Among the things frustrated parents say to their frustrating kids is, “Just wait until you have kids of your own.” The same parents regale their non-parent friends with what an utter joy parenthood is. Parenthood is a joy, of course, but there is something of the con artist in the parent who tells their non-parent friends about the joys of parenting, while at the same time snapping at their kids, “Just wait until you have kids of your own!”
I haven’t yet reached the point where I’ve uttered those nine words to my kids, but I have thought them several time. They are all good kids, but that does not preclude them from being frustrating at times. The Little Man is a pre-teen and no longer little. He is at that age where he needs to argue every point or direction or instruction. Another things frustrated parents sometimes say to their frustrating kids comes to mind: “You have all the answers, don’t you?”
The most frustrating things about being a parent is realizing that no amount of your own experience does any good for your kids. Experience isn’t something that can be transferred from one person to another. It has to be lived to be effective. These seems terribly inefficient, and while physicists ponder the ultimate reality of the universe, I offer this as another possible avenue of exploration.
Our two older kids were easy-going by comparison to our youngest, who will turn five this summer. She has, it seems, found a way not only to allow experience to be transferred to her. In doing so, she has examined this experience closely and unlike our other kids, have found simple methods for exploiting said experience to her great advantage. Asking the older kids to do something was always easy. Asking the Littlest Miss to do something is also easy if it is something she wants to do. If it not, she simply says no.
She generally says it calmly and without malice, but it is a firm “no” nonetheless. For instance, after her quota of screen time is up, I’ll say, “Time to turn off devices.”
“No,” she says.
I turn on my parental frown, which is often a feeble attempt to mask a grin. I always feel like a charlatan when acting like a parent because I still think of myself as a kid. “I guess that means you don’t want to use devices anymore.”
“I do,” she says.
“Well, then it’s time to turn it off.”
“No,” she says.
“Okay,” I say. I take the device away. “Now you’ve lost the device for tomorrow.”
She looks at me calmly, and in her voluable five-year old voice, she says, “If that’s what you want, fine, but I urge you to reconsider: after all, if I can’t use devices, you’ll have to entertain me. And I know you have to work, and have a million chores around the house to do. So really, if you think about it, taking away my device tomorrow punishes you more than it does me. And believe me,” she adds, “if I don’t have my device tomorrow I’ll come up with a long list of activities that we’ll need to do together. Beginning with you taking me to the playground after lunch when it is approximately 175 degrees in the shade.”
She says all of this, maybe not out loud, but with her eyes. She’s very good at communicating with her eyes.
I open my mouth to reply and she raises an eyebrow in warning. I pause. I reconsider. I check the time. I’ve got a meeting in two minutes. “Fine,” I say, “you can stay on your device until I finish my meeting.”
She smiles serenely.
“But,” I add, “you just wait till you have kids of your own.”
The Littlest Miss shakes her head and puts a disapproving expression on her face. “Daddy,” she says, “I’d never let my kids get away with such behavior.”