In tenth grade, I once saw a cool kid wearing a collared shirt over another collared shirt. Although I was — then as now — completely ignorant of the arcane rules that make an outift fashionable, I could at least decode the two-collar thing, so I dressed like that for months. Every day. Until, in fact, the day the next June when that very same cool kid asked me cruelly, "Why are you wearing two shirts?" The micro-fad had passed, and passed me by, and perhaps I’d even helped kill it.
I am a copycat as a parent, too, and it works just about as badly.
Fern had a cough for a while that the doctor thought might need antibiotics, so he gave us some liquid that purportedly tastes like cherries. (Why do they flavor medicine in a way that guarantees our bodies will perceive it as poison? I’ve always wondered.) As he wrote out the prescription, I thought to myself (but was too embarrassed to say out loud), "There’s no frikkin’ way she’s going to take this."
Other parents make their kids do unpleasant things. "Take this medicine and you’ll feel better," they’ll say. Or "Sit still while I brush your hair" or "A babysitter is coming by for a few hours."
And all kids complain about being forced to do stuff. You can give logical reasons until your inductions bleed and never convince a three-year old that you’re right.
But most parents do seem able, when all else fails, to force their kids to do the stuff they don’t want to. So I copy what I see these other parents doing, and it works pretty much never.
I cajole. I give logical explanations. I count to 3. I time-out. I express unconditional love. (Fern’s reply to that was "Stop saying that!") I take away privileges. I offer the earning of rewards. All these tactics, stolen from friends and books, have pretty much failed. I’ve even tried to force feed Fern meds, something I’m accomplished at when the subject is a large and toothy wild animal. With Fern, all I get is a lap full of regurgitated Tylenol.
Like everything else I’m vaguely dissatisfied with, Fern’s stubbornness makes me feel both defeated and a little proud. On the one hand, I’m sure that poor baby husbandry landed us here in the land of You’re-Not-The-Boss-Of-Me. If we’d been more (or less) tough, or more (or less) involved, or more (or less) logical, maybe we’d have a kid now who did as we said.
On the other hand, what we’ve got is a kid who really knows what she does and doesn’t want. Someday, she’ll learn (on her own) that medicine makes her feel better and that it hurts less to brush her her hair when it gets brushed regularly. Someday, she’ll realize (on her own) that when her parents suggest a course of action, it’s usually for the best. And though it’s frustrating that she hasn’t quite cottoned onto that yet, I think that’s a little cool, too.
Of course, by the time she clues in, she’ll be a teenager, and the whole thing will start all over.