And by tough love I mean I have no fear of being the mean parent, when necessary. Whether that trait came from my stalwart father or bigger-than-life grandfather I can’t say. But what I do know is that my veins can run ice cold when the situation warrants.
I can remember, when I was still married, our daughter was just starting to walk. In the week’s leading up she had done what any up-and-coming toddler would do, she crawled, walked, stumbled, fell, and got up again. Even at that age she wasn’t one to be outdone and mastered the art form in record time. With her new locomotive powers she was suddenly lord of everything she surveyed. Sensing the inevitable, we purchased those doorknob covers that keep children from going where they shouldn’t be and scattered them on doors throughout the house. What we didn’t know was that our little one was an engineer in training and had figured out how to to open the doors anyway.
Along with her newfound mobility came improved climbing skills and fearing she might face plant one random night crawling out of her crib we decided to move to stage two of her all-in-one and give her a big-girl bed. Excited about her new sleeping upgrade, I tucked her in the first night with little fuss. In no more than ten minutes I heard her bedroom door open and I looked up to find my shaggy blonde princess staring back at me through the banister spindles with a grin ear-to-ear.
With a stern warning I tucked her back in the bed telling her to stay put. After repeating the same drama two more times that night I finally got her down for the count. I obviously hadn’t thought this entirely through and realized a cure was going to require extreme actions. I had no intention of taking a part time security guard job every night it was bedtime.
While the solution to the problem was simple it wouldn’t have won me any “Parent of the Year” awards. What I was looking for was a way of keeping her in the bed instead of poking around to see what daddy was doing. I wasn’t mechanical enough to rebuild the crib and putting barbed wire around the walls of her room wouldn’t match the decor. So after giving it further thought I landed on a resolution that probably bordered on child abuse. Simply put, I decided to reverse the door handles and lock her inside her room. I realize this was a tad Draconian and could have warranted a Child Services investigation but given the other alternatives it seemed workable.
In the 90’s there was a sitcom called Mad about You. It starred Helen Hunt and Paul Riser as a 30-something couple living in a NYC apartment with their dog. Eventually she gets pregnant and has a little girl named Mabel. If you were a fan then you probably remember the episode of them trying to get Mabel to sleep in her crib alone for the first time. They put her in, kiss her good night, and turn the lights off. As soon as the door shuts Mabel bursts into hysterics. The next scene shows mom and dad cowered in the hallway just outside their daughter’s room holding each other with tears flowing and desperately fighting the urge not to run in and save their child from being mauled by the lion that was obviously hiding in her closet. It was heartwarming episode that brought tears to many viewers’ eyes.
I wasn’t one of them.
After tucking her in, I kiss her goodnight, turn off the lights, shut the door and lock it. No sooner had I taken my hand off the knob than…
After the third attempt her whining starts. It’s like an ambulance siren you hear off in the distance but is coming at you. The longer I stood there the louder and more frantic her cries became. At one point it sounded like she was surely being eaten alive by dingo’s, but I knew she was dry, fed, and wasn’t injured; she just wanted out, badly. However, unlike Helen and Paul, I wasn’t crouched in the floor watching the confidence in my parenting slowly slipped away – I actually thought it was hilarious and recall holding back the laughter as she carried the theatrics.
After about fifteen minutes of this she finally decided it was getting her nowhere. She abruptly stopped and crawled back into bed and within five minutes she was out cold. She attempted to escape her teddy bear laden prison on a few more occasions the following nights, but by the weekend I was able to switch the knobs back without further incident.
I was feeling like the smartest father that ever lived.
I always think of that day when I butt heads with one of my kids now. My sandy blonde baby girl is almost ten with her own opinions and my eight-year-old son already thinks he rules the world. But amidst all the change one thing has remained constant. I’m still that daddy who doesn’t fall for lame bullshit.
My parenting style is pretty simple. I spell out the boundaries, let them know the consequences if they go outside them, and hold to my guns if they do. But even after all of this time when they do get out of line and I follow through they still attempt to pour on the guilt trip, especially my son. When he gets in trouble or doesn’t get what he wants he can produce a stare that cuts down to the bone; first he whines and then he sulks. By the look on his face there’s no question I’m the worst parent on the planet. He’ll avoid or ignore me; he may run up to his room or disappear outside, and sometimes even act like I don’t exist. All because he is mad.
And I still think it’s funny every single time he does it.
The Queen has two teens and I get to watch first hand what I’m in for. She has great kids but teenagers will be teenagers and playing the guilt trip card and acting like they hate you doesn’t seem to improve as they get into Middle or High School. I often remind her that their pity parties, sulk sessions, and angry glares are just an act. Since things didn’t get their way they are exacting revenge in the only way they know how. Since breaking up or moving out isn’t an option, what else can they do? If I notice that their guilt having the desired effect I’ll tell her
“…they ‘ll be mad at you until they need to go somewhere or want you to buy them something then you’re back to being the best parent, ever.”
And as predicted when one of them wants to go to the mall all is suddenly right with the world again.
I learned early on that searching for my kids’ approval and parenting to their emotions doesn’t work. The most important thing I must remember is being their parent doesn’t mean being their friend and there are going to be lots of time when I make a decision that’s in their best interest that they are going to hate me for.
But then I feel better because that tells me I must be doing something right.