The year is 2011. The day is Wednesday, and the place is my local Target store. My husband and I decided to hit the store after a day of moviegoing with the kids, pizza, and games. Needless to say, the kids had no cause for complaints today, however where there’s a will, there’s a way. And my son found that way at Target where he proceeded to throw a tantrum and complain that he “never gets anything!” Of course, his tantrum continued and was as loud and annoying as one of those car alarms that randomly go off in the parking lot with no owner in sight.
By this time, it was close to 5 p.m. and we had been out since 10:30 that morning and my patience was long gone. Every second that his tantrum continued, I could feel my blood literally rise inside me. My husband had already bailed and was nearly to the electronics department by now, as he was more of the “just give him what he wants to keep him quiet” mindset. Uh, I don’t think so! It will be a cold day in July in Tucson before I give in to a tantrum from anyone, much less a five-year-old! So I pulled him aside in the sporting goods section and had a little powwow with him. I expressed that his behavior was unacceptable and that throwing a tantrum will guarantee a NO to nearly any request large or small. I gave him two options: 1. Continue to throw the tantrum and forget about ice cream (as was planned before the tantrum), or 2. Calm down, behave, and we would consider the toy for our next visit there. Our conversation took about four minutes, ending with him making the decision to behave and calm down. After we got the ice cream and we finally got home, I was absolutely spent! I was exhausted, mostly mentally, but emotionally and physically as well. It was astonishing because I had to use strategy, psychological tactics, and remember everything I learned from Sun Tzu about negotiation skills just to handle my five-year-old!
Thirty-five years ago that scenario would have never taken place. Not only that, but as a child I would have never even contemplated behaving in such a manner. I came from the “spare the rod, spoil the child” days, and no parent was going to let either of those happen. There was no discussion about anything. It was very simply, “because I said so!” Enough said. And if a child was brave, daring, or just dumb enough to question that, the next answer came in the form of a belt across the backside. If one happened to live in Virginia (as I did for quite a few years), where bushes were aplenty, you then got to pick your own “weapon of mass destruction” as it were, otherwise known as a switch. Ahhh yes, you got to go out to the bush, pick off a thin, long branch, de-leaf it, and hand it over so that someone else could swat your bottom with it. One swipe of that switch and you could hear the distinct “whish” that it made as it cut through the air. At least I didn’t have to say thank you when it was over.
Granted, looking back, those days may have been a bit harsh in my mind. I’m betting they’d be considered a lot harsh by many these days. As a mom though, I have to say those tactics worked. I had the fear of God and my dad in me. He wasn’t mean at all, but all it took was a look from him (or my mom for that matter, promptly followed by a “wait till your father gets home) to put the kibosh on any possible stray thought that may have accidently wandered into my mind about misbehaving.
And so as I stood in the baseball aisle of Target, catching my breath after having negotiated good behavior out of my son, I wondered: when did it all change? When did discipline become a negotiation of sorts? I thought to myself, Now I get it! I understood why spankings were so prevalent when I was growing up. They’re easier! They are to the point. They don’t leave room for lengthy negotiations. Teaching a child about choices, guiding them to help them make the right decisions, educating them about consequences, and showing understanding and patience all the while are not only time-consuming, but downright tiring. The question is: is it worth it in the end? I sure hope so. Ask me in ten years.
I do know this though, I love that my kids ask why. I love that they are tenacious and persistent. Those are powerful tools and qualities that will serve them well in adulthood. Ralph Bunche said, “To make our way, we must have firm resolve, persistence, and tenacity. We must gear ourselves to work hard all the way. We can never let up.” If that’s the case, then my kids are half way there!
For now, it’s their job to ask as many questions as they can think of. It’s their job to push the limits and try to expand the boundaries to their benefit. They are like mini Jedis and I’m like a Jedi Master. It’s my job to teach them how to best wield their power and control those tools, and to do it with love and understanding. Of course arming myself a smidge of cleverness, a skosh of craftiness, and a dash of “one-step-ahead-of-the-game” just might get me through this unscathed. Exhausted, but unscathed.