Revealed: The Dirty Trick Of Parenting
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A few weeks ago, Santa Claus came to town. It was going to be a big day: the Wife and I were selling the visit to Santa hard and the Boy was getting more and more excited with each passing day."So, when Beckwith says that the best tools at a parent’s disposal are shame, fear and ridicule, I can laugh, but I can also see some truth in it."
Today? No, not today. Saturday. Is it Saturday yet? No, it’s Monday. Today? No, it’s only Tuesday.
And so on.
By Wednesday, the Boy was in a lather. Santa this and Santa that and what presents was he going to bring me and are we gonna see him soon and does he live near Granny’s house and I don’t want to eat this and I want to play for five more minutes and, no, I don’t want to go to bed just now.
So out came the big guns. No bed? OK, no Santa. Only good kids get to see Santa, so I guess you won’t be seeing him. G’night.
And then results: peas eaten, pajamas on, baths taken. All thanks to the threat of a bad word in Santa’s ear. Because a threat was all it was and, ultimately, an empty one. We’d already made plans with other parent-friends of ours -- of course we were going to go see Santa at the shopping centre. Nevertheless, the effect it had on the Boy was magical. And it was intoxicating.
For a few days, I felt like Peter Parker discovering his spider powers and then Ben Kenobi telling those stormtrooper dummies these aren’t the droids they’re looking for. The next step, I suppose, would have been channeling power-crazed Ahab driving the crew of the Pequod to destruction, but luckily the visit to Santa came and went before we got that far. But I did learn that there is a way to manipulate your kids into doing what you want them to do and that it’s an amazingly powerful tool.
Now, I’m not normally one for mummy blogs and parenting forums. Most of the tips for manipulating children just involve masking chores as games or adding some kind of absurd element to a simple request in order to make it fun. The search gets even grimmer when you Google “manipulating children” -- it’s all divorce, child-custody battles and kids breaking their parents’ wills. Semantically speaking, "manipulation" carries some serious baggage.
With a bit of tweaking and more searching, I found something more up my line. John, a New Yorker, Xanga blogger and father, wrote about manipulating his child into becoming a New York Yankees fan, an undertaking I can appreciate in full. A Miami reporter, according to this blog, wrote about the beneficial effects of bribery and stoking sibling rivalry at the dinner table.
But the national authority on psychologically manipulating your child -- in a good way, of course -- has to be stand-up comedienne Elizabeth Beckwith, whose 2009 book,Raising the Perfect Child Through Guilt and Manipulation, is a healthy and welcome antidote to all the earnest and frequently useless advice you’ll find out there, whether it be from mummy blogs or Christians still keen on Biblical discipline tips.
Beckwith is refreshing because her honesty rings true: The family she was raised in sounds a little crazy, like mine; her kids sound like they drive her insane, like mine; and she approaches parenting with a healthy dose of common sense, humour and psychological fascism, as I also try to do with mine. And I’m willing to bet that in 20 years’ time, her kids will be fine, maybe even better than fine because they had the type of mother who isn’t afraid to proclaim that 4-year-old girls can be little bitches. (And this is true. I’ve witnessed it myself.)
I think what annoyed me most searching through all these websites and articles and testimonials by parents was the fact that even at their most exasperated, the authors all sounded so goddamned cheery as they described their problems and brats. When my kid disobeys or ignores me, it pisses me off. So, when Beckwith says that the best tools at a parent’s disposal are shame, fear and ridicule, I can laugh, but I can also see some truth in it.
Staying one step ahead of a child isn’t child’s play. It takes work and a fair amount of guile. I’m not out to humiliate my kids, and, no, I don’t have a white whale gnawing at the corner of my psyche. But I’d be happy if it didn’t take the Boy 40 minutes to get his underwear on.