Parenthood is a gift. I have encountered enough infertility and devastating pregnancy outcomes to know that. I am so blessed and am grateful for my children every day, and I don’t take them for granted. But, I will “serious voice” them in a minute if they loose their minds and forget I’m their mother, even for a moment. My serious voice/look works like a charm. They’ve never said it, but I wonder if they secretly believe that I am actually crazy and could go psycho-mom on them at any moment. I think that subliminal fear is good- it usually keeps them out of trouble.
Today leaving my 7 year-old son’s Improv class (yes, that’s a thing), I chatted briefly with the teacher as we prepared to get our coats. I witnessed an exchange between a boy and his father where the father was trying to get the boy to leave. The boy said “No, Dad. I am spinning on this chair.” When the father again, very patiently asked him to get ready, the boy’s voice got more stern as he replied, “NO. I am still spinning.” Do you know they were still inside the class even after I got all three of my children into the car and buckled in? My own son was like “Mom, at least I listen to you.” I thought in my head, “boy, you don’t have a choice!”
Michelle Obama was speaking at a private even and was heckled by a woman who wanted her to talk about something else. She came down off of the podium and walked right up to the woman. The woman recounted later that she felt like the First Lady was just a few inches away from her face. She said in a stern momma-don’t-play tone, “One of the things I don’t do well is this. Listen to me or you can take the mic but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.” I heard that story and thought, “Momma don’t take no mess.” After watching countless episodes of British kid-wrangler “Supernanny”, in addition to growing up in a Black household, I have cultivated a few simple techniques for getting my kids to listen and obey (and no, I don’t count to 3).
- Eye Contact: A straight faced, stern toned “look at me” get’s the attention. Sometimes I even up the ante by bringing myself face-to-face on their level. No nonsense.
- Serious Voice: Not yelling, at least not at first. Not sweet or understanding though. Not to liken dog training to child rearing, but when have you ever heard a dog trainer say “Fido, please sit down”? No, you hear “SIT. STAY. COME”. The serious voice may take practice, but you’ll get it.
- Firm Grab: In a moment of child-insanity when one of my kids forgets to respond appropriately to my look and voice, I’ll grab him by the wrist, pull him to me and repeat the above. That wrist action is tight enough to remind him that I am bigger and stronger than them. I have not spanked my kids. I get the point across well before it comes to that. It’s nothing stronger than a firm handshake, but the shock value is lasting.
- You’re Done: Whatever they are doing that they shouldn’t be, post-warning, ends in a “Come here. You’re Done.” This means give me or get rid of whatever you were playing with, and come sit right next to me. Party pooper? Yes I am. They are not allowed to return to playing until they can tell me what they did wrong and apologize in a form that I believe. Top it off with a “If you do it again, the punishment will be worse”, and the deal is sealed. I rarely escalate to step 3 or 4 because the 1/2 combo is typically enough. Occasionally I surprise them and go straight to 4. I’m not right.
I am not advocating for being mean to your kids. I am definitely at doting mother. I spoil them in many respects. For example, they are total apple snobs. If you think they are going to eat a Gala, Fuji or Ambrosia apple, you have another thing coming. Red Delicious? Apple Please! If it isn’t Pink Lady or Janagold, I’m better off not wasting my money. My parents’ generation would say, “Boy, you better eat that apple! Food is food!” Not me. I’ll go to three different grocery stores to satisfy their special-ness. What they are NOT going to do, though, is disrespect me, disobey me, or grow up to be anything but respectful to those who deserve it. No nonsense parenting now prayerfully will mean appropriate behavior with authority figures later.