This is parenting. Not sense-making.

Jan 24 2011

Abby (12) got in trouble recently.  That’s fairly unusual for her.  She typically leaves that to the other, younger children at our house.  Then, when they’re distracting me with their blatant misbehavior, she does whatever she wants.  I’m terrified the other kids will catch on to her tricks and move their own nefarious deeds under the radar.  I’ve never been very good at detecting Subtle.

On this particular day, the gods of justice realized that I’m not getting enough pre-adolescent angst from Abby to make up for the way I treated my parents when I was 12 and 13.  They decided that enough was enough and spelled Abby with a good, solid case of the ‘Tude.  Some people call it Attitude, but I think ‘Tude has much more of a ring to it, don’t you?

Dude, you’ve totally got some ‘Tude.

See?

Anyway, the ‘Tude was making itself at home in my little abode, and I found it irritating, inappropriate and disrespectful.  My goal:  to rid my house of the ‘Tude as fast as humanly possible.

Since I’m not Subtle, I confronted the ‘Tude head on.

“Abby,” I said. “You attitude is unacceptable.”

“Whatever,” Abby said.

Whatever?

Whatever?

Oh, no she didn’t.

We’re a very strict family.  Extremely strict.  Sometimes strict.  Every once in a while, occasionally strict.

Because consistency is very important in raising children.  Critical, really.

There are words that are simply not allowed at my house.

Well, butt is allowed.  (Sorry, Mom.  I know you taught me better.)  And crap is allowed, but only after 5th grade.

Judy’s my mother-in-law.  Like my mom, Judy had better rules for raising her sons.  No words that could be stand-ins for real swear words were allowed.  As far as I can tell, my husband and his brother were allowed to say, Oh, no!

Judy, don’t read this part:

Shoot and dang it are allowed at our house.

What the heck is allowed. Usually it’s pronounced Wutdahek by Cai (4) and usually after I tell him I love him.  “I love you, Cai,” I say.  “Wutdahek,” he says and does a silly dance worthy of Mad TV.  It’s fabulous.

OK, Judy, it’s safe now.

There are words that are simply not allowed at my house.  I think I said that a few paragraphs ago.  But this time I mean it.

Even I have standards.

Other than an incident when Abby was small and thought that Clifford the Big Red Dog was pronounced “bulls#$t” (not kidding – long story), we don’t allow the Big Swear Words around here.

Also, poopy-head is not allowed.  That there’s name calling, and I won’t have any of that.

Stupid is not allowed.

Shut up is not allowed.

And topping the list of disallowed words are whatever and fine.

I guess that means there are five not-allowed words at my house.

Poopy-head.  Stupid.  Shut up. Whatever.  Fine.

Like I said, extremely strict.

“Whatever,” Abby said.  In front of her friends.

Well, darn it.  I had to do something about the ‘Tude.

Abby has always responded best to quiet reprimands, whispers in the ear, and gentle explanations accompanied by reasons for the required behavior change.  Public correction has never worked for her — she’s very sensitive to perceived embarrassment, something that’s been a learning curve for me, her outspoken mother.

I took Abby into the hall and quietly talked to her about her ‘Tude.  I asked her to usher the ‘Tude out of the house and lock the door.

All was quiet on the western front.

Until the ‘Tude broke down the door.  That sucker was pretty determined.

The next confrontation, again in front of the friends, resulted in a

“Fine.  Sor-REE,” from Abby.  Fine laced with contempt and dripping with sarcasm.  Sorry that means anything but.

“I see,” I said in front of the friends.

So be it, child.  You done did this to yerself.

“Your ‘Tude needs to change, Miss.”

Miss and Mister are my serious parenting words.  Scary, right?  I should star in a show about extreme parenting.

“If your ‘Tude can’t change due to your friends being here, then I will have to take them home.  They haven’t done anything to deserve that, but if you can’t be respectful of me while they’re here, then that’s that.  Now, I’ll be very clear.  I expect an apology and a change in the way you’re talking.  I expect you to apologize respectfully and sincerely.”

Emphasis on sincerely.

(FYI – this is a classic parenting blunder.  You can’t make a kid to be sincere about an apology that you force her to make.  Just like no one forcing an apology out of me can make me feel actually, truly sorry.  But that’s hardly the point.  This is parenting.  Not sense-making.)

Here’s what’s not fair about parenting:

  1. First, no one issues you a parenting instruction manual.  There are warning labels on McDonald’s coffee, but I get nothing about my kids?  That’s not right.  That’s just not right.
  2. Second, each kid is different and requires his or her own unique style of parenting.  Can’t they just all get together and agree on what parenting techniques work for ALL of them?  Granted, that would be less interesting.  Less interesting, but easier.
  3. Third, after 12 years, I think know a little about who this kid is and how she ticks.  Then my kid goes and changes the rules on me.  It’s just like when she was little and I finally had that nap schedule working and she’d go and drop a nap and I had to work out a whole new plan.  It’s like my kids think I’m flexible and adaptable.  I begin to suspect this is a trend that will continue for the entire time my children live with me.  Probably longer than that, but I’m not prepared to deal with that yet.  Sheesh.

So there I was, thinking it was a huge mistake to reprimand Abby in front of her friends.  Thinking “oh, what have I done?” by making public comments that will surely embarrass my child.

Abby looked a little stunned.

And then she gave me a sweet, genuine, contrite, appropriately-toned apology.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” she said.

There was a long pause while I stared at her.  I think I was trying to recover from Attitude Change Whiplash.

And then, into the pause, she verbally signed her apology, “Sincerely, Abby.”

It was Subtle (but I got it!).  It was sarcastic.  It was a teeny tiny bit of under-the-radar disrespect.

It was also funny.  As heck.

I laughed.

Dang it!

There went my authority as a parent.  I flushed it straight down the laughing toilet.  I do that frequently.

Abby laughed.  The friends laughed.

And you know what?  That ‘Tude evaporated right into thin air.

I’m not sure exactly where I went right and where I went wrong in that scenario.  Pretty sure there were even doses of both.  I find that the real-life parenting situations are much more complex than you read in those parenting books.

I know my consistency is, well, less than consistent.  I also know we laugh a lot at my house.   It’s probably not an either/or proposition, consistency vs. laughter.  But I can’t sincerely say I’m sorry that the laughter bubbles over.

Nope.  I’m not sorry at all.

Sincerely,

Beth