The First Rule of Parenting is: "Thou shalt not judge other parents." It is, of course, broken with impunity by... oh, everyone. Including me, as I proceed to Rule #2: "Thou shalt not make a threat thou ist not prepared to follow through on."
Bad Shakespearean-ese aside, why do people do that? "If you don't eat your dinner you'll get no dessert!" Except that you're out at a restaurant and you want dessert, and you'll look like the world's worst schmuck if you get a brownie sundae and your kid sits there watching you eat it through teary eyes, so you get him dessert anyway.
"If you don't behave we're going home right now!" Really? You're going to yank the kid out of the amusement park you just blew a mortgage payment on, after an hour of standing on line for one ride? Or are you going to suddenly pretend you don't see her acting up?
"Okay, if you do that one more time you're going to your room!" He did it five more times and he's still downstairs. Because you can't count, you forgot you ever made the threat or you don't want to look like a mean old parent in front of the company?
The best was the lovely family in back of us at the Yankee game recently, and by "lovely" I mean so unbelievably irritating that I remembered why non-parent types tend to cringe when they see small children. The kid -- I'm estimating about five -- bounced around so much he poked me in the back a few times. Then he didn't want his hot dog. Mommy: "Have a little more. Are you sure you don't want some more hot dog? How about some more hot dog?" Then he wouldn't pose for a photo. Mommy: "No, sweetie, look at the camera, no, over here, smile at Daddy, no, smile at Daddy, look at Daddy, no, not over there, okay, we need to do it again." (News flash, honey: They don't pose for photos. My daughter inevitably smiles right after the shutter clicks. Get used to candid shots.) Then he threw his water bottle, getting DH across the back. And Mommy said, "If you don't stop, you are going to get the biggest time out!"
DH and I were analyzing that one later -- what qualifies as a "biggest" time out? Is that more time than your average time out? Is it a time out plus hard labor? Do you lose visitation rights?
Alas, we'll never know, since little Mr. Ants in My Pants never got any kind of time out. DH did get an apology from Daddy, and they eventually moved down a few rows to unclaimed seats for a better look at Swishalicious (aka Nick Swisher), which may have been the first time any of them was actually watching the game.
Even better: Mommy actually asked the kid, a few innings in, if he wanted to go, and he said "Yes." The woman with them -- Auntie? Friend? -- said she was fine with that. And yet they stayed anyway, because, clearly, Daddy wasn't ready to go yet. Hey thanks, Daddy.
The thing is, when you keep making unrealistic threats, or threats you're obviously not going to follow through on, the kid catches on, and then you are sunk.
Have I done it? Sure. And regretted it instantly after. But the wonderful thing about time outs, I've found, is that you can do them anywhere. We were at a Trenton Thunder game a few weeks back, and my son was acting up, and I ended up pulling him out into the hallway and making him stand, facing the wall, for a few minutes until he cooled off. He had a tantrum at the beach this week and I pulled him over to the fence for a time out on the sand. He was misbehaving in a restaurant yesterday and we went outside for a time out on the sidewalk. Because he's four, and he acts like it, and I don't want him to still be acting like it when he's eight.
And I do think parents whose bluff gets repeatedly called on them steadily lose authority over their kids, and I'd hate to see what those kids will be like when they're eight.
I'd say it's not my problem, but it is when they're sitting behind me at Yankee Stadium.
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