... and I still love you...
For me, just about the worst parenting situation is the one where I've lost complete control of one or both girls.
Neither M nor I manage particularly well with poorly behaved children. And part of being a child is being poorly behaved on occasion.
We don't like being those parents who overreact to behavior that probably should be ignored and/or dealt with using humor. Luckily, M is pretty good about using humor, and I've learned a bit from her about how to disarm seemingly humorless situations. But I haven't learned enough. Maybe when I'm 80.... (which reminds me of that Mark Twain quote: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”)
Recently we've begun wondering if we're turning into "that couple" and "that family," the one that all the other parents talk about. ("Honey, I'd prefer if our kids don't go up there. They'll learn all sorts of bad habits and behavior from 'those girls.' I'm not sure what M&P imagine they're doing, but I couldn't live that way, children who show no respect, who've wrapped them around their grimy little fingers.").
We worry, are we raising out-of-control children who run roughshod over us? I'm (probably) overreacting/exaggerating (slightly). I hope. But that's what it feels like at times. Like a night last week.
We both knew that the girls were exhausted. They'd been going to a day-camp at their school, which means they've got to be "on" from 8.30a to 3p, which means they're drained by the time they get home, which means they tend to collapse over small things and/or get wound up in ways that are hard to diffuse.
So we knew they needed an early bedtime, and I had them in the tub by shortly after 6p, aiming for a 6.30 reading time. They didn't want to get out. They wanted to dry themselves. I'm working on giving them more freedom to do things they want to do, so I said they could dry themselves, even though I figured it would mean trails of soggy footprints leading from the bathtub across the living room and upstairs to their bedroom. But they came up, mostly dry, and then we struggled with getting them dressed. I'd already told them there would be no story. We were running too late. And if things were delayed much longer, there would be no books either.
K brushes her teeth and is on track to get dressed and snuggle in for a book. But not so much L. When I've brushed K's back teeth and am just sending her out to get some jammies, L is running naked, back and forth across the room. So K hops up and joins her little sister. And now I have 2 girls, one in diapers, one nude, both getting more and more wound up, right when things should be quieting down.
And the thing is, I can't help laughing when L races out of our bedroom, first naked and then wearing her bright red Monkey underpants, like some tiny superhero, intent on saving the world.
It's "nearly naked girl" to the rescue!!
I make sure to not be smiling whenever she ricochets back into our room. There's nothing that spurs her on like obvious enjoyment from her audience - which is part of the problem. K is a ready and willing appreciator, and L plays to her all the time. Including on this particular evening.
And where L will eventually wear herself out and collapse, K gets more and more wired the more exhausted she becomes, which, translated (and skipping a longer, boring description of the events) means that when it is tuck-in time, she isn't having it.
I do my best to get them into bed, suggesting bedtime songs, recommending lying quietly if they can't sleep, finally closing the gate at the top of the stairway to go downstairs in search of their mother, leaving the girls yelling and screaming alternately for me and M.
I let this go on a bit, having headed outside to find M and let her know that L&K want to say goodnight to her. She is over at the neighbors' watering, so I go back inside and after I'm good and fed up, head back upstairs where I tell the girls that it is past time to get into bed and be quiet.
K: "I can't sleep up here."
L: "I can't sleep up here either."
me: "It's time to go to bed."
K: "Can I sleep in the living room?"
L: "Me too?"
me: "No. Climb into bed and lie quietly.
L: "I want Mama!"
me: "She's out watering."
K: "I want Mama!!"
L: "I'm going to get her.
me (closing and locking the gate): "No, I'll see if she can come up. You get into bed."
me: "Then you'll lose privileges." (this is our standard approach, which is probably not the best and is often not particularly effective any longer, and which I very likely pulled out much much too soon)
K: "I don't care."
me: "Ok, no sweets tomorrow. No juice, no dessert." (I've been feeling less and less comfortable with sugars in our diet anyway, so this was an easy call for me. But probably a mistake.)
K: "I'm not going to bed."
L (arms folded): "Me either!!"
Things deteriorated until M climbed the stairs and took over for me. She let them try to sleep downstairs in the living room. They each got up once to ask us something. Finally they both fell asleep there in the bright evening light, and I carried them one by one up to their beds.
I'm left wondering what I could have done differently. What do you do, once a child refuses, to your face, to behave? What effective punishment is there at this point? It's particularly difficult for me when faced with a "No!" yelled directly at my face.
Options are to leave them to scream and yell upstairs (but I wanted them to go to sleep), or to let them out and go into my own room and give them the run of the house (but, see the concern above about becoming "those parents"). The temptation is there to spank, but we're not spankers, and I don't see that as being particularly useful.