I am being held hostage by a 4-foot-tall emotional terrorist who has been lecturing me for days about not using my "mad voice." I'm losing hope in the face of his expert interrogation techniques, which often include tears, puppy dog eyes and pointed reminders that, "You promised Mommy, and a promise is a promise!" If you are reading this, I've successfully smuggled this note out during the school day while my captor eats snacks and learns his ABC's. He'll only be gone for a few hours, so I need your help soon. Please send wine. Lots of wine.
My crime? I made parenting mistake #4,327 -- I tried to have a rational and logical conversation with a 5-year-old. I wanted to get him to stop whining and start using his words. When I asked him we could make that happen, he said he would work on it if I would work on using my "mad voice" less often. I wanted to be helpful. I wanted to be constructive. I wanted to be a better parent. So I said yes. The crushing weight of mommy guilt might also have had something to do with my hasty capitulation.
I think I was drunk. At the very least, I wasn't thinking clearly. I forgot that my kid doesn't differentiate between a limited promise, contingent on his good behavior, and a complete abdication of my God-given parental right to pull out the "mad voice" when I have reached the end of my rope. I don't even think my "mad voice" is all that bad. I'd describe it more like an "irritated, stern, exasperated, maybe slightly louder than usual but far short of nuclear meltdown in a loving sort of way" voice. It also seems to be the only thing that works these days, and frankly, aren't I allowed to get mad? I'm not talking rage, just run-of-the-mill ordinary "you aren't listening and now I must end the insanity" frustration. Isn't that part of parenting? Am I really expected to be quiet and calm and understanding every minute of every day?
According to my pint-size jailor, yes.
This seems unfair. During our last bedtime interrogation session, when Little Dude pulled out the quivering bottom lip, the teary eyes, the shaking voice AND the cute pajamas while berating me about losing my cool, I asked him why he thought I was mad at him. He said it didn't matter, that I had promised not to get mad and I was being mad. I pointed out that he had procrastinated going to bed for 20 minutes, didn't brush his teeth, refused to wash his face and asked to stay up late after I had told him no four times. Didn't that justify irritation? No, he said. I asked him what his end of the bargain was. He couldn't remember. He didn't care.
In Little Dude's mind, he's in charge and I have no one to blame but myself. In trying to be collaborative, acknowledge my son's feelings and be authoritative instead of authoritarian, I made the biggest parenting mistake of all.
I forgot I am the parent and I am in control. Or at least, I should be.
I am the adult person who makes the decisions. My kids, no matter how outraged, are still the kids. Because we love them and we are not prison wardens, my husband and I cede our authority when the kids earn the privilege of making their own decisions, in other words, when they are developmentally ready and capable of exercising good judgment. Little Dude can get himself dressed in any weather-appropriate outfit no matter how ridiculously mismatched, pick his favorite activities, decide who his friends are and choose between vegetable options at dinner. We don't force him to hug people he's just met or do things that scare him. Our teenage stepson gets a later curfew, driving privileges and a fair amount of autonomy. As parents to a high school senior, we know we sometimes have to give him more independence than we are comfortable giving because he has to start making mistakes (even big ones) and forging his own path even though we know he's not ready for everything life will throw at him. Also, we are so over chauffeuring him all over town.
But ultimately, my husband and I are running this show. My 5-year-old does not get to dictate how I behave or what the rules are. I'm all for empowering kids -- really. I want my boys to speak their minds. I want them to feel heard, respected and valued. I don't want them to cower in a corner. We don't run a draconian regime here, but I'm not letting the inmates run the asylum. Because I've seen what happens when parents stop being parents. Anyone else read the recent articles about kids refusing to drink plain water and the "tricks" parents try to use to cajole them into taking a few sips here and there? Seriously? There are kids refusing to drink the one liquid absolutely essential to their survival and their parents wring their hands and don't know what to do? When you get to this point, you might as well hand the kids the keys to your cell and walk right in. You've just become a character in "Orange is the New Black."
So tonight, I'm staging an escape. Don't expect the Shawshank Redemption, but it's time for this inmate to take matters into her own hands. Wish me luck. You can still send wine, though. Just in case things don't go according to plan.