Last night I came across some advice on askgramps.com which simultaneously inspired and annoyed me. The person asking advice wanted to know how to make their toddler behave in church. After a few words of understanding empathy, Gramps gave his simple parenting remedy:
Never raise your voice; never show anger; reward good behavior; treat bad behavior not with punishment, but with silence. Do not expect immediate compliance. When you give an instruction, however, expect it to be obeyed. Therefore, never give instructions that cannot be obeyed, either because of lack of ability or temporary lack of will.
And that’s that. We’re all better parents now. Now that I think of it, I guess I’ll start eating right, exercising and drinking more water.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Gramps. But my first thought is, “Who are these people asking Gramps these questions?” I mean, I understand inquiries on complicated Old Testament doctrines, like:
But who is the moron asking
My answer? No, you shouldn’t, because then she’d have to marry a big fat loser.
It echoed in my mind all night: “Never raise your voice, never show anger.” I frowned as I envisioned old Gramps, a father of an earlier era who didn’t have to deal with poop bombs, after dinner floor carnage, being completely ignored three times with every request . . .! Plus there’s that eerie sense of entitlement inborn to modern children (you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?). He’s so out of touch. So easy for him to say, all old and sans kids anywhere in sight. Gr. I’m already angry and ready to raise my voice.
What I resent is that he is implying it is simply a matter of free will, just a choice to not be mad. Doesn’t he know my kids make me mad? Doesn’t he know that their behavior causes me to raise my voice? He clearly doesn’t understand that I have no choice in the matter, it’s not my fault. If the kids don’t want to be yelled at by a mad mom, then why don’t they start behaving? The ball is clearly in their court, right?
Ah, the will is such a wild beast to tame. With a sigh, I set out this morning with earnest endeavor. I held on, white-knuckled to my glorious Free Will to see if indeed I could just choose not to raise my voice or show anger.
The first item is a little easier than the second. Volume control is a very concrete item. When I started getting frustrated, I practiced lowering my voice. Enormous effort being expended here, but success (for all but 90 seconds of my day, which I don’t think should count against me because the boy clearly was NOT HEARING ME).
But that second one–not showing anger. Wow. How to do that? Paste a Hilary-style manic smile on my face? This was much harder, because I realize I use my anger as a tool to control my kids–I show them I’m mad because I think it will fix problems, despite daily evidence to the contrary, as the problems just continue. Ah, I wish there was money to be made in building unhappy childhoods. Or at least if all the wheel spinning I do as a parent could be more efficiently captured into an energy-storage device to power my house. Or more likely, my whole block.
The final forecast: Despite my weak gains in the not-showing-anger sector, I noticed declines in despair and self-loathing, and increases in the calmness and the hugging divisions. Free will indeed may have been taking a backseat in my parenting of late. Maybe Gramps isn’t just old before he was wise.
I think I’ll put him to the test and ask him how to clean up a poop bomb.