Subtle ways we delegate who is in charge
I saw “who is in charge” with a little gal a few weeks ago. The conversation I struck up with a two-something miss while waiting in the check-out lane in Walmart was heart-warming. She was cute as a button and friendly as could be. Her father placed items on the belt as the cashier scanned and bagged them. Little Miss was happily chomping on some Cheetos while she waited in the cart.
When all the items had been scanned but one, her father said to the clerk, “Can you give me that so I can scan it? If I take it away from her, she’ll cry.” He chuckled.
I’m not sure what the clerk thought, for she didn’t smile as she handed the wand to the dad. Scan completed, dad put his bags into the shopping cart and headed out the door. We met again in the parking lot because our vehicles were beside each other. Little Miss smiled and waved at me as her father put her into her car seat and shut the door. There were no tears. Really, why did she have to give up her bag to be scanned for a few seconds when it could be scanned as she held it in her hands? Why should she not be the one who is in charge?
Choosing battles of who is in charge
I’ve thought about that scene a lot since then. I recognized myself as a parent on some days. Those days when I just didn’t want a scene, so I did whatever it took to prevent a scene. Basically I allowed my child, in those instances, to choose who is in charge. And it wasn’t me.
At the same time, I know there are times when we’ve fought all the battles we can handle in a day; sometimes our child has been sick or away from home or distraught about something else. It’s easier just to handle things so we don’t need to deal with the anguish of our child. I remember the day we traveled out of town with our fussy two-year old. This child was miserable when teething, and adding an ear infection on top of that was adding insult to injury. He was feverish and not happy that we were traveling, which meant being strapped into a car seat for hours on end.
We stopped to pick up some items in a store; he was still mopey and unhappy. The clerk (barely a child herself who could not possibly have had a child of her own) looked at me and said, “He just needs a whipping.”
You know how long ago that was? Thirty years – and I still remember. It was all I could do to smile at her and continue on my way. She didn’t know a thing about it, but she had all the answers. So lest you think I’m being too hard on this dad, rest assured that I recognize there’s more than one side to the story.
Not so subtle ways in who is in charge
A few weeks earlier, I overheard a conversation between moms of toddlers. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the moms in the corner of the room until I heard one mom say, “I can’t get Jimmy to eat anything but pizza, french fries, or chicken nuggets. If he can’t have one of those, he won’t eat.” She chuckled as though she thought it was cute. Or perhaps her chuckle was one of embarrassment.
I’ve thought about that scene as well. There were days I fixed kid-friendly food just because I didn’t want the hassle of the fuss and whining from a kid who had particulars he didn’t like. It’s true that our kids have favorites and specific things they don’t like to eat. That’s normal and natural. It’s okay for kids to have favorite foods. There’s nothing detrimental in fixing foods that our kids like some of the time. What isn’t okay is allowing a child to be the one who is in charge in such a way that we give him only what he likes to eat.
We’d never serve our child only candy, yet we think it’s okay to give him what he wants so he will eat the few foods he likes. Save special occasions to give him only what he wants. Celebrate his birthday with pizza, fries, and chicken nuggets. But don’t do it every day. He’ll learn to like other foods if he is not allowed to dictate what he will eat. Guaranteed, if he gets hungry enough, he’ll be willing to eat something besides his favorites. Try it. You’ll see.
Figuring out why we choose the way we do things
How sad it is is when a child dictates what a parent does because of his demands. For the child in the shopping cart at Walmart, she would have survived had the Cheetos bag been given to the cashier to be scanned. She didn’t need to pitch a fit, but obviously dad was afraid that would happen – because it had happened before. Why else did he know she would cry if he took it from her, even momentarily? It seemed to me that this child knew that to get what she wanted, all she had to do was cry. If that really is the case, then little miss toddler is the one who is in charge.
For the child who only has a few food items he is willing to eat, he will eat other foods if he is given no choice. When a child is hungry enough, he’ll eat. It might not be his favorite food, but he’ll eat if he is hungry. Why else will he only eat several foods? Because that is what he is allowed to do. He makes the demands and he gets what he wants. Why should he change? His parents have chosen to let him be the one who is in charge.
Looking down the road at who is in charge
I empathize with moms who find it difficult to stand firm when a child insists on having his way. It’s easier and less hassle to let him have what he wants. Trouble is, we’re not looking down the road at the long-term consequences of a raising a child we always allow to be in charge. Dads are usually better at looking down the road to long-term consequences. That’s why moms should listen to the father of their child. I know how hard this is, and how easy it is to think dad is being “too hard”.
We live in the moment and want our child to be happy. Who wants to hassle with the tears of our child from being told “No.”? So we choose to give up being the parent and the adult in our child’s life. Instead, we do whatever it takes to make him happy, thus paving the way for heartache down the road. If a child can’t handle a “No” when he’s two, how will he handle it when he’s sixteen? He won’t. That’s why we need to choose to be the parent who is in charge. It’s our responsibility and it’s the best way we can prepare him for life.