My 8-year-old was watching the “American Idol” finale in my bedroom when I walked in to put away some clothes. “Can you please leave?” she asked. Apparently she planned to dance around, and my presence was inhibiting. I refused: “It’s my room!” But she wouldn’t let up. She kept begging and needling and haranguing (“I just need a little time for ME!” she said, in a pitch-perfect imitation of … well, someone we know.) Finally I got so tired of listening to her that I stomped out–I might have muttered “Jesus!” first–and slammed the door. I heard something on the bureau fall.
So it wasn’t my finest parenting hour. Nor was it the first time I acted more childishly than one of my children. Either I should have willingly left her alone in my room or stuck my ground and stayed, but–as often happens–I bowed to the relentless nagging and then got mad. Still, I have to admit I felt slightly better. Sometimes it’s therapeutic to let them know that you’re irritated, even if you don’t necessarily express it in the most mature way. Once, when my oldest daughter was four, I got so tired of her dawdling in the morning that I actually left for preschool without her. I had a carpool to pick up and she was making me late, so I just drove off. In the end, the plan backfired when she became hysterical and my husband made me return home to get her, rendering us much later than if I’d just waited for her to select her stupid leggings. But I had sent a clear message, and the next morning she was dressed and ready on time.
As a high-school teacher, too, I have found that an occasional well-timed explosion can be very effective in modulating behavior, at least temporarily. Usually I’m the kind of easygoing teacher who says things like, “Come on, kiddos, settle down,” or “Can you guys please sit?” But every so often, when the chatter becomes relentless or the inattentiveness extreme, I snap. “Sit down and shut your mouths!” I have yelled once or twice, finding a sort of perverse satisfaction in their shocked, wounded faces. “If you don’t want to be here, get out!” Or: “Grow up! You’re acting like immature jerks.”
I should know. Witness this text exchange I had with my 13-year-old son after school one day last week, copied verbatim from my cell phone:Me: Don’t forget your sax; if your game is rained out, you can go to jazz band. Him: K pick me up Me: You mean, can you please pick me up? Him: No Long pause while I fume and ponder how I created such a monster and what I can do about it now. Him (after 15 minutes): R u almost here? Me: No Him: Why not? Me: I didn’t like your obnoxious answer. You can’t treat me like crap and then expect me to drop everything for you. Him: Sorry can u please pick me up Me: Be right there
Was anything learned or gained from this exchange? Not clear. But I definitely felt better. I had been heard, at least for a little while. And he remained unfailingly polite for the rest of the day.