Sometimes Love Means Having to be the Bad Guy

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Kazzy

One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    Reading this, my mind fills with the flashes I had as a young adult in my late teens, early 20’s that “I HAVE BEEN LIED TO!”

    About rock and roll, about alcohol, about marijuana, about sex. Well, yes, and about the age of the universe.

    Getting through those realizations were formative for my adult self… and I’m wondering what I might not question had I not gone through them.

    I shudder to think.Report

  2. Avatar zic
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    Sometimes, even with adult love, we have to be the bad guy.

    I put my foot down about a decade ago with my husband’s drinking. He didn’t really seem like an alcoholic in the classic sense; none of the disruptive alcoholic behaviors we associate with the disease. But when he drank (and he’s a musician, he works in bars, and people supply the band amply,) he began having extreme personality change; he’s shy, and became extroverted, for instance. He would drink himself sick more and more often, losing the next day to it. And he reached a point where he’d have tremors the next day, until he had an afternoon cocktail. So I was the bad guy, and told him to quit, that I simply would not abide it anymore.

    And he did. He’s been sober for a long time, now.

    This in itself is not easy, either. We’re both very intense and focused people, and not all that great on casual conversation; maybe a little bit toward Asperger’s. Alcohol is a terrific social grease. And many of our friends are also musicians and probably alcoholics, and having us dry discomforts them.

    But we’ve also both managed to accomplish an incredible body of work in that decade, work that we would simply not have been able to do had we been drinking. I look at others our age (50’s), and see that their most productive years are behind them, and often, alcohol’s to blame.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
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      says:

      I struggle with this when it comes to adults. Adults have a different agency from children. That said, I do think “tough love” is often warranted. The question would be how we enforce it. If your husband didn’t want to stop drinking, it would have been wrong for you to physically remove the drink from his hand unless there was imminent danger to himself or others (e.g., he was behind the wheel of a car). However, I would not hesitate to physically remove a pair of scissors from the hand of a child sprinting across the room. You could impose other consequences… “I can’t be with someone who treats himself, his life, me, and my life this way”… but they would almost certainly have to be of a different form than they would be with a child. Avoiding enablement would be more of the name of the game than would be outright prohibition.

      I remember advising my mom on this when my brother was making some sub-ideal life choices, many of which she disapproved of. “Mom… he’s 30. You can’t berate him into finding a career. What you can do is say he can’t continue to live at home rent free if he is going to bounce from job to job and quit the moment they get hard.”Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy
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        You can’t berate him into finding a career.

        Ha! Let me introduce you to my parents. And I loped past 30 a while ago.

        I do get and acknowledge your point that adults should be treated like adults, but things are a bit different when the adult is your spouse. Surely some of this arms-length, I-respect-your-decisions-whatever-they-might-be attitude can be tempered or forgone when the adult is your spouse.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        @vikram-bath

        Oh, certainly. My wife does all sorts of things I disapprove of and which I actively seek to change in her. And she does the same with me. That is indeed part of loving someone… looking out for their own best interest, even when they aren’t. I just think there is a sliding scale on how much you can literally *force* someone to do something that roughly correlates with age. My son is 10-months-old. If I see him about to take a tumble, I can swoop in and pick him up. In fact, I need to do this because he lacks all sorts of things that would allow him to avoid the tumble himself. My response would be different if he were 5 or 15 or 25. That doesn’t mean I’d stand idly by. But I probably won’t be picking up the 25-year-old version of him.Report

  3. Avatar boegiboe
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    says:

    My trouble is in the mistakes. As my daughter grows older, she becomes more and more capable of surprising me. She is always actively searching for the limits by pushing them, and sometimes I don’t know where the actual limit is, so she may get slightly different responses from me at different times. Also, she remembers indulgences from when she was younger and less capable, and becomes furious when the limits tighten. She has a very strong desire to seem incapable around me because she knows that I will expect more of her as she proves herself capable.

    Eh, maybe this just sounds like venting, but I really am concerned that her constantly pushing against limits and against self-improvement is due to my inconsistency and poor memory (compared to hers).Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to boegiboe
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      says:

      @boegiboe

      “She has a very strong desire to seem incapable around me because she knows that I will expect more of her as she proves herself capable.”

      This is common. Some kids hide the ability to read from their parents because they fear it means the end of bedtime stories. I don’t know exactly how old your daughter is, but if she is in the 5-6-7 range, you could reason with her thusly: “I know you are able to put your shoes on by yourself. I also know you like when I help you because it means more time with Daddy. BUT… if you get your shoes on by yourself, then I’m able to finish washing the dishes while you do it. That means we have even more time together and we can spend it doing something funner than putting on shoes.”

      There are other approaches. You can playfully appeal to her vanity: “You can’t trick me! I know you know how to put your shoes on!”
      Or you can take a harder line: “I know you know how to put your shoes on so I’m not going to help you. You are going to sit here until you put them. If it’s time to leave for school and they still aren’t on, you’ll get in the car without them and put them on once you get there.”

      You can also employ these in conjunction, though need to be really thoughtful about doing so. And outside forces will also dictate.

      I also wouldn’t stress inconsistencies over time. You’re not perfect; no one is. And you operate in the “real world”. It is easy for me to do these things in school because I’m getting paid to do nothing other than attend to your child. You are often trying to do the same things I do but you’re also trying to get dinner on the table and the laundry done and the floor cleaned. So it is necessarily going to look different. But if you are treating her differently at 6 than you did at 3 and she is saying, “Hey… I want you to carry me like when I was 3,” you can simply explain to her that she isn’t 3 and you won’t treat her like a 3-year-old. But if she wants to insist on that, she gets the entire 3-year-old package… which means none of the privileges that three extra years on the planet have afforded her.

      If all else fails… noogies.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        “This is common. Some kids hide the ability to read from their parents because they fear it means the end of bedtime stories.”

        I’ve seen this pattern with my stepdaughter. When she was younger she would let her grandmother cut up her food for her at their house even though she had been doing it for over a year at home. Same with having her hair washed in the sink (a big treat) or other things she should be able to do for herself. It is still going on at nearly 16. She will ‘forget’ to get herself a drink before dinner because she knows my wife will do it. It can be infuriating.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to boegiboe
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      says:

      I really am concerned that her constantly pushing against limits and against self-improvement is due to my inconsistency and poor memory (compared to hers).

      From what you describe, I don’t think so. Rather, I she’s very aware of rules and how thinks work and who does what. If you’re so inclined, there’s a lot of testing the boundaries there. If you are relatively inconsistent as you work things out (but are then consistent), I don’t think that’s a problem, I think, instead, it demonstrates a willingness to work things out and to change when the worked-out-solution isn’t working.

      Also, she remembers indulgences from when she was younger and less capable, and becomes furious when the limits tighten. She has a very strong desire to seem incapable around me because she knows that I will expect more of her as she proves herself capable.

      Here, it’s important to reward her for doing more and for being independent; at the very least with appreciation of achieving something new and of being responsible, and where appropriate, recognition of the effort it took, especially if multiple tries were required. I think it’s really important to help children see that a failure at first, followed by repeated attempts, leads to improvement, and that this is the path to being good at something. There is no such thing as natural talent, there’s inclination and effort. Not not natural talent.Report

      • Avatar boegiboe in reply to zic
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        says:

        I think it’s really important to help children see that a failure at first, followed by repeated attempts, leads to improvement, and that this is the path to being good at something. There is no such thing as natural talent, there’s inclination and effort. Not not natural talent.

        We both try hard to remember to promote this idea to her. Everyone who spends a little bit of time with her inevitably says she’s “so beautiful” so we really praise her when she trys “hard even when something doesn’t work.” Things like that. But she doesn’t “like to do hard things. I like to do only easy things.” I think she’s just pushing my buttons, but there’s always the worry that it’s deeper. Parenting always comes with worry, I guess.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
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        says:

        @boegiboe

        First, this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/how-to-talk-to-little-girls

        Second, my kids do that. How old is she? When kids are around five, they are suddenly conscious that other people have perceptions of them that might differ from their own self-perception. This can be terrifying for kids, because it means they are being judged. It can lead to a refusal to try new things for fear of failure. If you pickup the book “Yardsticks” which outlines some basic developmental milestones at each age, perfectionism is identified for 5-year-olds. That doesn’t mean she isn’t also pushing your buttons (limit testing is also a hallmark of that age). It is likely a confluence of things.

        When my students tell me they don’t like trying hard things, I tell them that doing hard things is how they learn. And that making mistakes is how they show they are trying new, different, and/or hard thing. I say point blank: “If everything you do is easy, it means you are only doing things you already know how to do. You’ll never learn that way.”

        I also tell parents that the sort of worrying you demonstrate is exactly why you shouldn’t worry all that much. The parents who don’t worry are the ones that scare me. The fact that you are noticing these things, thinking about these things, and planning responses to these things are ultimately going to serve you very well. You won’t bat 1.000, but you’re also not going to let major problems go unchecked.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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        says:

        Oh, those, “see the pretty little girl” comments really get me in a dander.

        First, I’d figure out a 100%-of-the-time response like, “Yes she is, and you should see how beautifully she learned to do ________; she really worked hard at that, and we’re so proud.” In other words, take compliments about what she is, and turn them to compliments and pride in what she does.

        It’s okay to be beautiful and pretty. We all love beautiful people about.

        But pretty fades and accomplish last a life time.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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        says:

        @kazzy

        Second, my kids do that. How old is she? When kids are around five, they are suddenly conscious that other people have perceptions of them that might differ from their own self-perception. This can be terrifying for kids, because it means they are being judged.

        Isn’t this also about the time they realize the no, the parent cannot read my mind, and yes, I can lie, and I will lie (actually, usually fib in small ways) to figure this new revelation concerning the privacy of my own thoughts.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
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        says:

        @zic

        I’m actually about halfway through the chapter in “Nurture Shock” on children and lying. Really fascinating.
        @boegiboe et al.

        I should note that I’m talking a lot about what I would say, but obviously your behavior needs to support the underlying ideas. If you say that mistakes are an important part of the learning process but then head slap yourself and mutter, “I’m such an idiot,” when you buy the wrong yogurt, the latter is going to communicate much more than the former. If you’re doing that… stop. Immediately. It communicates that to make a mistake is to be an idiot. Children do not want to be idiots. Our broader society often does not support us in teaching them otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to zic
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        says:

        Great article, Kazzy, thanks. My daughter is definitely more focused on her looks than I would prefer, but I think it can be empowering for her to make decisions about what she wears. If she cares more about looking her best than worrying about unchangeable parts of her appearance, I think she’ll be OK.

        She’s four, but pretty mature for her age. She wants to be perfect, and failing that, she wants to appear to be infallible.

        It’s funny that you used shoes as an example, because her saying that she couldn’t put shoes on this morning (and every morning this week), despite ultimately being able to, was part of what I was thinking about with my initial comment. Anyway, thanks for your tips. I’ve heard most of them in theory, so your examples are helpful.Report

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