What an honor for a dad to be asked to guest-blog on a mommy site! I feel like I’ve snuck into the women’s locker room. Only no one’s called the security guard. Yet, anyway.
Kris asked me if I would write about how I’ve handled it when my son has an attack of the “No’s.” I can answer that question very quickly: How do I handle it?
Very, very badly.
In my book “Dadditude,” I wrote about one of those days that was – well, it was one of those days:
Max, here are your pancakes (“No no no! I want popcorn for breakfast!”). Sorry, you’ve got pancakes. Try to use your fork to eat that – “No no no, no want fork.” OK, you can use your hands. “No no no, no want hands.” Fine. Eat it any way you want. “No no no, I don’t want to do whatever I want.” Do you need to go to the potty? “No no no.” Read a book? “No books.” Nap? “Fuggedaboudit.” “Max, if you don’t stop arguing, you’re going to have a time out.” “No want time out! No no no!” “Max, look, here’s ten dollars, an ice cream cone, a new car, and a baseball bat you can smash in the television set with. Anything you want. Will you just stop saying no no no?” “No, no no.”
This was a tough phase (no it wasn’t!), a really tough one (no no no, it was an easy one!), and we tried to weather it as best we could (no you didn’t! You tried to weather it very badly!), with a combination of firmness and understanding (no! you can’t combine firmness and understanding!). But mostly we had no choice but to wait it out (no! You wait it in!)
What I did was what every parent does who reads those books that make you think you can control your children. I began giving him choices. “Max, you may eat a pancake or a waffle. Which do you choose?” Instead of arguing about whether it was time for shoes, I gave him choices: “Max, you may put on your blue shoes or your green shoes, which do you choose?”
This works, up to a point. Unfortunately, your child will test the limits of this, and you know that you must eventually reach the nuclear option. With Max, it was this: “Max, you may choose to put on your shoes, or I will take away your Lightning McQueen car. Which do you choose?”
This was Max’s favorite toy. He knew I had him cornered. He would collapse, in sadness, at this moment. He would succumb, putting on his shoes, choking back tears. I would win.
And I would feel awful. The joy and delight and noise and exuberence Max brings into our homes -- even in those difficult "no" moments -- was all sucked out of the room, replaced by sullen, silent obedience.
For me, that was not the best choice.
What moms can learn from dads is that consistency, and firmness, are important traits for your child to see you exhibit. What dads can learn from moms is that you have to pick your battles, and that, despite what Vince Lombardi taught us, winning is neither everything, nor the only thing.
What I have learned from Max:
It’s OK to be consistent. Just not all the time.
For more about Phil and his book, Dadditude: How a real man became a real dad, visit dadditude.com.