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?