Clearly, I am now officially “of a certain age” because I was asked for parenting advice by someone who couldn’t possibly be old enough to drive, let alone have children. Based on the look in this poor girl’s eyes, she’ll never ask anyone anything ever again. I can talk longer than the shelf-life of Twinkies about the do’s and don’ts of parenthood. So I decided to write down some of my rules. You know, wisdom for the ages and everything.
It’s so important and I’m so very wise, in fact, this will be a 3-parter.
1.Make discipline logical, but expect it to backfire. When my kids were young, I got tired of them throwing clothes on the floor after I lovingly — but not cheerfully — washed, dried and folded them. So I laid down the law. Or maybe I put a curse on them, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. “You’re doing your own laundry for the rest of your life!” I had to accept that they’d wear dirty clothes, at least until the first time some kind soul pressed a quarter in their hand because it looked like they needed a hot meal and shelter for the night. When they finally confronted their mountain of laundry, I got great satisfaction in knowing they wished — just for an instant — that they had simply put away the laundry I did for them.
2. Which leads me to the next rule of parental discipline — you’re never too old to say “Neener neener” to your kids. Go ahead. Say it. It feels delicious. Regardless of what others might say, believe that it makes you a better parent. Maybe not a better human being, but definitely a better parent.
3. For every parental law, there is an inverse law as well. Your kids are never too old to say “Neener neener” to you, either. My husband and I are both avid readers and when our children were very young, we heard all those scary stories about kids who don’t like to read. When they got old enough, I allowed them to stay up as late as they wanted as long as they were in bed reading. Some say bribe, I say incentive. Tomato, tomahto. At any rate, my son was always reading well into the wee hours. “Neener, neener, Mom.” His third grade teacher learned this lesson too. As punishment for not filling out his “reading log,” (even though he read many long hours beyond the requirement) she told him he had to stay inside to read during recess. When his eyes lit up, he may as well have said, “Neener neener, Teach.”
4. If you are too harsh, apologize immediately. If you don’t, they will remember it forever and hound you with the memory and never let it go. Trust me on this. They will.
5. If you are too lenient, apologize immediately and heap more punishment upon them. If you don’t, they will see your weak underbelly and exploit it forever. Trust me on this. They will.
6. Be a moral compass for your children. Never let them see you pick your nose, eat ice cream right out of the container, smoke, gossip, or double dip the celery right into the peanut butter jar. Do these things in private. And remember, always lie about your past. They weren’t there … how would they know?
7. Always feign interest in their passions. Even if it’s dirt-collecting. Even when they want to tell you every detail of their day. If you are horrified to think that you won’t always be interested in what your kids say, you probably don’t have kids saying anything yet. You’re still in the I-think-it’s-so-cute-that-you-poop stage. That’s fine. There will come a day when you hear your adorable offspring say, “Okay? So I was at … um … school today? And I’m like, in line for, y’know, lunch? And this, y’know, hottie like comes up? And I’m like just goin’ … whoa?” Trust me. Calculate square footage in your head, play the alphabet game, or construct a family tree from memory. But slap a silly grin on your face and pretend you’re interested. If you don’t, you won’t have any leverage when you’re telling the same story for the umpteenth time about how you and your pal in college dressed up like a two-headed monster and lurched around campus one Halloween trying to find a handicapped stall. (Or keep that part to yourself. See Rule #6).
What do you do when you’re pretending to be interested in what your children (or anyone else, for that matter) are saying?