I was waiting for my daughters to wrap up their skating lesson when I got a text from an old friend.
It wasn’t the first time he had asked for a bit of guidance when it came to his preschool daughter. He’s a single dad with shared custody and a busy career as a lawyer with a big heart working with non-profits in the city. He commutes and, like most parents, tries to make the most of his time when he has her.
This week’s message came with a picture we are all familiar with – child in carseat slumped over in an unbelievably awkward position, dead to the world enjoying the nap that we parents have earned a thousand times over.
Except we’re at the wheel and they are sleeping off that juice box and cookies from the afternoon snack.
He started out with this: “Parenting conundrum... Just arrived at the zoo with mini me and being that it’s raining, the place is empty and the ticket lady said we probably wouldn’t see a whole lot because animals (except for Ella and I, apparently) like to stay indoors when it’s raining. I promised her that if she wanted to take a nap while I was driving that when she woke we’d be at the zoo. Now we’re here and she is sleeping [insert photo of contortionist child here]. I’m tempted to let her sleep and turn around for other destinations to return some sunnier day. But that will make me a big fat liar… I’m in a parenting pickle.”
“I’m sorry,” I wrote back. “You’re in no pickle. You can fully lie to this child. ‘It was closed. Can you believe it?’ Let her sleep.”
Now, you may not agree with this advice, and granted I was being a bit flip – perhaps even joking a bit – but this is where I think there’s something worth sharing, after I suggested a trip to the aquarium, where it would be warm and dry.
“The aquarium was last weekend and I tried offering that to her, but she was adamant about the zoo. So do we go walk around in the rain for an hour, see nada and squander close to $35? Or is that a cheap price to pay to stay honourable to one’s word in the eyes of a child?” he asked.
Bless his heart, I thought. He is such a loving father. The last thing he wants to do is not keep his word, which I agree is hugely important – our integrity is one of the few things that can define us.
However, when it’s time to parent, it’s time to parent.
“I think first and foremost you need to be the parent and she must remain the child,” I replied. “You are on a slippery slope, my friend. She’s clearly holding the power. Take it back lovingly and unapologetically.”
I followed that up with a smiley face and a “hug” to take some of the sting away, but hoped it would make an impression. “Yes,” he agreed. “The Great Lie seems my best chance at survival at this juncture... Thanks for the straight dope on navigating the parent trap.”
I just hope he realizes that this wasn’t just advice for the quandary he found himself in this day, but for the next 10 years. Staying in the “right relationship,” as Dr. Gordon Neufeld would say, with our children is key to maintaining respect and loving authority.
And our kids will thank us for it one day.
Kirsten Andrews offers Simplicity Parenting courses and workshops.