Thursday, October 26, 2006

Taking A Dip In Murky Parenting Waters

Self-doubt. It comes with the parental territory, I think. It starts with fairly benign things like whether to let your baby cry for 5 or 10 minutes before rushing to pick them up, and deciding to push the envelope and go for 10, and then punishing yourself for waiting so long when you see Juniors tear-streaked chubby cheeks. Self-doubt and guilt tend to go hand-in-hand, at least for me.

Which makes the scene at yesterday's soccer practice quite poignant, and why I'm still reviewing it in my head this morning.

We all know Nicholas is an emotionally sensitive kid. We know that. Plus, he's 5 and not in full command of his emotions or reactions yet (oh how I fear his teen years and the angst he's certain to display daily!). But on the other hand, I do expect him to behave appropriately and reinforce core values at every opportunity. I'm a believer that a parent should be a childs parent and not worry so much about being their friend. It's not a popularity contest. But still, it sucks when you have to publicly demonstrate that belief.

So yesterday at soccer practice things started out well enough. Nicholas was happily running around with his teammates and I was enjoying the chit-chat with the other parents. I was tossing a football with Lauren and a 3-yr old boy and it was a very tranquil, pleasant scene. Then suddenly Nicholas came stomping off the field, sulking and pouty, and walked directly past me without saying a word and headed to the back fence.

Me: What's going on, Nicholas? What happened? (not having seen the offending incident, my eyes instead on the younger kids)

N: I'm sad.

Me: Why are you sad? What happened?

N: I'm just sad (said with heavy sigh and a big harrumph)

Me: Well, I can't help you if you don't tell me what happened. I'll give you a few minutes to cool down and then we can talk, ok?

N: But I'm sad, Mama!

I walk back to the parent group, Nicholas continues to sulk by the fence. A few minutes later...

Me: Are you feeling better now? Ready to go back and play soccer some more? The team needs you. Let's go!

N: But I'm still sad.

Me: Honey, please tell me why you're sad. Then we can fix it and you can go play. Come ON!

N: I don't know. Wah!

Me: Nicholas, the best way to not be sad anymore is to have fun. And soccer is fun! So either tell me what's wrong, or please go back and play. Everyone is waiting for you.

Other Mom: Would a cracker help, Nicholas? You can have a cracker. (hands him a piece of graham cracker)

Me: Ok! A cracker! Now, when that cracker is all gone, I want no more sadness. I want to see the smile I like so much.

Nicholas: munches cracker and begins to contort his face as he tries, badly, to keep a sour look on his face instead of a smile. He loves games like this.

Me: Oh! Look! There it is - your smile! Oops, you must be feeling better. Ok, ready to play again? (trying so hard not to show my growing frustration - it's been about 10 minutes of this drama)

Nicholas: (whining) but Maaaammmaaa, will you come play with me? I want you to come with me.

Me: Nicholas, you KNOW I can't play. I'm not on the team. You are. It's just for kids, not Mamas. But I'll walk you back to the practice, ok? Come on, let's go (holding out my hand for him.)

Nicholas: (takes my hand)

Me: Ok, that's better. Now I want to watch you play some soccer! (said in a semi-false cheery voice. gag.)

Nicholas: (running back to where we just came from). But I'm saaaaddddd!!! Wah!

Me: Ok Buddy, let's calm down. Can you tell me why you're sad? No? Take a sip of water and calm down. Everyone is asking for you to come back and play. They need you, Nicholas. We did not come to practice to cry on the sidelines. I'm going to slow-count to five and then I want you to go back and play. Ready? 1......2.....

N: NNNOOOOOO!!!!! Wah!

Me: Nicholas, this is silly. Either you're going to play soccer here, or we're going home. What do you want to do?

N: waahhh!! Now I'm mad, Mama!

Me: Ok, let's go. (begin packing up crap). We're done.

N: Noooo! I don't WANT to go home, Mama!

Me: yes, we're going home. You don't want to tell me why you're sad, or mad, and you dont' want to play soccer. We're going home. Now. Let's go. (finish gathering up crap, corral Lauren, and start long trek across the field towards the parking lot)

N: escalating whiny cry into full-blown meltdown tantrum.

Me: Picking up pace across the field because I'm sure everyone is watching this dramatic scene, and I hate that.

N: Pleeeeaassseee Mama! Let's not go home! I'll stop crying! I'll play soccer! Just give me another chance, Mama!

Me: No. You had at least 3 chances to go back and play, and you didn't want to. We're done.

N: waaahhh! (sobbing and carrying-on) You're the worst mama! I hate this! You don't listen to me! waaahhh! (accompanied by an attempt to hit me, stomping and kicking, and well, full tantrum.)

Me: grim silence as I think, "should I go back and give him another chance to play??" followed by "no, I'm not going to cave in to this behavior. I must stand firm. What I say needs to have meaning. Don't cater to this!"

At the car I had to get in his face to cut through his hysterics and tell him it's absolutely not acceptable for him to speak to me like that and to GET IN THE CAR! which he did. And then, finally, he started to calm down and we could talk about what happened. He was able, at last, to tell me what the original problem was (turned out he used the wrong foot to kick the ball - they were practicing kicking it a certain way and he did it wrong, according to him. The coach never reprimanded him or anything, but he self-flagellates and that's when he sulked off to the fence.).

N: Don't tell Daddy what happened.

Me: why not? Daddy doesn't get as mad as I do. Daddy doesn't yell. Why can't we tell Daddy?

N: Because he'll be soooo mad at me that he'll ask me to leave the family!

Me: Wha - ??! Daddy would NEVER do that, Nicholas.

N: I'm a bad boy. I'm a bad kid.

(lately he's been saying this stuff more and more. We reassure him - constantly - that he's NOT a bad boy and we love him no matter what. We've never once told him he's a bad kid. His behavior might be bad sometimes, but he is not. We make that very clear. And yet, he continues to say this. It worries me, on one hand, because of what it might be indicating about his self-image, self-worth. But on the other hand, it feels like it's an attention-getting ploy and he likes being reassured of our love for him. He likes emotional strokes.)

Of course I had him tell Mr. Chick what went down, and as expected, Mr. Chick kept his cool much better than I did in the heat of the moment. He's totally on my side and agrees with how I handled the situation - by leaving and not caving in. He's got my back, which I appreciate. But at the same time, I can't help but wonder if I was being too hard-assed about it. We'd been going round and round, getting nowhere, for over 15 minutes. He'd spent more time being dramatic on the sidelines than actually playing soccer. I'd had it. He's fine this morning, and really, he was fine last night, too. It's all blown-over. But I'm dwelling on it, replaying it in my head wondering how else I could have handled it. If there was something else I could have done to have prevented The Scene (the agonizingly slow walk across the endless field with my son screaming and promising to do better - to play if given just one more chance - while ALL THE OTHER PARENTS GOT TO WATCH). I wonder if I looked heartless and mean. Was I?

I'm sure we've all had moments of questioning our own parenting. This is my most recent. And they're only going to get harder as the kids get older. But it's important - really important - to me that my kids behave well and respectfully. I need them to know that what I say has meaning. That they can't just walk all over me. That they get nowhere by whining. I chose this particular moment to flex my muscle on the issue. I'm not sure my message sunk in, but I'm hoping that Nicholas will remember this the next time. That when you say you're on a team, you're on the team. You don't just get to misbehave and dink around on the sideline when you should be doing something else. And that when Mama says to play or we're going home, that that's exactly what's going to happen.

What do you think? Was I too harsh? Because I kind of felt harsh. Tell me some of YOUR questionable parenting moments. Misery loves company.

I think you did exactly the right thing. Hopefully the other parents didn't judge you beyond the 'poor thing, been there, done that'. If I saw the same situation and the parent gave in then I would probably be (silently) a bit more judgemental. I have done similar things with Ella before, forced her to leave a situation when she acted up. The only suggestion I have (that works for me) is to get as much of an agreement from Nicholas beforehand. Before you go to soccer each time, and before you sign up for another session, make sure he identifies and agrees it is something he wants to do and, as such, will behave accordingly. This is when you have more control over the situation. Good luck.
Love the blog. Sorry I don't post much but I have been reading all along and recently restarted my diary at iP.
First I have to say that I have been reading your blog since the parenting diary days, and I love it! I would have to say that you did the best thing and I know that I will be facing that soon. My soon to be 3 year old is very strong willed and tests me now. I can't wait until she is a little older and we can try these types of things. You have given ME an example of what I will do in the future. We all have self-guilt and doubt, it's normal. I know that I have lost my cool a couple of times and it was not cool, but not damaging:) Hang in there.


You did great! You did what was hard. You gave him several chances, let him know the consequence, and followed through. Yeah - its hard when our kids do not behave in public how we know they can behave but we have ALL been there! Nicholas reminds me so much of my first born - they are so hard on themselves. Hang in there!
I don't think you were harsh at all. If anything, maybe you can tell him that you won't be staying and trying to talk him into it next time, you will just leave as soon as he decides he won't play. There was a little boy on my son's team this past summer who basically would play mind games with his parents the whole time. Crying and not wanting to play in practice and games (there were a couple games he did not play the whole game, while they stood there BEGGING him to play, and even let him have the treat at the end!) So, when I read your situation I was so happy to see you went thru and took him home. I think it will make him act more appropriately the next time because he knows you are serious. So many parents sit and negotiate with their kids and that is simply not the answer. Kids have too much power IMO. Lots of kids this age go thru the thinking that they are bad kids, if he is loved and you affirm this then he will get past that. I say good for you in how you handled it. He will remember it next time I bet!
I totally agree with what you did. Really. I agree tha twhat we as paretns say has to have meaning. It is hard now to do what we have to do, but it will be 10 times harder when they are older if we didn't stand firm now.
I totally think you did the right thing. It's hard and it sucks to be a parent, but everyone else who was watching (if they are a parent) has been there and knows what it's like.

This is one of my favorite quotes and helps me when I have one of "those" days as a parent....

Reese Witherspoon's parenting advice

If you're not yelling at your kids, you're not spending enough time with them.

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