I really like the general direction that parenting practices seem to be heading, especially when it comes to disciplining children: there’s less of an emphasis on punishment, and more on encouragement to do better; less screaming like a banshee, more mutual understanding … so why am I finding it so difficult to abandon my old-fashioned ways, and get on board this new, shinier ship?
I often feel as if I have a mom on each shoulder, whispering into my ears as they vie for possession of my soul. On the one side, Old-School Mom, hissing things like, “Because I told you to!” and, “If you don’t stop whining I’ll give you something to whine about.” On the other side, Modern Mom, gently murmuring, “Let’s work this out together,” and, “Help me see it from your point of view.”
I’m with Modern Mom. I like her; I want to be her. But there’s no denying that, at least in this house, it’s Old-School Mom who gets the job done.
Scene 1: Children’s bathroom. On pretty much any day.
Me, trying to be like Modern Mom: I see that there is another empty toilet roll on the floor. I’d like you to put the empty toilet rolls in the cardboard recycling bin when you start a new roll.
Younger child: Why?
Modern Me: Because you have an important role to play in making the house nice, for all of us to enjoy. Do you want the house to look nice?
Child: I think it looks nice with toilet rolls on the floor.
Modern Me: Empty toilet rolls are rubbish; they belong in the recycling bin. Please pick them up when you’re finished with them.
Scene 2: Same bathroom, a few days later.
Modern Me: I see you decided to put the empty toilet rolls in my shoes, instead of the bin.
Child (laughing maniacally): Yes. Ha ha ha!
Modern Me, trying to keep the tone light: That’s a good first step. But from now on, please put the empty toilet rolls in the bin when you start a new roll.
Modern Me, struggling: We’ve been through this. They are rubbish. Rubbish goes in the bin.
Child: We could use them to make a robot.
Modern Me: We have a craft drawer full of empty toilet rolls to make a robot, and we’ve never made a robot. If we ever actually do make a robot, we can use those ones. These ones, you must throw in the cardboard recycling bin.
Child: I want to start collecting them.
Modern Me, left eye starting to twitch: You have nowhere to keep them. Your bedroom is full of rocks (this is true).
Child: I could keep them over there, on the floor.
Modern Me, really struggling: No! OMG, just throw them in the bin, OK?
Modern Me, morphing into Old-School Mom, with facial contortions, groaning and clothes-tearing, like when Bruce Banner unleashes the Incredible Hulk: Because I said so and if you do not do it there will befall upon you a punishment so terrible that you will wish cardboard toilet rolls had never been invented! Or robots! Or bins! Or floors! OK?
Child: OK, Mommy.
This is not the mother that I want to be, readers, but this is what I become.
I suppose that another way I could play this would be to incentivise (bribe) the child to do what I want, but seriously…where will it end? Must I reward her for everything? For not throwing her clothes on the floor? Not hiding her vegetables under her? (I’m not missing a noun in that last sentence, by the way. She has, on occasion, dealt with unwanted vegetables by sitting on them.)
And don’t even get me started on Natural Consequences. What is the natural consequence of a child not brushing her teeth (another frequent battle)? By the time that halitoxic chicken has come home to roost, I’ll be the dentist’s new BFF, and a zillion CHFs in debt.
So…baby steps. This week, my goal is just to get one of my children to hang up a wet towel, without me having to lie on the floor screaming. If I get that right, I’ll declare myself Modern Mother of the Year. My prize will be ten minutes in the bath without anyone funnelling questions at me through the keyhole, and my trophy will be huge. I’m making it myself, entirely out of empty toilet rolls.
By Robyn Goss
Robyn is a part-time writer and full-time slave to her two young daughters. Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, she now lives in a little cow-rich village in Switzerland.
She spends her free time making To Do lists of things she’ll probably never get around to doing (have the car cleaned; vacuum under the bed; run a half-marathon) and putting the finishing touches to her third novel. To read more of Robyn’s writing, click here or find her on her Facebook page, Loco Parentis.
Illustration by Susana Gutierrez
Susana is a project manager and freelance illustrator. She lives in Zurich and is the mother of two girls. She can be reached at: email@example.com