Parenting lesson #18: You will use the same phrases your parents said to you that you swore you would never use


Every parent will experience this moment.  No matter how much you swore to yourself up-and-down as a child that you would never torture your own children with that phrase, you will hear it out of your mouth.  And then (GASP!), out of your child’s mouth.

We were driving away from church yesterday when Eliza asked if we were going to the pool.  And I said something like, “We can probably do that, but after naps.”  And she said, “We can do it the easy way or the hard way.”  Gulp.  There it was.  I heard this Larry-ism (my dad) echoing in the recesses of my brain and realized that there was no way she came up with that on her own.  Especially because when she said it, it didn’t make any sense.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”  It hung in the car and Greg and I looked at each other.  I envisioned all those mornings before school growing up.  I thought I had forgotten these terrible memories, but I had not.  My dad has a growlish sound to his voice when he’s angry.  You knew you had tested him to his limits when he got to this point.  And he got angry just about every morning when it came time to brush my teeth.  (As an orthodontist’s daughter, I was destined to rebel against dental care.)  I have obviously blocked out what I could have possibly done to deserve that phrase.  But I can imagine that the exchange every day included at least these three things:

“Why do I have to brush my teeth?”

“I don’t want to.”

And the best one, “You can’t make me!”

I understand now so clearly how frustrating I was to my dad.  I always knew that we had reached the end of the battle when he would bark, “Christine, we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” And he would sprawl me horizontally on his lap and pin me down as I screamed, kicked and twisted my head.  The torture of it all!  How dare he brush my teeth!

Looking back, I think I so hated this phrase because it signified defeat.  I do not like to give in.  And here I am.  Thirty years later, I have done this to my two children.  I have pinned their puny arms down with one of mine while saying this weighty phrase and forcing a toothbrush into their little traps.  At least I believe I say it rationally and calmly, without the growl.  These days, the kids are both great at allowing us to brush their teeth.  They generally don’t fight it at all.  As with anything involving children, though, it is an unpredictable pattern and I have no idea if we will regress back to these necessary teeth-brushing battles.  And so the phrase will live on, despite my desire to retire it.  There are some matters in which children do not have a choice.  I can’t think of a better way of explaining to them that there are some things they must do; the power they have is in how they do them.  There is an easy way and a hard way for a lot of things.

Just as I eventually stopped squirming in my father’s arms as he tried to be a good dad, I will give in to using this phrase, and at least attempt to use it only when needed – and even then, without the growl.

Have you heard your mom or dad speaking through you?

The right punishment is so hard to figure out


My current reference reading

There are some scenarios parenting books just can’t help you with.  Honestly, most of them seem pretty worthless when you’re in the thick of things.

Sure, I have read about how to discipline, and how to handle strong-willed children.  But I confess that a lot of the time, I am unsure how to handle my kids.  Zach is still in his screaming and tantrum phase, and Eliza hasn’t outgrown hers (while she continues to question everything you say), so we’re in an interesting vortex of pain and chaos.

In the moment, I often find myself acting calmly (trying very hard not to scream and yell like them), but the discipline that comes out still somehow leaves a bad parenting stench.  It’s like I don’t have enough time to think through what the consequences I’m doling out will actually mean for all of us.

This morning, I was upstairs when Eliza and Zach broke out fighting downstairs over what turned out to be my phone – something they didn’t have permission to be playing with in the first place.  After calling Eliza to me four times and her not responding by coming, but rather with, “Mommy, will you put on another TV show?”, I trudged downstairs, picked up Eliza, and as I walked her up the stairs, told her she would be going to her room for breakfast so she and Zach couldn’t fight over things.  She proceeded to throw a complete temper tantrum about wanting to eat at the table.  I didn’t budge, because I’m afraid of being a sucker who can be talked out of following through by a 3-year-old.  Of course, as Zach was fighting too, I thought it only fair to have him eat his breakfast in his room by himself as well.

The good news is that this is not going where you might think.  I DID have the sense to make something that wasn’t super messy.   (Thank God I put thought into what I served them, if nothing else!)  But as I listened to them scream and holler as I separated them to – what was my end game?  Oh yes, stop the screaming – I realized my plan hadn’t worked.  And there were crumbs all over Eliza’s bed to clean up.

In the end, Eliza and I talked about everything that went wrong, but still it didn’t feel like a victory.  In hindsight, I could have just taken the phone away from them and let that be punishment enough for fighting over it.  Sometimes I just need to remember to give myself time – maybe a count to ten moment when I put them in their rooms so they’re safe – while I come up with an appropriate reaction.  When I act swiftly and carry a big stick, I don’t necessarily get the hoped for outcome.  It’s just sometimes the big stick feels so right and justified in the moment.  Am I a bad parent, or am I being too hard on myself?

I could just bang them over their heads with one of the several parenting books on the shelf …

Getting away will cost you: the aftermath of grandma


We're on a boat ... without the kids!

I came home to my normal life from our anniversary getaway and wondered how on earth anybody does this.

Before I begin, I know my mom is going to read this, so first of all, mom, you know how I feel about you and this is not reflective of you doing anything wrong; rather, this is more about the grandma’s right to spoil her grandchildren.

Getting away without the kids was fabulous.  There was peace.  There was quiet.  I even read for fun, instead of all the non-fiction how-to parent stuff.  But after being home from our trip for about 15 minutes, I realized my life is consumed by constant, loud noise: Eliza singing her ABC’s on repeat; Zach screaming at the top of his lungs to get my attention, clenching his fists by his side like he just kicked the winning soccer goal in the European Cup; Eliza tapping on me in mid-conversation, saying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy – look at me!”; me asking her to give me a few minutes to talk to Omi (grandma); Zach crying because Eliza took away his car while singing her ABCs; Eliza switching to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” because I asked her to sing something different (funny – different words, but same, darned tune).

Unless they are sleeping, there is always noise.  And if there isn’t any noise while they’re awake, then there is trouble.  You can’t win.

The contrast is stark between the quiet of an adult-filled lake house and the ear-damaging loudness of my kid-filled house.  It was amazing to realize just how much ambiance I hear on a daily basis.  But there was something else.  I also realized the kids were tired and more used to getting what they wanted when they wanted it.  There were more whining demands and tantrums.  It has been tough adjusting.

I’ve tried to embark on a re-training schedule.  Even today, Eliza whined to me that she wanted to go downstairs to play with her kitchen, so I turned off the TV and starting to go with her, and then she threw a fit about wanting to finish what was on TV.  In that moment, I felt like a puppet, and instead of caving into her antics, I picked her up, took her to bed, and told her it was nap time.  Her tantrum got worse, turning into one of those times she could barely get her words out amid her tears and gasps for air.  I kept my cool and didn’t budge, and she realized her efforts were futile.  I walked away.  She fell asleep.  Which is exactly what she needed.

I read one mom’s perspective today that when her kids were little, she could never get enough sleep.  And when they were toddlers, she never had enough patience.  It’s so true.  Although I still don’t get enough sleep, patience is really what rearing toddlers and pre-schoolers requires.  I am a broken record of behavior correction and modeling.  Sometimes I am dumbfounded by how many times both Zach and Eliza will test whether I mean what I say.  And since grandma came, I’ve had a lot more testing.

But our trip was still worth it.  We’re getting back to normal, little by little (which is to say a place that still requires vast vats of patience).  It is really hard, but it is also really awesome.  And at least today, I know I can do this.