Monday, May 04, 2009


Today I realized that good parenting requires a fertile imagination. It's so easy to be bogged down with the challenges of everyday life, especially for single parents, and especially in today's economy.

Yesterday, for example, I kept asking The Child all day long what he'd like to do. I was hoping for the art museum, zoo or science museum. He had other ideas- he wanted to spend the day on the computer. I had things to do, so I waited. And waited.

Finally sometime late in the afternoon he that he wanted to go to Cinnabon for a cinnamon roll. By this time, I was tired, hungry, frustrated and upset about something that was going on at work. I drove him across town to Cinnabon, griping the whole way. By the time we arrived, he was miserable and I was guilty.

I tried to apologize and smooth things over, explaining the things that were bothering me so that he'd know it wasn't about him. I asked if he wanted to go anywhere else, but he just wanted to return home.

This morning he cried before we left for his school bus stop. He strongly dislikes school, and didn't want to go. I tried to be on my best behavior, asking if there was anything I could do to brighten his morning- short of letting him stay home, that is.

When I returned home after his bus roared off, I sat on the patio feeding peanuts to the squirrels and chipmunks. I wished The Child could have been there with me, because I wanted to talk to him about the reason I do this.

Then something very rare happened: I had a good idea. I ran into the house to get a pen and paper, and I wrote The Child a letter, saying what I would have said had he been there.

This accomplished two things: I communicated my beliefs to him, and I provided him with a writing example. Although The Child is an excellent reader, he has never really enjoyed writing- a common problem among boys.

I am curious about any parenting breakthroughs or pearls of wisdom you all may have to offer- on any aspect of parenting at all- not related specifically to the incident described here. I just want to hear about any examples you have of parenting successes! Those of you who don't have a child are invited to weigh in- you certainly don't have to be a parent to have parenting ideas or theories.


Lynilu said...

Oh, Betty, if only there were an answer to each parenting conundrum. Your idea of the letter is excellent. It allows you to express yourself without conflict.

The only wisdom I can offer is the observation that you *asked* him what he wanted to do, but when his choice wasn't in your range of your own choices, it created a dissonance. You don't *ask* a child, open-endedly, unless you are ready to go along with his choice. If you have things to do, frame it in saying, "What I need today is ...., and after (or while or before or during) that, is there something you would like to do today?"

Another way is to give him 2-3 choices of the day's activities and let him choose. But limit the number to avoid a repeat of what you experienced in your post. Just be thoughtful how things are presented to The Child, for if the choice isn't really there, it is frustrating to everyone.

One last thought .... if you know you have things planned, tell him as far ahead as possible. If he knows on Thursday that Saturday will be scheduled, he has time to accept it. Of course, he may have time for excuses to be built, also, but at least he will have the advantage of planning ahead. And who knows, his excuses created might be valid.

I know The Child seems more content to be home than anywhere else, so it would be good to give him some control in the events when you actually do leave the house. If you begin offering him something of a choice in the necessary trips to the mall or the store, it may help him to not feel resentful about being dragged out of the house to do what he perceives as *your* errands. If you build in the offer as often as is possible, it may help him to feel better about getting out of the house, leaving the computer behind and experiencing activities in the community.

I hope that makes sense. It seems rambling to me, but I haven't figured out how to tame it.

And Betty, I have to say that you've obviously done many good things with The Child, as he wants to spend time with you and at home. He's not clamoring to get away from the house and family. And above all, if this is among your worst problems .... good job!!

Betty said...

Dear Lynilu,

It's very rare for me to be so vague with The Child. But your comments were right on the money- I didn't realize while it was happening that I had set myself up for failure, even though most of the time I know better. Setting limits is so important, but I have been known to forget that. The reason is because I never set boundaries before I had a child!!!!

Yesterday I thought I was able to go along with whatever his choice would end up being. But I was wrong- I should have insisted on a time frame! His decision came too late in the day to be acceptable to me, and I started to lose it en route to Cinnabon.

I revised the post after reading your comment because you said exactly what I needed to hear about yesterday. (Now I'm just asking for any general parenting comment people might have- not related to my post.) My time with this child is too precious to waste it away with my own bad behavior, which was caused by unawareness of my own limits.

Thank you for the incredible clarity.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, when I am really harried, hassled or upset I plead guilty to the fact that I end up using my kids as the punching bag - even if I am aware of it, at times I can't stop myself, I set things up for a spoil :(

After years of watching myself do this, the best way out I find is to keep hugging the kid. That helps - and I just gain their happiness without losing too much of my dignity and by hugging them I get to pay close attention to how I am feeling and usually they choose to do what I want them to - without the ugly confrontations.

Don't know how much you and the Child hug each other generally and whether it would work for you. I find this the best option.

(BTW, I didn't get too much hugging etc. from my parents while growing up, so I tend to overcompensate)

PS: Waiting for your tag post ;)

Loving Annie said...

That was a great idea ! Letter writing, as a way of being able to communicate when not face to face, can be a very sweet addition, especially when you talk about it afterwards...

Loving Annie said...

p.s. what Lynilu said was excellent.

Anonymous said...

The Boy and I used to have a
DATE DAY back when he started
school...He and I would go to the
place of his choice after school
and he would just talk or he would
just people watch...I'd ask him how
his past 7 hours have been...What
did he like most about the day and
what did he like the least...Then
we would go over how to make the
least favorite part a better time.

What you did was perfect...I don't
know if The Child brings his lunch
or not but when The Boy would I
would write a little note...
Just a little I LOVE YOU or HAVE

Never under estimate the power of
a hug...

You're doing great!!!! Beleive me
you really are :)



Betty said...

Dear Shankari,

As you know, it always helps to hear that other parents go through the same stuff.

The Child is going through a phase in which he doesn't seem to want to be hugged, but I will try it anyway.
(The family I grew up in never hugged either.)

I am daunted by your tag post- we'll see.....


Betty said...

Dear Annie,

I gave him the letter, and he read it with no reaction. I was hoping he'd want to save it, but when I asked him if he wanted me to recycle it, he said yes. I was kind of sad, because he always seems to want to keep things that people gave him- I guess the letter didn't mean as much to him as it did to me.


Betty said...

Dear Laurie,

You certainly have a way with the boy. He's lucky!

Thank you for reminding me about notes in the lunch. I haven't done that in a while.


Big Dave T said...

Seems like it was a long time ago that my boys were your child's age. I just remember taking it one day at a time.

I like your letter idea. Sometimes when my boys were in a funk, I'd try to do something "out of the box." A road trip, do a creative project together, I'd write a little family newsletter where one of the boys had the role of a superhero, let them pick out a movie to rent, etc.

It's funny looking back though. The things I would think the boys would remember, they don't. And some of things they remember, I've forgotten. It's hard to know what they've made of my parenting skills.

Betty said...

Dear Big Dave,

Yep, I've already seen evidence of what you're describing. The things I hope he'll remember he doesn't, and he has memories of things I'd forgotten.

I'm glad I started keeping a time capsule. When he was a baby I started placing favorite things and mementos into a huge storage container. His favorite books, shirts, shoes, trinkets are there. At the very least, those things will jar his memory, and also show that he was important to me.

At any rate, it sounds as if you were a very creative parent. I bet your sons will let you know someday how much they appreciated that.