Children will die if you neglect them, and who needs that noise? Pay attention to your children, and take care of their needs, like food, clothing, and shelter. Give them love and attention, and foster their curiosity within reason.
Children won’t die if you refuse things like sleepovers, more candy, junk food before dinner, and hootchie shorts on the first day of junior high. They will say they will, but they are wily manipulators. They may say they hate you for refusing them these frivolities. They lie. Children rarely hold grudges. But they also aren’t stupid. They know which side their bread is buttered on. That, my friends, is on your side.
My son and I had an impasse where he wanted to have a friend over and I said no, because I needed a break from children.
We argued back and forth for some time. He argued that his friend invited him over if they couldn't stay at our house, and why wouldn’t I allow him to sleep at the friend’s house? I maintained that I would gladly let him go when the friend’s parent called me directly to formally extend an invitation to sleep over. I knew he was bluffing and I wasn’t budging. I needed an evening free from children playing computer games and hogging the TV so I could watch adult programming in private.
In the meantime, my daughter was preparing for a sleepover at a friend’s house for the evening, and my son was sulking as he watched his sister move through the house to gather her belongings for the night. After she left, he sat at the table, tears welling in his eyes as I cheerfully ladled some gruel over a piece of stale bread in his bowl that was going to be his supper.
“I can’t believe you let HER have a sleepover,” he whined. “I know you love her more.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I joked. “Everyone knows she’s my favorite. Eat your dinner.” I slurped the delicious meal heartily.
He sighed as he dunked his spoon into his bowl and half-heartedly moved it in a circle. His lips trembled as he brought the spoon to his lips. Some soup droplets splashed onto the table, mixed with the salty tears of tween sorrow.
We ate in silence for a few minutes. Then he said, “Mom, this dinner is not awful.”
“Actually, it’s pretty good.” He finishes his bowl and fills it again. We continue eating. Talk about the sleepover halts.
As we finish, he says quietly, “Mom, I’m sorry I was so mad about the sleepover. It’s just that… sometimes I feel like she gets more than I do.”
I look into his big sad eyes, still sparkling with tears, and I say, “I know you do. But she doesn’t.”
He nods and wipes his eyes, takes his bowl to the sink, and rinses it out. He knows I have won. He knows I love him. He knows that I know he loves me.
And later, after he’s in bed and I am watching my adult programming in the quiet and still house, I exhale, knowing that this is only one battle that I have won in a long war, knowing that there will be many more tough ones ahead.
And I am prepared to fight.