To that end I share with you the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of a parent who has decided that they hold the reins, and not their kids:
The word NO.
We have only two responses when the kids try and take control: “No”, and “I already said No”. Example: Bedtime is bedtime. No excuses. You want another drink of water? No. You want to go and look for your doll after you were told to put her in your bed half an hour ago? No. Absolutely have to use the bathroom again for the second time in fifteen minutes? No. No bargaining. No questions. No deals. No. When the situation advances to screaming and wailing, you take away the doll. More? The pillow. More still? The blanket.
It’s not easy. It sucks. You can feel like a monster. They’ll probably call you worse. But they will learn that you are the one in control, that you make the rules, and they need to listen and obey. No questions. Giving in to your kids and letting them run the show is the easy way out. It only seems hard when they have you running around at their command. It’s harder to say no and stand your ground. It’s harder to have to live with the feeling that you’re being overly harsh, when you’re not. You don’t do it to be cruel. You don’t do it for a feeling of superiority. You do it for their own good. You do it because when the day comes that you need those kids to listen to you and to do what you say, you’ll know that they will. If they were walking unknowingly into oncoming traffic and you told them to stop, would they? Mine will. And they’ll thank me for it.