I am stuck in that parenting doldrum where I spend way too much of my time negotiating. And coaxing. And convincing. And bribing. The four year old, obviously. The 10 year old is currently in the golden tween age of parental cooperation.
This, to my mind, is one of the biggest drawbacks of parenting, trying to “make” a kid do something that they don’t want to do. And in the process, realizing, with that sinking sense of futility, that it’s f*****g impossible to force a small human to do things that they don’t want to do. You can’t “make” them eat healthy food. Nor can you “make” them go to bed, or get in their car seat, or keep walking, or put on their socks, or stop talking when you require quiet right now.
In the halcyon days, pre-kid, you might imagine your future life as a parent, with well-behaved little people scampering off to bed, eating everything on their plates at dinner, and not relentlessly demanding one more episode of Paw Patrol. You would never have been able to imagine the constant arguing, manoeuvering and strategizing that goes on to make the train stay on the tracks every single day.
Famously, when Craig and I had no offspring, we spent a day hanging with some friends and their kids. The kiddos were acting up, total shenanigans, not listening. The usual stuff. After they left, during the debrief, I remember Craig saying something like, “No kid of mine will ever blah blah and nor will I tolerate that kind of blah blah.” And I was like, “Agreed!” Fast forward a few years and zero in on us quietly eating our words.
Neither of us had ever spent a lot of real time with real children since we were children. Maybe both of us had been unduly influenced by…. movie kids. What are movie kids, you ask? Just that. Kids that appear in movies, and on television shows. Kids that are docile and totally, totally compliant. Kids that don’t write their own dialogue. Kids that run off and play so that the main characters can talk quietly.
Appearances of movie kids go something like this:
Mom and Dad need to have an important conversation. Two kids enter the room, perfectly groomed, and sit at the table for a minute or two. They only say things in response to what their parents have said. Then one parent says, “Sweetheart, Mommy and Daddy need to have an important conversation, can you guys go do your homework?”
“Sure, Mom,” says the older kid. “C’mon!” And taking l’il sis by the hand, they quietly leave the room. Never to be seen or heard from again.
In the movies, when adults need quiet or alone time, kids are quiet and leave them alone. For obvious reasons. We wouldn’t want to watch a movie where the witty dialogue was interrupted several hundred times by requests for juice boxes or complaints that a sibling has “stolen my spot” on the couch. We don’t want art to imitate life that much.
One of the (many) things that my daughter doesn’t want to do is be quiet. Lark is a super-expressive, but very noisy child.
Last Sunday, Craig and I needed to have a conversation. Not an important one. We were talking about groceries. I was sitting at the kitchen counter, pen in hand and trying to make a list, while he went through fridge and cupboards, checking our supplies. Lark was also in the room. Unfortunately, she didn’t want us to be doing what we were doing. She decided to call upon all of her powers of annoyance to stop us from having this conversation.
Mummy I just need someone to do something with me. Mum, don’t do this now. Don’t talk to Daddy. I need you. I need Mum. Loona. Loona. Loona-do. This is boring. I just want to watch something on Netflix. I want to watch just one episode. Can you turn on the TV for me? Muuuuum. Muuuuum. Stop talking to Daddy. Please. I need you.
Over the top of this continuous loop, our conversation went like this.
C: We need more cashews.
E: What did you say? (Trying to unwrap Lark from my leg.)
C: I said, cashews.
E: Lark, please be quiet, I can't hear what Daddy is saying.
L: (Kicking the bottom of my stool with her feet) Muuuum. I don't want you to do this. I'm so so so bored. I want to do something with yooooooouuuu.
Unfortunately, I can’t make her be quiet. I can ask her to be quiet. I can plead with her. I can coax, threaten and bribe. I can do many things, but I can’t make.
That’s only in the movies.