Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Persuading Our Kids That We're In Charge

How many times have you repeated the following sentence to your child or children,"Because I'm the mommy, that's why!" And on how many occasions have they muttered under their darling little breaths, "You're not the boss of me."

I have one of those platitudes-of-the-day calendars. Last Tuesday it read: "One of the hardest things about rearing children is convincing them that you have seniority." Oh my goodness; a truism if there ever was one. My kids go back and forth on recognizing that their father and I are, in fact, in charge. We are in charge of setting rules and following through on consequences when - notice I didn't day "if" - the edict is broken or bent. We have the power to overrule a decision of theirs that we feel is perhaps iffy, dangerous or not well thought out. This is in theory anyway.

Children seemed to be hard wired to challenge our authority even from a young age. During the "terrible twos" - an aptly named period if there ever was one - they begin chanting "no!" at every turn. They constantly screw their otherwise adorable faces up into a fierce visage and decry "why?!" And our response is the patented one from above:"Because I'm the mommy, that's why." Both my daughter Jess, now 15, and one of my older sons, Kenny, 23, disputed me on that one from toddlerhood through their teens (Jess I'm afraid has a few more years of the annoying line of questioning "why?"). Each whined and still whine that "because" isn't answer enough, I need to be more specific, which more times than not leaves me a bit stumped, if not also stupefied.

My litany of reasons include,"Because you're not old enough, responsible enough, because you can get hurt, because it costs too much, because I'm older than you, dammit!" Yeah, the last one is pretty lame. I don't endorse the occasional swear word, but it works sometimes. I'm older, I have been where you are now, I made mistakes and I am wiser for it. So just shut up and do as I say. Again, I don't really say "shut up" out loud, of course, except when one of my kids has really pushed my buttons too hard or campaigned for their way to excruciating proportions. This honest declaration in print is a little awkward, but something tells me that I am not alone with these particular verbal parenting indiscretions.

I don't think the phrase "You're not the boss of me" was really employed much when Kenny and Blake were younger, but Jack and Jess certainly never tired of during their stints in elementary school and perhaps through the fifth grade. In their heart of hearts they do know that I am the one with seniority, yet when has a teenager not challenged their parent's authority? It is part of their job description. But - and this is an important "but" - they can and eventually do realize that rebellion often comes with a price; left to their own devices, their own rules, situations don't routinely turn out quite the way they envisioned. Heeding mom or dad's advice might have been the better part of valor.

I can feel quite elderly and stereotypically parental when I utter the words,"When I was your age, these are the mistakes I made..." yet every so often my kid will actually pay attention. It appears that they will take in the obvious fact that yes, mom is indeed older and wiser than me, and battle-scarred. And if she didn't love me she wouldn't forbid certain behaviors or decisions I would like to act on. Sometimes even the simple one word comeback of "because" is enough.

So hang in there everyone. Do not abdicate to your offspring; do not negotiate - whenever possible - with your tiny or teenage terrorist. You are in charge, even if the whirling dervishes temporarily make you feel out-of-control.

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