This House is Not a Democracy: Parenting With Love and Ultimatums
“No one bosses mommy around.” Ask any of my children, and they’ll quote you on this. They’re young yet…very much still feeling around in the sandbox for the untouchable acts that will get them in serious trouble.
Having twin three-year-olds is like going into the pet store to pick out a fish and finding yourself treading water in the tank. You’re just trying to keep your head above water, while they sucker themselves to your body. One misstep and the sheer mass of them will pull you under.
This is why there have to be some hard and fast rules – rungs you climb to get yourself back on solid ground.
I was 24 when I entered my first classroom as a teacher one hot September long ago. My oldest high school senior was 22. How do you give demerits to an adult for not writing her essay when you could run into her later at a Chili’s happy hour? In the name of survival, I befriended them.
In between assignments on scenes from “Macbeth”, I would listen to their stories of loves lost and won over the course of a lunch hour. I would let it slide when things were late if they had a “really good” reason and they affected even the most generic interest in class. I let whispers ride the undercurrent of lectures like slippery eels because the thought of stopping and pointing out the disrespect felt too scary, too confrontational.
I was operating under the philosophy of, “Hey, we’re all pals here. Can’t we just get along?”
A quarter into the year, and another 20-something student interrupted me mid-Sylvia-Plath lecture with this: “Hey, lady, you pregnant?” The whispers stopped. Dead silence except the ticking of the clock. Her grand finale: “Oh, well, I guess you’re just fatter.”
Thus my brief stint at diplomacy ended. I was done coaxing them towards academia. They didn’t need my friendship. They needed my knowledge. I could continue to be their Robin Williams from “Dead Poet’s Society”, but it wasn’t doing any of us any favors.
To learn is to be willing to listen and submit yourself to the fact that someone knows more than you. You don’t want to be schooled by your friends.
Ten years and three kids later, I’m standing on a grassy knoll at the park with my kids. It’s a windy April afternoon, and below us I spy an elementary-aged kid on a cell phone. His mother approaches. She looks harried, like she needs a free foot massage at the mall. She begins to talk to him. He gives her the hand. You know the one – the “I’m in the middle of something” hand that screams my time is more important than yours. I did not stay to watch the scene play out.
A culture of disrespect is brewing as kids learn technology faster than adults and build worlds apart from ours. I’m part of a generation of parents still reeling from the strict parenting of the baby boomers. We want to befriend our kids in ways our parents did not do with us. We remember lectures and stoicism and steer clear.
But there’s a line. There’s a limit to my children’s independence, and they know it. Our house is not a democracy. It’s not just about arguing over what’s for dinner or everyone’s acceptable bedtime. It’s about trusting us, the parents, to make the decision that is in their best interest, even when they can’t see it.
That’s the rub.
At three, my daughter is a little boss. In fact, we will not be seeing “Boss Baby” anytime soon. It’s too real to be funny. She would love for the world to spin on her axis. And she tries. She will stop mid-stride in the kitchen, turn to me with one hand on her hip, and point to the spilled raisins or milk or crayons on the floor and say, “Mommy, you better take care of that.”
To which I respond, as she already knows I will, “Nobody bosses Mommy around.”
Because whether she understands the rationale behind it or not, she needs to clean up her messes, listen to her parents, respect other adults, let others look out for her, and be a kid. That, after all, is my end goal: for her to be a kid as long as possible. She needs to trust me to guide her so that when she does grow up, she can make the right decisions on her own.
It might feel good to let your kids have free reign, to open up the floor for debate because ultimatums are scary. But in the end, it’s too much pressure for them to bear. Responsibility needs to rest on the parents who’ve had time to develop the adequate muscles. Until they become responsible adults in their own right, I will still keep parenting with love and ultimatums.
Because nobody bosses mommy around.