Greg and I are currently cramming all of our recertification training hours into our eleventh month of fostering. Of the whole list of training items that need to be done yearly, we have completed exactly three hours (in one incredibly useless “Positive Parenting” class, I might add.) So we’re spending our Thursday nights learning about Love & Logic at our fostering agency.
Actually, out of all the classes we could take, Love & Logic is the most aligned with my own parenting, so I shouldn’t complain. I was lucky enough to have been brought up with the ideas of Love & Logic, so it comes pretty natural to me. Life is full of choices…some choices work out better for us, and some don’t. But the key is, the problems belong to the child, not the parent. Learning the relationship between my actions and their consequences on me at an early age was a great gift. But it isn’t always easy for a parent to do.
Picture this: The grocery store. I can tell as we’re walking in that the boys are feeling rambunctious. We’re only running in for a couple of items, and within seconds of entering, I hear the clank of a bottle being jostled by one of my darling sons. I look over and see that we’ve had a near miss at having to pay for a gigantic bottle of vodka that was this close to falling over. So I throw it out there: the choice. “Boys, if you’re being crazy and you break anything in the store, you’re going to have to pay for it out of your allowance.” You know where this is headed.
A few minutes later, I mention that I’m going to grab some buttermilk biscuits. Jake is goofing around and upon hearing the word butter, he says, “Like this butter!” and picks up a two pack of margarine tubs and whips around to show his brother. One of the tubs of margarine flies out the side of the (albeit flimsily packaged) two pack and lands on the floor, the lid flying off in the process. Jake’s eyes widen and he leans right down to pick it up, but his finger goes on the inside of the tub as he picks it up, so I have to say it. “Uh-oh. You’re going to have to buy that butter.”
You know what happened. Pleading. Bargaining. Trying to explain how he didn’t even touch the butter. (True. But do you want a seven year old’s germs inside your newly purchased tub of margarine? And why are you buying margarine instead of butter anyway? But that’s a little off topic.) I lock in the empathy, just like a good Love & Logic student. “Oh, Jake. What a bummer! I can’t believe you’re going to have to spend your allowance money on this butter. I hope it’s not too expensive.” It is. It is more than three dollars, in fact, which is more than two weeks’ allowance. I almost buckle. I mean, he wasn’t being naughty, he was just being a silly, gleeful kid, and actually I’m shocked that it was he and not Tyler who is flinging around hydrogenated oils that are masquerading as dairy products.
We quickly head to the exit, and he hasn’t started really crying yet. But it comes mightily in the car. As it turns out, Jake hates the people who make margarine. In fact, he wishes that the people who package the margarine were never even born.
I’m feeling pretty bad about the whole thing, not to mention the fact that I now have to buy two tubs of margarine, which is not something we’ll eat, nor is it something we can donate. But I guess three dollars is a small price to pay to teach both of my boys a little self control.
As a last ditch effort, and because I’m really bummed for him, I say, “I don’t even like this kind of butter. I’m not going to eat it, and I’m definitely not going to buy it for you. But maybe when we get home you can ask Daddy if he likes this kind of butter, and maybe he’ll split the cost with you.” I know, I know, it’s a cop out. Of course Daddy likes that kind of butter…it is nutritionally bereft. So Jake ends up learning a lesson for about $1.85. Tyler soaks it all in (although knowing Tyler, he’ll have to do it himself three or four times before he learns the lesson.) I feel incredibly bad for making my son, who is normally very careful and well behaved in the store, pay for butter instead of saving up for a toy.
I don’t know yet if I made a difference. I suppose I probably did, or at least the cumulative effect of this and several other incidents like it over the next few years might make a difference. It was very hard to do. But I felt good about it the next day. We’re trying to let our kids deal with their own consequences instead of rescuing them. If $1.85 now and then at age seven will teach him to pay attention to what he’s doing, maybe he’ll pay attention to what he’s doing when he learns to drive. A mother can only hope.