Parents have a crappy job. It starts with wiping of said substance from the soft posterior of the little angels we bring home from the hospital and then it goes downhill from there. Fast. I’m not referring to the countless moments of joy and regret kids provide parents with on a daily basis. I’m specifically referencing the task of forming, sculpting and trying to raise responsible adults who will do more than simply wipe their own butts one day.
I’m talking about discipline. That’s the tough job. The part of parenting I hate. The having to say “No” part. The part where you create boundaries and then struggle for the rest of eternity to make them stay within those boundaries. And for every parent it’s different. Some of us have narrow boundaries, whilst others have boundaries as wide as the universe itself. There’s no right or wrong. To make matters even more complicated, it’s also our job to decide when we need to make the circle bigger, to expand the boundaries, even if it’s just a little at a time. And we need to make them bigger because the aim is to reach the point where you can demolish all the boundaries and simply let them fly. Or at least fall out of the nest without breaking their neck in the process.
Let’s be honest, saying “No” is not fun. It’s evident from the earliest beginnings. The first toddler tantrum was probably because you said he/she couldn’t get something they really and desperately wanted. And needed. It seemed more important than life itself. Like that Wonder Woman blow up doll I really, really, really want…
I suspect cavemen battled with the same thing when their kids wanted to help them in painting those weird stick figures on the walls of their caves. Looking at some of them, I’d say the kids actually did help them. Saying “No” makes you the bad parent. Immediately. It doesn’t matter what you did before the moment you said the N-word. Whether you donated your kidney or sold your body on the Internet and didn’t get the price you were hoping for. The second you say No, you are the unreasonable parent who never gives in. The kind of parent who doesn’t understand how kids operate. The parent who never lets their kids do anything. The parent who is not like any of their friend’s parents. Can we all agree that it just easier to say “Yes”?
But saying “Yes” instead of “No” makes you a friend, not a father. It’s your responsibility to protect them against themselves. Like Wife is protecting me from buying a shitload of superhero t-shirts. (I only have four.)
Tantrums evolve as kids get older because it’s not cool for a teenager to fall down in a public space, kicking and screaming at the top of your lungs because Dad didn’t want to buy the jumper that cost the same price as a two week holiday in Venice. They simply throw their tantrum in a different way, showing their disappointment by sulking, or pouting, or complaining, or dropping sighs that sucks the will to live out of everyone in a three km vicinity. The most popular teen tantrum is simply isolating themselves from any interaction for a prolonged period of time which normally coincides with the time they want food.
I must confess, I’m not one to complain about my kids and their isolation tantrums because being able to watch what I want on the television is extremely rare. It just doesn’t happen often enough. My kids are not notorious for bending their boundaries. Maybe it’s because it’s too wide? (I said I’m not complaining.)
The irony is that in those rare occasions when I do use the power of parenting and say “No” and I do end up with a tantrum, then I’ll be the one who ends up sleepless in bed wondering if I did the right thing. I’ll be lying there, second guessing myself about my rules, wondering whether I’m being too strict or too harsh or too unreasonable. Or just a little too parenty…
Based on my experience of sleepless nights, here’s some advise: You’re not wrong. You’re not being too strict or too unreasonable. You’re simply being a Dad. Or a Mom. You’re simply trying your best in navigating your kids through the landmines scattered on the road of growing up. In order to move forward you would need to take another step, and you need to accept the fact that the next step might set of a landmine. Hopefully you’ve built a strong enough bond with them kids, to survive the explosion that is bound to happen.
And if you’re really lucky, they might even offer an apology for their own unreasonable behavior and realise why you used the word “No.” When that happens, it’s better than anything I can think of at the moment.