In praise of the baffled eye-roll

Frank Bruni of The New York Times has a perfectly timed piece: A Childless Bystander’s Baffled Hymn. I was just questioning the value of my rather authoritative (which in weaker moments verges on authoritarian) parenting style… I try to relax and focus on what matters, I don’t always succeed. Parents… moms… we’re hard on each other, and ourselves. (I know I say this isn’t a mommy blog, so let’s call this post a work-related one.)

Just last week I was talking with a friend (a mother of two) about the guilt that mothers can pass along to each other. She had recently admitted to one group of mothers that she would have her daughter attend the — horrors! — community’s public school, rather than schlep her 45 minutes out of the way to the charter school with the full-time gifted program. It simply made no logistical nor emotional sense (why spend so much time in a car and miss out on all that community has to offer: a great public school with a lovely pull-out gifted program, excellent after-school activities, and that intangible sense of “community” itself, all for the sake of a full-time gifted curriculum and its hours upon hours of daily homework? And what about her little sister? Is it best for a four-year-old to spend nearly two hours in a car just to get her sister to school? When they could walk to one?)

One mother said, apparently with a tone worthy of the Dowager Countess of Grantham: “Well, we all have to make sacrifices.”

There’s a reason I don’t hang out with a lot of mothers of my daughter’s classmates, I guess.

Parenting can, if you let it, be a competitive exercise. Among other parents (in my case, usually other mothers), and among you and your children.

Consider Mr. Bruni’s take on what in my home is a near daily occurrence:

About the feeding: explain to me what’s gained by the voluminous discussions, within earshot of little Edwin or Edwina, of what he or she probably won’t eat or definitely won’t eat or must somehow be made to eat, perhaps with a bribe. Any food that lands on the table after that much tortured preamble is bound to be eyed with suspicion and ultimately spurned, in part because it has ceased to be a vessel of nutrition or an answer to hunger at that point. It has become a power struggle: the parents’ wishes versus the child’s defiance. And the battle seems to end one and only one way. With chicken fingers.

Duly (and sheepishly) noted. My husband has the same take. Last night, over dinner, as I negotiated with our son for the 1000th time to eat some more freaking fish (the crunchy kind, crunchy like… chicken fingers!) as he needed the protein and would not grow well if he only ate apples, my husband said:

“You know [Son,] you’re coming close to pushing me over the edge. Things are going to change.”

Now, certainly, our son was aggravating him. But I know also that I planted the seed of that aggravation. Hard to have a power struggle by yourself.

“Daddy’s right, [Son.]” I said. “Tomorrow, I will make dinner, and you will eat it, or not. If you eat it, and still have room for dessert, great. If you don’t eat it, that will have to mean that you are not hungry, and you can be done for the evening. There will be no talking about it, I will not ask you to eat more bites, nothing like that. You’ll get no dessert, no bedtime snack, you’ll just brush and floss your teeth.”

The little stinker grinned at me. “I know, I’ve tried this before,” I admitted. “But this time, Daddy’s going to help me remember.”

Our son looked a bit more affected by this statement.

Wish me luck. I’m about to make black bean and ground beef tacos.

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