You’re the parent. The adult. The boss. It’s up to you. You are the responsible one. You have to be the grown up. Set Boundaries. Be firm. Don’t give in. Be consistent…
It was coming into the end of the day, and I’d been alone with the kids. The Mamanator was taking a weekend to catch up with friends and go for a drink (scandalous) with some of her old mates who were now mums. It was a kid-free Melbourne based girls night that they’d all earned.
We’d had a good day, with a couple of screaming matches. One in the library when I had to take my son away from the big touch screen-interactive-whatsit they set up in there because he pushed his sister over when she tried to join in. He crossed a line, and I had to be the grown up. One in a shop when my son wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t going to buy him the cars he wanted, in spite of me giving him several other options. But he’d calmed down, recovered and apologised.
Now, however, I was calling for the end of bath time. I’d set a timer to limit the bath that night with my phone, and the allotted time had elapsed. The kids complained, a lot, but I’d set a boundary, and I intended to stick to it. I eventually got one of my kids enthused with the idea of cleaning out the bath and exiting. It was the little one, she always folds first, or changes her mind first.
The Lad, at 4, was sticking to his guns. He had set up his cars to race and he hadn’t finished. I tried to get his attention, repeating his name over and over and over, with increasing frustration, exasperation and urgency, and increased effort on my part to get him to look at me. I had to be the grown up again.
“I’m going to stat putting those cars away if you don’t listen to me now”
He looked up.
“I want you to let your sister pull the plug and put the toys away, bath is over”.
He went straight back to his cars. Not a word. Not a change. Barely a glance. I took deep breaths.
Meanwhile The Lass had managed to wrest the plug free and the bath drained. One by one, with incredible slowness, he put the cars away. By the time he left the bath I had the little girl dressed and ready.
“Okay, now go to your room and get your PJ’s Lad. Go to your room and get your PJs. Go get your PJs in your room”. It’s funny how the wording changes when you repeat yourself sometimes, hoping the new combination of words will sink in. They did not, as you might have guessed.
He was standing in front of the mirror, making funny sounds, funny faces and (I think) trying to moon himself or look up his own bottom… After my 3rd variation on a request he moved and started to walk towards the door. FINALLY. I’d done it. I was the 4-year-old whisperer.
Then he turned around to go back to the bathroom mirror, and I lost it. One of those guttural dad-growls came up and I felt myself shaking for a split second. I can’t remember what words I used, or if I just shouted in frustration, but this boy was milking every second he could out of this bath, and they were seconds I did not want to give him.
He turned around, looking upset and walked out the bathroom door, and turned the wrong way, back towards the kitchen.
“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DO WHAT I’VE ASKED YOU TO DO SEVEN TIMES!!!! GAAAAAH!”
I think I said that. Can’t really remember. But it was close to that.
But then he was in bed. I was reading. Both children were drinking milk and time had passed. As I talked about stories and read them I paused for a second.
“Daddy shouldn’t have yelled before. I got angry, and that’s why I yelled, but I shouldn’t have done it. Sorry”.
I wanted my son to apologise for his behaviour that evening. Part of me wanted to DEMAND it, to order him to apologise to him. He’d been a turd.
But then I thought about it. Thought about how his frustration recently had been manifesting itself with my own words of frustration. He’d started saying one of my favourites: “STOP INTERRUPTING ME!” at the top of his voice. How he’d grunt, like me.
Then I thought about the words I wanted him to use. The voice I wanted him to use, and how especially at his age tone means so much more than the dictionary definition of what I’m saying. I thought of all the times I tried to berate him or guilt trip him into doing things for me.
I mean don’t get me wrong, he’s a handful, and he certainly knows how to push my buttons. Yet, I know that in those moments with raised voices, with exasperated tones and with sighs of disappointment, I am letting him down. I’m showing him, demonstrating to him, exactly what I don’t want from him.
And I need to do better.
“That’s okay dad” came a calm and level reply.
Later we were reading stories. There was some discussion (conflict) over how the night would run. Normally I read some picture books then The Lass goes to The Mamanator while I read longer stories, or a chapter book, to The Lad. Tonight it was different, The Lass would need some lullabies from dad, so the stories would have to wait.
“Now Lad, I’m going to ask you to do something alright?”
“I need to help your sister get to sleep. Can you be a big brother for me and wait till she’s asleep for your special stories?”
And then, with a small tear in one eye, I leant over to him “Thanks son, I’m proud of the way you’re looking after your sister”.
Songs ensued. The Lass slept fast. Stories were had and I sat with this boy of mine until he fell asleep.
If I want him to learn to apologise, I need to do it. If I want him to use a kind voice, I need to do it. If I want to see fewer tantrums, I have to throw less of them. Hopefully I have the willpower to do all that in the face of this rambunctious, cheeky and sometimes downright defiant little boy. And when I don’t, have the maturity to say sorry.
After all, I have to be the grown up.