My sister, an adept special education teacher, loves to offer me advice on how to deal with a burgeoning and boisterous tweenager. She says that in order to get the behavior I want to see from him, I need to first tell him what’s expected of him. I’ve found her advice works (when I remember to employ it), and it’s a good method to try on myself as well.
Anytime I take my son to a family party (which usually involves a large gathering of aunts, uncles, and cousins), I try to prepare him for what’s expected of him, usually along the drive. “Remember, always put the seat down. And be nice to your cousins, especially the little ones. You can only have caffeine free sodas, and no more than two…” That sort of thing. I try not to overwhelm him. Just enough that he gets the gist that he doesn’t have free rein to do whatever he pleases.
When I remember to give him this simple rundown, he knows he’s supposed to toe the line, and he knows if he’s moving astray from it and can check himself accordingly. It’s when I don’t remember to say anything beforehand that I run into trouble. That’s when I hear things from him like: “You didn’t say that I couldn’t have a Coke. And besides, I’ve already opened it. You wouldn’t want it going to waste now, would you?”
I’ve learned that I have to pick my battles with him, and not be so hard on myself for forgetting to talk to him ahead of time about avoiding caffeine or whatever else it is that he’s getting away with. This was the case quite recently when we shared a dinner out with my fiancé and some of my future in-laws. My fiancé was feeling so stressed about how his family might receive me that I focused more of my attention on trying to assuage his fears than preparing my son for what was expected of him that evening.
By the time we got to the restaurant, my fiancé was still a bundle of nerves. My kid, antsy from having to wait until well past his usual dinner time to eat, promptly ordered a Coke. When I suggested that he have a Sprite, he asserted, “No, Coke. I’ll have a Coke.” And I let him have it. One, because I didn’t tell him ahead of time that it wasn’t an option; Two, because I didn’t want him to throw a fit in the restaurant for not getting what he wanted. I wanted things to go smoothly. I wanted my new in-laws to like me, to see me as calm and compassionate. I surrendered, let go and relaxed, knowing that I would more likely be judged a pushover mom for not enforcing my usual no caffeine rule.
And what a tiny little infraction to pick apart, no? My whole existence as a loving, responsible mother whittled down to one act of leniency leaves me vulnerable to being perceived as a doormat.
I need more practice with taking my sister’s advice. A little preparation goes a long way toward getting my son to behave well in public situations. And I need to try it out more often on myself. Say things to myself like: “Everything’s going to go well tonight. You’re going to talk about yourself with ease, and everyone will like you because you’re awesome! And if they don’t, no matter because you’re still awesome.” I need to tell myself these sorts of things ahead of time — entreat the law of attraction to work in my favor — then surrender to being happy with whatever happens.