Category Archives: Parenting

Cruel to be kind

(Children mentioned. Originally posted at Mile High Mamas.)

If my son forgets to wear a coat on a chilly October day, he experiences cold.

If my daughter forgets to bring the lunch I pack for her, she experiences hunger.

Neither experience will cause lasting damage. In fact, my hope is that such lessons will leave lasting impressions.

I want my children to pay consequences they can afford. Like the time Tessa left her brand new Thumbelina on a playground swing, and we weren’t able to find it when we went back the next day. Tuition for this lesson? About $20 and a bucket of tears.

Or when Reed didn’t have enough money to buy the Power Ranger costume he wanted (we kicked in the first $10) because he shot his piggy bank wad in a manic spree at Chuck E Cheese. Tuition for this lesson? About 20 minutes of tantrum.

Most times, it would be easy to bail them out. To bring the coat, the lunch, to school. To buy another doll or spring for the costume. Time and money are small prices to pay to avoid tears, right?

True. But wrong. I think we do our kids a disservice when we separate their actions from the natural consequence of those actions.

It takes love to allow them to feel a little pain.

If our kids learn with small consequences, they are more likely to be able to avoid the big consequences. By “big,” I mean getting a costly ticket (or worse) for speeding. I mean getting arrested for shoplifting or being involved in a drunk-driving accident or facing an unplanned pregnancy — any of these could be natural consequences of their actions. If my children grasp that there is a link between what they do (or don’t do) and the results, they will, I hope, make more logical decisions.

So I hide my heartache when Tessa wails over her lost doll. I stay strong when Reed pulls out all the stops to get me to buy him the object of his affection. My children may never know how hard it is for me to be mean* and how I struggle to keep my eyes on the prize.

Sometimes mean = love. And it’s not easy being mean.

* OK, so deeeeep down inside, I’m going, “Bwahahahahaha!” But in my defense, it’s very, very deep.)

WWSMD? What Would a SAINTLY Mother Do?

So I’m sitting at my kitchen table, keeping an eye on the kids in the backyard while I work on the laptop. I’ve got reports spread all over the table with inky notes on them representing hours of analysis.

Tessa asks if she can turn on the hose. I say yes and watch her do so, telling her to turn down the pressure a bit.

Tessa and Reed squirt each other an squeal with delight for several minutes. I step away for a moment to put laundry into the dryer.

When I get back, Holy Crapoly! Water is showering in through the kitchen window — all over the laptop and the my clients’ photos.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” I yell loud enough to scare the neighbors. I can see that Tessa has attached a fan-type sprinkler to the end of the previously naked hose, and she’s ordered Reed to turn on the water full blast, which he does in his usual dutiful manner. “TURN OFF THE WATER…..IF YOU DON’T TURN THAT OFF RIGHT NOW I’M GONNA…” The thoughts are finished in my head, but luckily the words don’t come out of my mouth.

In an instant I decide to head for the water source, though in hindsight it would have been better to get to the window and close it.

I’m blocked at the door by the spray of water, but I forge through and take the patio steps down two at a time to the faucet and turn it off.

“Get inside the house. NOW!” I yell. Reed begins to cry. I laser my anger at Tessa.

I scream at her with my aching, streppy throat: “You’re SIX!” (This fact needs to be pointed out to her frequently, since Tessa believes she’s actually 19 and can thus remove splinters from her brother’s thumb with a needle, watch Sex and the City DVDs with me, answer my business telephone, and boil water for french-pressed coffee — which resulted yesterday in a burned potholder.) “You do NOT get to put on sprinklers! YOU’RE FREAKING SIX!!

By now I am totally out of control, shaking my head like a crazy woman and waving my arms madly.

“Look at this table! My computer is ruined — and the reports, too!” They scamper inside. “Get in your rooms, both of you!”

To unload some of my anger I stomp my feet on the kitchen floor. This scares Reed, who is terrified in his room, crying that he didn’t do anything (which is mostly true). I feel bad for him.

Tessa is at first defiant. “I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING!” she matches my anger. “Reed turned on the water; IT’S REED’S FAULT!”

This re-enrages me. “You’re SIX and he’s FOUR! You TOLD him to turn it on! Whatever happens to the computer is YOUR — FAULT! YOU’RE — SIX!” my teeth are gritted as I struggle to avoid words I’d regret.

I see myself out of control, ugly, mean. But I can’t stop. I know I’m going to wish I’d handled this better, more calmly. And since all the windows are open, I’m sure the neighbors are hearing my rant. I wonder if anyone is calling social services, or the state mental hospital.

I grab a towel and wipe off the laptop. Luckily, it’s positioning has protected the keyboard and screen, and I’m able to wipe off the non-vital parts. No harm. My pulse rate begins to lower, and I consciously breathe. I remember that Reed is scared.

I go to his room and tell him it’s OK. That it was an accident and he couldn’t have known what would happen. I apologize to him for losing my cool.

By now, Tessa has also come around. I can hear her in her room sobbing, “It’s all my fault. I ruined Mom’s computer. It was me. All me.”

I go in and embrace her. I tell her we were lucky — the computer isn’t ruined. I tell her, “Tessa, you’re six. You could not have known what would happen when you attached that sprinkler, but I could. That’s why you need to ask anytime you do something new.” I also acknowledge the fact that she has taken responsibility.

She nods. She cries and apologizes. We gather the papers and she helps me clean up the table.

What Would a Saintly Mother Do? Don’t ask me. I’m more Joan Crawford than Mother Theresa. Today, anyway.