The Parenting Chronicles: The Difficult Kind

The most frustrating lesson of Parenting 101: there will be times you simply cannot make a child do what you want.

I’ll admit I was a difficult child. Even then I knew I was clobbering my mother with my need to do everything my way. I knew exactly what was in store when it was time for her curse to come home to roost: Goddamnit Brenda Sue, I hope you have one just like you!!!

I really do understand why some parents try to force their kids into a strict life script. With maturity comes hindsight, and with hindsight the knowledge of how much better/different/easier your life would have been had you just done x instead of y. When you have a child that really is just like you, you see the potential to fix those things. You know how the story can unfold if you simply steer your child the way you know will work.

Except that doesn’t work at all. If you were strong-willed enough to demand doing it your way, chances are he will be as well. And unless you are willing to employ extreme measures, you simply cannot make a child like that do what you want.

You can bet your ass I tried, though. Our biggest battles always came over school, over homework and grades. I completely squandered my bright mind and I was determined to see him do better. I threatened, I cajoled, I tried everything, but he didn’t like school any more than I did. The more I tried to force him into doing it my way the more he rebelled. We were locked in an epic battle of wills, both determined to win at all costs.

Until it hit me like a ton of bricks: what I was doing to him was what I had absolutely despised being done to me, and how much of an asshole did that make me? I was making his life miserable, both our lives, “for his own good.” I knew how far I had been willing to go to prove you’re not the boss of me. I expected nothing less from him.

I decided I didn’t want to live like that. I didn’t want to be that kind of parent. So I did the hardest thing – I threw my hands up in the air and let go of the reins. It was far more important to me that he be happy than me be in charge.

I was never one for a lot of rules, but I decided to whittle the list even more. The rules for his teen years were:

  1. I will trust you 100%  so long as you don’t show me wrong.
  2. Do not lie to me, especially about where you will be going.
  3. I don’t care if you smoke pot. I do care if you do chemicals or smoke cigarettes.
  4. Do not ever drink and drive, or ride with a drunk.
  5. You have to stay in school until the law says you can quit.
  6. You get locked up for something stupid, your ass is staying there.

And that was it. Benevolent neglect at its finest.

But here’s the thing – it absolutely worked.  With so few rules there was very little to fight about. Every time something came up that needed to be addressed I asked myself how I would have wanted my mom to handle it – and then I handled it that exact way, no matter how I tried to talk myself out of it.

Of course this approach isn’t going to work for all kids, nor will it even work for all rebellious kids. But some kids come out of the gate determined to captain their own lives. If they are bright, capable kids without a lot of emotional baggage you’re both going to be better off if you let them start as soon as possible.

Which will always, always be before you are ready.

By Brenda

40-something-something stay home mom, floating somewhere between traditional and strange. I’m addicted to music, making things and my computer.

7 replies on “The Parenting Chronicles: The Difficult Kind”

My niece is just. . . she’s wonderful and horrible all at once. But she’s too young for this technique sadly.

Any advice you can give on this? :

She was with my sister and I’s bio dad for a month. (That’s a whole story in and of itself). Now we are having issues that we didn’t have before with her using emotional manipulation techniques- basically child-sized versions of what our bio dad did to us and to our mom for years. She’s particularly been doing this strange intimidation thing where she says “UGH YOU’RE MAKING ME MAD” and punches the chair or floor in a kind of hulk smash way if you tell her to do something- usually innocuous like sit down or no you can’t take the iphone, you have a nabi tablet *and* the TV already- she doesn’t want to do or hear. I also think there’s some crying and sad stuff, but It’s more subtle than I’m able to put my fingers on.

I do a substantial amount of child care for my sister, so my niece is here most week day afternoons and about 2 nights a week most weeks. Some days, like today, I’ll get her first thing in the morning before I’m even out of bed, and she doesn’t get picked up until 9 at night or later. (My sister does odd jobs for a number of contractors in the area, and is taking GED classes in the evenings now.) So I am dealing with her a lot, and . . . yeah.

I’m a lot more patient with her than my sister, who has a hard time dealing with some parts of it all due to her brain injury, usually is able to be, but I get scared by intimidation stuff and seeing her do it has me super wigged. I mean, I tell her that doesn’t work here, but I’d rather work it so she’s not doing it at all. I think, based on what I’ve seen from my siblings and I when we spent time with him and came back as kids, that the behaviors will eventually fade but. . . IDK. Being wigged out by a 4 year old doing intimidation techniques is not cool, even if some of the reaction is more of a PTSD response.

Four is the toddler equivalent of 14. I am so grateful we’re almost done with that stage here.

It does sound exactly like the kind of thing she’ll outgrow (especially once she internalizes that it will not get her what she wants), and in most cases my first reaction is ignore it. A lot of kids don’t care what kind of attention they get at 4, negative is as rewarding to them as positive and that makes it crucial to ignore it if at all possible.

But by the same token you deserve to not be intimidated or triggered by her attitude. If you really want or need it to stop, your best bet will be connecting the behavior to something she definitely doesn’t want.

I’d say start right after she does it: hey baby, I really don’t like it when you do that, it makes me feel bad and I don’t have to put up with that from you. Every time you do that I’m going to (___). And then make sure every time she does you follow through.

I just went through a somewhat similar  thing with J; he figured out putting his hand over my mouth in an aggressive manner got a rise out of me. I knew all he wanted was me to react but I couldn’t let him keep doing it (for my own triggery reasons). I started putting him in time out as soon as he would do it – if I saw him fixing to do it i would tell him if he did he would go to time out. He cannot stand time out, so it didn’t take long at all for him to stop (two or three days if I remember correctly).

(Ok, there’s probably more but he’s finally down for the count and I’m falling asleep on the keyboard … if I think of more I’ll add it in the morning)

My mother-in-law always told my husband she hoped he had a kid just like him. I’d like to know what I did to deserve that! My 3½ year old daughter is exactly like him (except she get her brains from me, phew!), to the point that his mom constantly calls her by his name because she’s having flashbacks. Mostly she’s good, she’s just wild and sassy and constantly wanders away from us. She actually got a laugh from your rules for your son because they’re pretty much exactly what she settled on for him. But they worked!

I’m betting my husband’s mom cursed him as well, our youngest is just like him (and boy that’s even more frustrating than raising little Brenda).

I’m a firm champion for pick your battles. The less rules they have to deal with the more likely they’ll follow the really important ones.




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