Head and heart

We had a rough morning today.

We’ve been working with Fred on time management, and today he was a half hour late coming down for breakfast after already being twenty minutes late for school yesterday. This despite the fact that both Max and I had, at different points, stopped by his room to remind him to get dressed and come downstairs.

Because this has been going on long enough – and we were at our wit’s end because we have tried everything – with Max’s nod, I “punished” Fred by asking him to come straight home after school today. Yesterday was supposed to be his last day at his after school program, but he and his friends agreed he’d come back one more day to say their good byes and play together.

I hadn’t anticipated the depth of his devastation. You can picture the rest: screaming, crying, negotiating, hyperventilating. If he can’t see his friends one last time today then, he protested, he was not going to school at all.

When the screaming and anger finally gave way to a momentary calm, he wept and said, “I’m going to miss my friends. It’s my last day.”

At that moment I looked over at Max, who shook his head hard at me. “NO…we are staying firm,” his eyes said.

And that is when I went upstairs to my room and fell apart.

There was no script for me to follow this morning, or any morning, or any day, for that matter, in this parenting business. In my mind this would be like any of the 100 or so days that we’ve had so far: Fred would saunter to the kitchen table by 7:05 or so, I’d give him his breakfast, he’d eat it, he’d put on his jacket and backpack, and he’d be off at school.

I didn’t know he was going to be half an hour late, because he has never been this late before. (He was in his room gathering all the toys he was going to take to after school.)

I didn’t have planned the best possible consequences for this behavior because, I don’t know…I’m tired, or busy, or lazy, or clueless. I flew by the seat of my tired pants – my mind one half on getting his snacks and lunch and breakfast ready, one half semi-functioning. But I needed to think fast, and I know my pent-up frustrations and concerns about his time management fueled my eventual choice of punishment.

So many times during parenting I feel like that guy in the action thrillers: the one who has to figure out in 60 seconds which wire goes with which, so the plane doesn’t blow up.

When Fred reacted the way he did I realized I had pushed the biggest button on his little body. More than toys, more than video games, more than sweets, his friends are what mean the most to him. “Why didn’t you warn me this would be my consequence? Why can’t you give me a different punishment?” he cried. “Why this one?”

When I realized this, I sat down with him and promised I would get the contact information of his friends’ parents. We’ll have his friends over for play dates. He can absolutely still stay in touch with them. But he should have planned his good-byes for yesterday, the official last day we’d agreed on. And his spending half an hour to prepare for his after school playing meant that he was prioritizing socializing over getting to school on time. This is the logic that I tried to use to voice over the crying of my own heart.

Logic…I have plenty of it. The problem, sometimes, is that my heart is bigger, and louder. As a parent I know I need to somehow find a place where the two can meet as equals.

Forty-five agonizing minutes later, we were able to calmly get our tear-stained boy in the car to school with the agreement that he would come straight home in the afternoon. And I went back to my room, to pick up the crying where Fred had left off.

Have you had moments or days like this?

10 thoughts on “Head and heart

  1. Oh, dear Ceci.

    It’s so hard. Being a parent is so hard.

    More important than anything is to be a unified front with your husband.

    That counts over anything.

    Second, I’d let Max feel that he’s been heard. A family meeting explaining why you did what you did and a promise from you that next time, consequences will be explained before they’re carried out.

    This is how we learn. Through trial and results.

    I understand both sides.

    I listen to Max but I know the importance of being together as parents. Children have to see that you are together as parents.

    THis is a tough one. Max will remember. he will be heard. And he will learn that you and his father are on the same expectation level for behavior.

    So hard: parenting is only hard when you’re doing it right.


    • Oh Alexandra, you have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you for your understanding. What killed me was that I just threw this at him, without warning. That wasn’t fair. But all of it was happening “live.” I was thinking on the go and once I said it my husband was on board and we (mistakenly?) felt we couldn’t back down, no matter what. My husband and I did talk (more like shout) in a separate room but at the time I didn’t know what was bothering me, so I couldn’t explore an alternative solution. Sigh. And you are kind with your words. Learn through trial and results. It feels like a huge error to me, but, we can still talk to Fred, and keep those lines of communication open. He still ended last night with a hug for me, and his usual “I love you too too much.” Thanks again 🙂

  2. Hi Cecilia. This post really rung true for me, as so many of your posts have lately. We have exactly the same problem with our daughter who just can’t seem to focus in the mornings, leading to a lot of tension at home. Not sure how to solve it and surely there is a compromise to be had. But i do hear you-it hurts sometimes to make them behave like adults and one wonders what all the rush is really for?

    All best
    Delia Lloyd

  3. Hi Cecilia. I can’t tell if my comment already went thru via wordpress but just to say that this post really hit home for me, as so many of your posts have lately. We have exactly the same problem with our daughter and it’s a battle every day to get her out the door, not without its share of yelling. There must be a compromise out there somewhere but we haven’t found it yet, short of letting her be late and suffering the consequences with the head teacher. (Punctuality is huge here and you can be fined for being serially late….) But I hear you: at what point are they meant to behave like grown ups and do we really want them to be so obsessed with time-isn’t that what childhood is all about?

    Delia LLoyd

  4. Thanks so much for relating, Delia. My husband and I often find ourselves falling back on the line, “If this were work, you’d get fired!” We’re trying to instill these habits of personal responsibility and punctuality early, since it will just get harder and harder the longer we wait. But I don’t know if it is like toilet training – something that comes more easily once they hit a certain age and have reached a certain developmental stage. Or if it is simply temperament? I honestly think parenting gets harder, not easier, as our kids get older….

  5. I feel your dilemma, Cecilia. Sometimes the only phrase that comes out of my mouth is,”Hurry up! We are going to be late.”

    Although I empathize with Jet, I understand that there must be some real consequence to his behavior. So many times, my husband and I give in and I wonder what example we are setting for my daughter. I often wonder because she is our only whether our expectations are higher and we are sometimes speeding up her adulthood. A definite balance is necessary, but like you I am not certain where to draw the line.

    • I hear you, Rudri; this describes us as well: “So many times, my husband and I give in and I wonder what example we are setting for my daughter. I often wonder because she is our only whether our expectations are higher and we are sometimes speeding up her adulthood.” I think about this often, and often go to extremes — “Are we babying him too much? Are we expecting him to act like an adult?” I wish it weren’t all so confusing. It is comforting to know that other parents are going through the same and we can talk about it.


  6. Oh yes. I know this too well. Sometimes I’m taken by surprise by Little Miss’ misbehavior that I don’t even have a good consequence planned for her behavior. Instead, I desperately rattle the first thing that comes to mind, and they’re not often the best either. But rather than back down once she starts crying, I have to follow through to show her that I meant business although in hindsight, I probably thought it’s too harsh as well.

    I like your imagery of the action-packed movie with the crappy decision – blue wire or red wire? Yep. That’s us. And oh, they both lead to a plane blowing up one way or another…

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