Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Parenting Backslide

Parenting is a lot like pushing a boulder up a hill.

It is difficult, it is challenging, and there are bound to be moments where you slip up and the thing just kind of rolls away from you.

With two little ones under four I'm intimately familiar with such backslides. Potty training, which seemed at some point in our recent history so tantalizingly close to completion, is of late back at its poop-strewn starting gate. Bedtime, which for a month or two was happening like clockwork, has devolved into a standoff with one or more of my children yelling, "MAMA!! MAMA!!!" through the crack at the base of the door as I increasingly raise the volume on my Pandora station in an attempt to drown out their cries. 
But I accept that such behavior regression is to be expected from young children.

More disturbing have been my own backslides as a parent, which can take a variety of forms. There are the times when I bail on the pre-meal hand-washing in favor of just cleaning the kids' paws with a baby wipe and calling it a day. There have been days when educational and stimulating outings have been shelved in favor of allowing the children to run wild in the yard while I catch up on DVRed episodes of the Real Housewives.

And it should come as no surprise that December has brought a cavalcade of such parenting backslides. As I mentioned last week, my Holiday season has been a little bit busy. I've been running around like a maniac doing Christmas prep, and in a particularly egregious example of the parenting backslide, I have accidentally found myself relying to a disturbing degree on a technique I call "Cookie Based Bribery".

It started with the simple reality that at Christmastime there are cookies EVERYWHERE. It is also a time of year when I am constantly attempting to prod my offspring through a series of uniquely challenging events, such as the mad dashes through the local mega-store to retrieve last-minute gifts, the outings to procure wrapping paper and decorations, and of course, the always-dreaded line to meet Santa.

For me, the combination of cookies and behavioral challenges only had one possible solution. 

It started one day as I was trying to induce my two children to don adorable Santa caps and help deliver cookies to our neighbors. It wasn't going that well, as they seemed to prefer running around the playroom in circles with only an occasional break to assault one another over a disputed toy.

Then it came out of my mouth, 

"Just come on and I'll give you a cookie."

All movement stopped as the boys looked at me like German Shepherds spotting a passing squirrel. They toddered after me happily as I waved two cookies in front of their eager faces and every last cookie got delivered without incident.

The next day I needed to run into the grocery store after an outing to the park. The kids were reluctant to accompany me -- and there it was again,

"Be good in the store and I'll get you a cookie."

The slide into total cookie reliance was amazingly precipitous. 

By the end of the week, my entire parenting approach resembled nothing more than a trainer at a wild animal park, as I bent my children to my will through judicious use of a pocketful of gingerbread men pieces. 

I'm not going to lie. It is AWESOME.

I've been truly amazed at what my children are capable of on a diet comprised almost entirely of crumbled up baked goods. And while I accept on some basic level that this is not a viable long-term parenting solution, I'm currently accepting it as the only way I'm going to make it through December.

I'll just have to break it to the kids gently that "NO MORE COOKIES, DAMMIT" is our all-family New Year's Resolution.

comic by Gegen Den Strich