The stream from the water gun catches me under my skirt and I holler. And then the little bum shoots again. “Cinder!” I yell, tossing my own empty water gun far, far away from me. “Look, no weapon! I’m out!” He blasts me again.
“Dude! Remember that carrot cake we’re planning to get when we go to Eau Claire? There are two distinct futures ahead of you. One of them involves eating a delicious carrot cake. The other has me poking you in the bohunkus with a fork. Which one are you going to choose?”
My friend Neela, skirting the edges of the water gun fight, laughs. “That’s an interesting parenting technique,” she says, half-serious. “You should blog about it.”
“And call it what, how to disguise threats, punishments and rewards with words?” I ask. I’m soaking wet. Cinder’s backed off; he’s chasing Flora and her friend Jenny now. They’re still fully armed and firing back.
Neela gives my flippant statement serious thought. “Words are powerful,” she says. “Syntax, semantics, all that matters. I’d never say, ‘If you get into your pajamas, girls, I’ll get you ice cream.’ But I do say…” she thinks for a moment… “Oh, ‘Girls in pajamas who report to the kitchen will get ice cream.’” She laughs. “Because, you know, ice cream before bed is a routine snack in my house.” (I leave it up to you to determine if she’s joking or not… or if it matters.)
Neela and I round up the combatants and take them to Eau Claire. The moms get coffee; the kids sweets. Cinder gets carrot cake, not a fork in the bohunkus. Flora gets a lecture about gratitude, and Neela and I talk about … gratitude, entitlement, and the too-easy-too-cross line between coercive discipline and … what? we’re not quite sure what to call it. Words, words, words. But as Neela said before, and says again, words are important.
Cinder’s running around, stealing Jenny’s shoes in order to lure her off the blanket where she’s chatting with Flora and get her to chase him. Then he plays Frisbee with Ender. Then returns to “annoying the girls.” Later, he’ll tell me, “Well, the trip wasn’t a total loss. I got to annoy the girls.” “D’you have to do that?” I’ll sigh. “It’s sort of my job,” he’ll retort.
And my job, as Cinder’s mother, is to… well, to make sure that the “annoying the girls” doesn’t cross a certain line. To encourage peace and harmony when possible, and to minimize the bloodshed (usually metaphorical) and help negotiate truces and separations when necessary.
And to muddle along that path the best way I can, on any given day, in any given moment. And yeah, sometimes it means waving the carrot (cake).
(You know I’d never really poke him in the bohunkus with a fork, right? He knows I’d never do it. I’m pretty sure he knows… hold on. “Cinder? Do you think I’d ever poke you in the butt with a fork?” Pause. “Probably not. Um… Well, you might.” “Really? You think I’d…” “I think if I poked you first, you might.” “But you’re not gonna, right?” “Well…” Fuck. Not exactly the reassurance I was looking for…)
The muddling continues.
For “Neela.” Based on events of August 1, 2012. First published August 3, 2012, Nothing By The Book.
Seriously love your parenting advice and got to remember the carrot cake, lol!!
Carrot cake makes most things better. Not as effectively as chocolate, mind you…
Ha Ha! I do stuff like that all the time!
Stab your kids in the butt with a fork? I knew it!
Threats and bribes always work best when paired together.
And when delivered with panache.
I agree. Language is culture, and though we try hard to forget it, it shapes our worldview.
But tomorrow’s post is still on auto-pilot!
There is a new parenting trend out there for parents to avoid using threats and bribes as parenting tools. But I say, Give me a break! It works. And I’m not spanking and I’m not doing it just to be coercive. When I offer someone an incentive (bribe) I really mean it and kids can be motivated that way. When I offer a consequence (threat) I really mean that too. Should I take ten times as long to discuss with them their potential to be motivated for their own internal reasons? Maybe sometimes. But I think they’d rather wear earplugs than listen to me if I did that every single time I want them to change their behavior.
So, Cheers! I enjoyed this post.
Cinder and I have this “Do I need to do the lecture?” “No!” exchange we do every once in a while… I should buy him ear plugs…
I prefer to think of it as negotiating in terms they understand mixed with a dash of surely she’s joking? It works and I’m pretty sure it won’t fuck them up. Bohunkus is a great word, by the way.
I’m coming to the conclusion that precious little will actually seriously fuck them up. I mean, within the universe of responsible, non-criminal parenting, you know? They’re gonna turn out just fine–the way they’re intended to–almost totally regardless of what I do. I wish I had read THAT book before I had kids… would have made the first few years much less stressful!