Parenting and the Necessity for Negotiations


I’m held hostage. Daily. By 3 people. Who aren’t even 40 inches. Maybe. And a dog, but she might be in my situation, too.

It is a daily, ongoing struggle. To get them to do anything from putting on socks to sitting and eating at the table to – God help us – peeing and pooping on the potty. Long ago, I vowed to not succumb to bribes of stickers and candy. I mean, those things pretty much guarantee will do anything, but I didn’t want to resort to bribing the kids. I was above it. I figured that was for the parents who weren’t patient enough, or resilient enough, for those that were too lazy. But, like almost everything else I planned to do as a parent those promises were flushed down the toilet – figuratively and literally.

Because without those bribes we wouldn’t make it out the house very much.

Another mom friend and I were talking about it a little this week – all the things we do now to bribe our kids. We realized that all bribes have a bit of a shelf-life. They start out being surprisingly effective, probably because of the novelty factor. And sugar factor. So, our twins were rock stars when we were trying to potty train them a month ago. They were going on their own, they were going without even any asking from us, they were doing everything beautifully. All for 1 gummy bear. Now? They wake up in the mornings and the first thing out of their mouths is, “I want 10 gummie bears!!!!!!” Somehow it switched from being effective to being a source of entitlement. How? Why? I suspect it has to do with our arbitrary use of the gummy bears. We started to use them to get them in the car, put on their magic coats, get in the bath, and to stop crying. Sometimes we’d randomly give them a gummy bear just for being cute. They started to randomly expect it at different times of the day. Demand it. Until we found a new bribe.

Then the cycle began again.

I didn’t want to do the bribery thing because I thought bribes were basically like the treats we used for dog training. In the beginning whenever I’d walk Ellis I’d have treats in my pocket for her to make her sit or heel or whatever. And she responded perfectly. Now she does it without any treats. But doing it with the kids feels…slightly demeaning. I mean, they do enjoy playing in her crate but it still probably doesn’t warrant treating them like dogs.

And ultimately, I want them to do these things without bribes, obviously. And I fear that entitlement. I want them to learn how to be thankful.

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” -Brene Brown

But. Jeez. The day to day – I don’t know. Andy and I often joke there should have been business course requirements during seminary for ministry and raising a family, and I often feel like I should have done some kind of crisis-hostage training for these moments of negotiation. Or maybe peacekeeping courses? Because right now, more often than not, it’s seriously about survival.

I need you to stop flopping around so I can put some socks and shoes on you so you don’t get frostbite and your toes amputated because I gave up…so here are some gummy bears.

For the love of God, please stop staring off into space and get into your seats so that we can get you to school and not waste all the tuition money this year…so here are some more gummy bears.

I beg and plead with you to stop screaming at me or each other…so here are some more gummy bears.

I know it’s an easy way out. Maybe even akin to more physical types of discipline. It’s a short cut. But, those gummy bears and Swedish fish help us to maintain that fragile peace in our house.

At the same time I know – and hope with all my heart – that this is a temporary season and that as they evolve we will evolve, too. It’s not just us – me and Andy – doing this life thing, but all of us trying to figure it out together. We love those kids more than anything else in the world, no doubt about it. But, God is surely teaching us something about humility – I have to catch myself less and less when it comes to judging others’ parenting – and definitely, faithfulness and grace even in these little “battles” each day. Because every time I succumb to something that feels less than what I want to give to them I die a little on the inside. But, I cling to the hope that God’s presence fills in the gaps and hems them in with more love and peace than I will ever give them. That grace is life-saving for me, too.

Thankfully there’s no negotiating God’s grace.

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.”
― Bill Cosby, Fatherhood

5 thoughts on “Parenting and the Necessity for Negotiations

  • February 16, 2014 at 9:10 am

    This made me smile! It reminds me of a time when I went to a restaurant with my sister and her 18 month old son. I had my sweet, sleeping 6 month old baby with me. Her 18 month old took a bite of her hamburger and then through a mouth full of food said “No like it” as he spit the chewed food into her hand. She looked over at me and pointed at me and said “Get that look off your face, and don’t think for one second that this won’t happen to you in one year!” Of course she was right.
    We assume we’ll have it all figured out and will somehow parent in a way that makes life smoother. I think God IS teaching us something about humility as we navigate our way through the early years. My mother-in-law who raised 11 children taught me to never judge other parents. She said “If bringing your child into bed with you works, forget that Dr. Spock and everyone else, and do it!”

    • February 16, 2014 at 9:32 am

      Thanks, Heidi. You and Jim always have the best parenting stories – and your kids pretty much turned out the best, too! 🙂 Sigh. I suppose humility is one thing God will never tire of teaching me.

  • February 16, 2014 at 11:00 am

    I so feel like I am on that dark continent too. Oh my word. Sleep deprivation. Sibling wresting matches. Screaming fits and tantrums . I could go on and on. And thinking that maybe part of God’s grace is gummy bears and m and m’s.

    • February 16, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      Stockholm syndrome. Lol. Only thing keeping them alive.

  • February 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I don’t know you as a mother. Strange, when mothering is so much of who you are now. But because I knew you before, I believe that you are doing a great job in spite of all of the daily or hourly challenges. I know that the thoughtfulness you put into the role is there always. And that’s all we can do–give a lot, think and share, talk, and occasionally make the inevitable mistakes. And whatever you’re doing today that may seem just right or just wrong, well, I guess you know by now that next month all of that will change. I never had the challenges of three little children, Mihee. I know that you and Andy are doing a wonderful job. It looks both sweet and overwhelming to me.

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