You know that parenting moment when you huddle in front of your computer and start Googling where to buy a child-sized straitjacket? You quickly realize there’s no time to wait for shipping and you sketch out a plan for fashioning a homemade restraint from duct tape and old sheets. But pretty soon, you realize that they’re not the only ones teetering on the edge and you begin to wonder if an adult-sized padded room is the way to go. Have you been there?
By EMILY PARNELL
Special to The Star
From my experience, this takes place when my child has a problem, and I don’t know how to fix it. For example, if my child is panicking over a rough week of school, my only option is to make them keep going. If their wardrobe is suddenly unacceptable to them for one reason or another, I can’t just go out and buy them all new clothes.
When standing at an impasse, it’s hard to retain one’s sanity — for both parties. As the parent, it’s your job to win. You must conquer your poor child’s will as they stand there terrified of their spelling list, heartbroken by a friend-triangle, or willfully refusing a requirement they don’t want to do. It’s a “suck it up” moment, and parents have to usher the kids over the hump. If that’s not enough to send a mom diving under the kitchen table to gnaw on her own fingers, I don’t know what is.
Sometimes, I have to call in a professional, and luckily our family has a built-in mediator for the dreaded moments of desperation. My mom is both a professional counselor and a beloved grandma, which provides the one-two punch needed to knock out the problem. I’ve been observing her — how she can finesse my frantic children into compliance, with smiles on their faces —accomplishing the exact goal at which I’d failed.
The night before Halloween, the kids and I had hit one of our brick walls. Their costumes weren’t “right” and solutions were not readily apparent. Plus, I was elbow-deep in lasagna fixin’s and homework awaited. I could put the smack down and make them both miserable, telling them to suck it up, wear their costumes or go without. But turning Halloween into a disappointment seems pretty Grinch-like to me. There had to be a solution, but I suspected I wasn’t the one who would find it, considering my patience had gone kaput. How many more times could I say through clinched teeth, “You either have to wear it, or we’ll have to think of something else”?
“Mom, can Grandma and Grandpa come over and help us figure this out?” my son finally suggested.
Lord, please make them want to come over, I prayed under my breath. My prayers answered, they showed up a half hour later.
The funny thing is, they held my kids to the same requirements as I did. They asked me the requirements (homework and final costume touches) and then Grandma and Grandpa tag-teamed to matter-of-factly get them to do it all. They listened with empathy and interest to my kids’ woes and then eased them through the logic of following my advice. And they did so with plenty of cuddles and love.
I fed them dinner in return, and what could have been a miserable night ending in a trick-or-treatless Halloween became a fun, productive, family get-together.
I think it all comes down to compassion. It’s easy to become so goal-oriented that we forget to simply acknowledge that they’re having a hard time. It’s so tempting, especially when tired and out of patience — to invalidate their issue by poo-pooing their concerns. But in the long run, maintaining a compassionate “bedside manner” to soothe them is the kindest, most efficient way to problem-solve.
By Halloween morning, the kids had their tweaked costumes in bags and were rarin’ to get out the door. And I now I have some tweaking of my own to do — to keep working on teaching my kids how to suck it up without falling into a suck-it-up attitude, because saying “get over it” is not a virtue.
Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell writes for Diversions each week.