A recent Saturday morning found my husband (chief of the Indian Princess tribe - don't ask) and daughters getting ready for their "tribal outing": a father/daughter hike and lunch date. I was supposed to have the morning "off", and planned to hit the gym and then head over to Barnes and Noble. First, a pumpkin spice latte - grande, of course - and then a little browsing, in ANY section other than the children's, please. I'd been looking forward to it all week. I even put the sunscreen and bug spray on the kids, packed his backpack, and loaded up the car for him. (Is it wrong to be eager - I mean, helpful and considerate?)
But alas, it was not to be.
Mere minutes before their departure, my oldest decided to clean up her room by throwing her clean, folded clothes into the hamper. I guess she didn't want to put them away - again - but since this was, oh, the third time in as many days, and she'd been told that if it happened again she'd be grounded, guess what? She got grounded. Meaning, in effect, that I ended up grounding myself. My day alone? Gone with the wind. The gym? Nope, they have a Wii in the Kids Kare that would be entirely too much fun for someone who's grounded. My trip to Starbucks? I wonder if pumpkin pie spice would work on drip coffee. Leisurely browsing the fiction section at the bookstore? Replaced with laundry, cleaning, and one angry mommy yelling, "Why? Why? WHY?" Over and over again. At top volume. At least in my head. Out loud, she said appropriate things like, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" and other equally lame-sounding mommy-isms. (Did I mention I always wanted to be a criminal prosecutor? Like Susan Dey on "LA Law"?)
In frustration, I posted something on Facebook about my daughter's transgression. Some mommy friends thought the punishment was too harsh, but my friend Tricia commented, "Glad to see that other parents out there ground for pure disrespect." And that's it exactly: My child was disrespectful. There was a demonstrated lack of respect for me, for the work I do, for my time, for the natural and financial resources involved in re-washing a load of laundry - not to mention the fact that I'd just told her NOT to do that very thing or she'd be grounded. And yes, at nearly 8, she's become much more focused on herself, her wants, her friends, which is all normal and typical "tween" behavior - but that doesn't make it OK to just ignore what your mother tells you. (And if you figure out at what age I CAN ignore what my mother tells me, please let me know!)
Think I was harsh? My husband's friend Jose got tired of constantly telling his boys to turn off their video games when it was time to do homework, chores, go somewhere. He gave them a final warning: If he had to repeat himself, even once, the entire system would be gone. And what happened? You got it: The very next day, he told the boys to turn it off, but they didn't. Jose stomped over, yanked the joysticks out of their sweaty little hands, ripped the wires out of the TV, and threw everything in the trash. Message received. You've never seen such well-behaved children. Those boys LISTEN. (And no, he didn't replace it. Nor did he allow Santa or Grandma to replace it. Game over, boys.)
Some parenting "guru" wrote that not following through with consequences is the same as lying to your kids. (I can't remember who. I might have read it on a bathroom wall.) If you say, "Do it again and you'll be grounded" and then they do it again and you DON'T ground them, you weren't really telling the truth, were you? Can they count on your word for other things? And you've taught them a not-so-easily-unlearned lesson, namely that Mom doesn't always mean what she says. I'll admit, I toyed with the idea of letting her go because I really wanted some time to myself. But that would have taught her that there aren't consequences for breaking the rules, and that she doesn't have to show respect for people, their work, their time. Hard as it was to give up my day alone, hard as it was to watch her disappointment and disbelief as her daddy and sister left her behind, she got the point. She did laundry, cleaned, studied, while her sister and her dad went off together for 4 long hours. And now? Those 4 hours bought me 3 weeks (and counting) of near-perfect behavior from this repeat offender, who has yet to be reincarcerated for breaking the terms of her parole - that is, she hasn't put any clean clothes in the hamper since. (AND she's learned to do laundry, so I've got that going for me. Talk about a two-fer.)
Sometimes it's hard to be a mom. Sometimes it breaks my heart to punish my kids, to take something away, whether it's a toy or the joy of spending a day outdoors with friends. But what's the alternative? Allowing them to do whatever they want? That isn't good for them. (We all know moms who do that, and sure, it's easier in the short term. But Slacker Mom tries to practice long-term parenting. Even when it puts her back in baby jail.) This motherhood thing can be tough. To paraphrase author Carrie Adams, "there's a big difference between wanting a baby and wanting to be a parent. One is selfish; the other selfless." Good, effective parenting strives to be selfless, not selfish. After all, there's no I in Mommy. (But there is a Y, as in WHY? WHY? Dear God, WHY?)
Slacker Mom Says...don't be afraid to disappoint your kids. They'll get over it. Remember our goal as moms: to raise confident, well-adjusted kids who can go out into the world and survive, thrive, WITHOUT us. It's OK to let them know what's expected of them, and then call them on it if they don't meet those expectations. In the real world, they'll have bosses, roommates, friends, professors, husbands and wives. None of these people will consistently let them off the hook; we have to teach them how to live with and learn from the consequences of their actions.
And, after all, there will be plenty more opportunities for daddy/daughter hikes. I'll see to it. I have a date with my friends Barnes and Noble.