A mother acquaintance of mine complained in sort of a faux complainy voice, that she gave her sixteen-year-old son her credit card and he racked up enormous charges after going out with a group of friends.
“You gave him your what?” I sputter, as if she just told me that she had, say, given her child her, say, credit card. “You gave him your CREDIT card?”
“Well,” she says, with that tiny smile that implies “I’ve been naughty!” and a wee shrug of her shoulders, “What’re you going to do?” It’s that same shrug of her shoulders and that same “What are you going to do?” that I remember so well from when her sixteen-year-old was five, sneaking cookies and whining for more TV.
What are you going to do? Er, maybe say No? Maybe I’m being unfair in assuming that a spoiled teenager will behave irresponsibly if given carte blanche to do so. But let’s just say. And let’s just say that you should have used the magic “No” word more often when your child was small, and constantly twisting your arm to get what he wanted. It does no good to kick yourself now for all those times you should have realized that perhaps your child wasn’t really “negotiating,” he was actually just “getting his own way.” But it’s not too late! It’s never too late.
I have a friend whose five-year-old runs the house. Now, granted, her child has some speech and attention-deficit issues, and is what you might call “A Handful.” He is a large, bouncy, handful. He is a bundle of unbridled energy. She works very, very hard at her Mommy job, giving him a lot of attention, and doing everything she can to get him help with his communication skills, so that he won’t take out his frustration in a physical way quite so often. But I see that same look from her, every time she sweetly tells him “no,” in a gooey baby voice and he screams back at her demanding whatever it is he wants, and she gives it to him just to shut him up. And if I’m in the vicinity, I get the look. The “what are you going to do?” look, with the tiny, apologetic smile and the wee shoulder shrug. The look that says, “Oops! I think I’m helping my child become a monster, but I just can’t help myself!”
He’s not a monster, he’s a sweet kid, but he does get his way pretty much all the time. His mama’s entreaties have become meaningless, because he knows that with enough arm-twisting, wailing, and the pitting of his tiny, steely will against her slightly more flexible one, his mom is melted putty in his hands. And for moms who work, there is often the guilt factor to contend with. You haven’t seen your little guy for most of the day, and you don’t want to be the one to deny his wishes. So...just this once. What're you going to do? He's so adorable when he screeches at the top of his lungs like that, how can I resist? But you really must; it is necessary for his future as a sociable human, and for your present sanity. It won’t hurt a bit, and will make you feel properly empowered as a parent.
Try it. You know how to do it. Just put your lips together, and say “No.”