|Andrew was pretty sure that the Carson therapist who ran his Parent Group did not have kids. The stuff she suggested sounded good, until you tried it out in real life. Real life was filled with Legos in the plumbing and nail polish paintings on the new kitchen countertop. Real life was the cost of those dance costumes and the fact that Andrew and his wife had not had a date since 2011.|
In group, the therapist sounded impossibly reasonable and well-rested, as though she’d had a quiet evening to herself the night before. She was nice and she knew her stuff, but still, her excellent posture put a strain on all the parents, whose shoulders universally sagged. This week’s topic was about making appropriate consequences for your kids’ mistakes. Parents were encouraged to work out the family rules and consequences during a Family Meeting, preferably when everyone is getting along. Parents were advised not to come up with oversized consequences in the heat of the moment that were unreasonable or impossible to fulfill.
During Family Meeting, parents should ask the kids first to come up with the consequences to common problems that the family anticipates might occur during the week. The thinking is that since kids are little terrorists, the parents will look benevolent and merciful when their reasonable suggestions follow their children’s dramatic visions of vengeance for themselves and their siblings. (The therapist didn’t put it that way, but this is how Andrew understood it). Andrew had tried it out by asking his youngest son what he thought should happen if he played on his computer game longer than agreed. The therapist was right; his six year old son had said, in November, “I shouldn’t be allowed to play with it again until the end of the school year.”
“You can work out a reasonable consequence that connects to the thing they have done wrong…be careful, tempers can run hot--the consequence should not be so unjust that it threatens the child’s bond with you as a parent,” the Carson therapist had said.
At dinner, Andrew was trying to keep all of this in mind. They hadn’t had a Family Meeting yet. He and his wife had been up all night cleaning the bedding from the vomiting. The kids were now, during dinner, debriefing their vomiting experience in professional sport caster detail. The oldest child laughed so hard, he spilled his milk. The second reached over to help clean up the milk, and accidentally spilled his own as he did so. This delighted the youngest brother, who looked as though he might need to spill his milk to continue the joy.
“That’s IT!” bellowed Andrew, in exactly the intimidating voice his therapist told them in group would ensure a future disastrous adolescence for everyone involved.
“The next person who spills his milk will go A WEEK with NO TELEVISION and NO DESSERT and WILL DO ALL THE LAUNDRY!”
The kids looked at him, flattened, laughter gone. His wife’s brows were arched and her mouth was set in a way that would ensure Andrew’s own misery for the rest of the meal and possibly the evening if he didn’t figure out how to fix this. Andrew thought about Parenting Group. He could say he didn’t mean it, but then he remembered the therapist with the good posture telling him that if he didn’t follow through on the consequences he’d laid out, that he would lose credibility with his kids.
He reached out to the ketchup bottle and tipped his youngest son’s milk over onto the table with the back of his hand.
“Oh! It’s me!” said Andrew. His sons looked at one another furtively and smiled.” Looks like I’ll have plenty of time to do the laundry this week, since I won’t get any television time!”
The kids sprang to action cleaning up the table. The youngest passed by his Dad’s chair with the wadded up paper towels, and whispered, “I have a stash from Halloween, Dad, if the week gets too hard, come see me.”
“No, I’ll take my consequence, Buddy—but thanks.” Bond intact.
By JAC Patrissi