By Ann Brown, parenting consultant
I’m sitting on the living room couch as I write this column. My twenty-month old puppy, Phila, is snuggled next to me, her head on my lap. She is snoring happily. I am petting her, completely content. I’m also watching out for Robin because as soon as I see him coming up the stairs, I need to push Phila off the couch and pretend she was never there.
Phila isn’t allowed on the couch. She also isn’t allowed to chew on my shoes. Or get her own treats from the drawer. Or be off-leash in the park. Or do most any of the things I let her do. I don’t like upsetting her so I pretty much just say yes to everything she wants to do.
This is very bad parenting on my part.
I love to point the finger at all of you when I feel you are afraid to draw the line with your kids, or stand by your convictions or when you allow yourselves to be held hostage by your child’s emotions. One of my favorite soapbox rants is the one about teaching your kids that it’s safe to feel sad or mad or bad or frustrated or disappointed. If you are in my classes or groups, I don’t have to tell you this because it’s all you hear from me – blah blah blah let them feel their feelings, blah blah blah, let them be mad, blah blah blah, don’t give in to whining. Sometimes you roll your eyes at me when I get going on this topic. Yeah, I see you.
I really do believe what I say to you, believe me. If we give in to our kids because they have worn us down or because it hurts us to see them so upset, we are teaching them that life is not worth living unless we get everything we want. Not to mention that we are also teaching them that crying – or yelling, or whining, or arguing, or sulking – is power.
The “yes” given by a parent to a child that has within it a long-suffering sigh of “Fine. You’ve worn me down. I hate you. Eat the stinking cookie “ is not a satisfying “yes” to either the child or parent. It is a “yes” that is steeped in dysfunctional manipulation. And teeth-rotting sugar.
Kinda like the “yes” I just gave Phila when she – wet and muddy from the river – jumped up on the couch next to me and put her adorable head in my lap.
“Phila,” I said sternly, “No. You are not allowed on the couch. Off!”
Phila didn’t hear me, evidently. I probably said it too quietly. My fault.
So I said, a little bit louder, “Phila, no! Off the couch!” I made sure Robin could hear me from downstairs since he’s always on my case about being too soft with Phila and letting her get on the couch.
Phila stared intently out the living room window from her perch on the couch.
“Okay,” I said, “I see you’re busy right now guarding the street. One more minute, though, and then you have to get off the couch, okay?”
Then I laughed to myself because I am always telling you guys to stop saying “okay” at the end of a sentence in which you’ve told your kid to do something. It completely invalidates the instruction you’ve just given; it turns it into a choice.
I said, “okay”, however, to Phila because she is so stinking adorable. And I didn’t want to make her sad. Which is a totally valid reason for making bad parenting choices. Also, I have a headache and it’s too much work to follow through with what I expect her to do.
Also, I am so comfortable right now on the couch and I have a deadline of, like, yesterday to get this column in and if I have to stop what I’m doing to get Phila off the couch and keep her off, I’m not going to finish this article until waaaaaay past midnight. And then I’ll have another headache tomorrow.
And so it goes.
It’s so much easier to just give in. Even though I’m going to have to rent one of those supermarket upholstery cleaning machines tomorrow for the couch because Phila has deposited about half of the Willamette River water, mud and funk on my couch. And then I’m going to hope the couch dries before my Monday night parenting group comes over. And then, during group on Monday nights and Wednesday nights, I’m going to have to stop facilitating the parenting discussion to remind Phila about a zillion times not to get up on the couch to cuddle with the people in group. And I’m going to have to pretend that I am shocked that Phila keeps jumping up on the couch, you know, because she isn’t allowed to. And Phila will give me That Look, the look that says, “Please. We both know you’re going to give in, anyway. Let’s stop the charade.” And I’ll be embarrassed and exhausted and I’ll feel like a bad dog parent and after everyone in the group goes home, I’ll have A Stern Talk with Phila about her bad behavior.
And then I’ll finish off the cookies from group. And the wine. And the Ferrero Roche in the freezer from Valentine’s Day. And I will look longingly at the cranberry walnut bread from St. Honore’s that I am supposed to bring to school the next morning. And I will think to myself, “I should never have let Phila get up on the couch in the first place.” I will be riddled with shame and self-loathing.
The only thing harder than making bad parenting choices is making good parenting choices. Well, actually, they’re both hard. It’s just that one (good choices) is harder to do at the beginning because it’s so much remediation and reminding and re-doing. But the other one (bad choices) is harder later because you hate yourself for having been weak and giving in and now you have a fifty-eight pound puppy who does whatever the heck she darn well pleases to do.
I’m lucky. Phila doesn’t whine or argue with me. She doesn’t throw her cup at me because I gave her the blue cup instead of the green cup. She doesn’t throw a fit at Trader Joe’s because I won’t buy the ten- gallon tub of chocolate covered almonds. And yet, I still hate to say no to her.
Which means that I’m going to be buying a lot of new couches. Which I cannot afford. Unless I start more parenting groups. Which I can’t, because all my furniture is funky from Phila and there will be nowhere for them to sit. Because I cannot say no to my dog.
But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza…
Next week: Phila will give her rebuttal.
Photo Credit: Greg Westfall