Monday, July 13, 2015

Parenthood: And What it Can Teach Us About the Difference Between Leverage and Spoiling

Early in the second season of Parenthood, there is a situation where we see a struggle for power between parents and child. The characters Joel and Julia's six year old daughter, Sydney, all of a sudden becomes a self-declared Vegetarian. She can, therefore, justify refusing the chicken on her plate that night at dinner, especially since a friend at school has convinced her that eating meat is morally wrong, and disgusting.

After her parents struggle a bit with how to respond, and after telling her she needs her protein and the whole bit, they decide to be completely supportive of her position, for various reasons. However, the next night, her Grandparents are slated to babysit her, and they bring a big pan of lasagna along.  The parents- feeling greatly defeated- explain her decision, and say that they desire to be supportive.

While the parents are gone, her Grandma makes another dish, but the 6-year old, Sydney, refuses that, as well.  They tell her that she has to choose between the lasagna or the new dish, but she won't eat, explaining that the new dish looks yucky to her. Her grandfather ends up pulling a firm one and insists that she eat. Later, his daughter Sydney's mother approaches him, complaining that they made her daughter eat meat....but his wife takes his side. He says in his own defense, and I quote, "It's ok to support her spirit, but you can't give her all the power."

As parents, this is a hard aspect of childhood behavior. Imagine with me...

-You have a strong-willed child.
-They make up their mind to do something that is annoying/frustrating.
-You don't want to crush their independent, sweet spirit.
-But it's just really annoying.
-Enter trials/tribulations of all kinds... long stare down sessions. Maybe some tantrums. Falling on the floor. Time outs or "grounding" that don't actually seem to work or teach them anything.

Maybe the thing they want to do is become a Vegetarian. Or sleep in your bed. Or play an iPad game, or watch TV, or zone out in some form or fashion... heaven forbid! ... when they first wake up in the morning.

Frustrating, annoying... but maybe not necessarily, always wrong. Or bratty. Just yet, anyway.  In the case of this little girl Sydney, her parents were somewhat proud of her for reasoning her way into a decision and then sticking to that!  And giving her a small measure of control over her diet was a great way to encourage an independent thought! But in reality, what do you do?  Really? You eat that?

First, the thing that has helped us is to recognize the difference between leverage and spoiling.
leverage (n)
power or ability to act or to influence people, events, decisions, etc.;sway

As parents, it's ok to have leverage. We have to have something to assist us in our sway and influence as parents ...  because they are young, they (very much!) have their own ideas, thoughts, and opinions. They have an independent mind and yes, spirit.  And we're their parents. We aim to be supportive, and not controlling of our kids... but we can't give them all the power. Waking up first thing to an iPad game and ignoring the breakfast on the table? Letting them sleep in your bed every night? Giving them all the power when it comes to what they eat? 

Not ok. So not ok.

What do you do?

Recognize just some of the signs of spoiling:

- Giving into a tantrum
-Arguing back and forth and eventually letting them have their way, despite your best wishes or intentions
-Letting them have their way, without any limits (Letting them eat the whole pint of ice-cream, even though they feel totally sick)
-Doing life without structure (too much time on the screen, their eyes are blank, and they're all in terrible moods)

I mean, you are either spoiling them or you're not. ;)

Another thought is understanding the difference between leverage and bribing.

bribe (n)
anything given or serving to persuade or induce

So you decide, as parents, how you're going to handle these frustrating situations.  Use leverage, but don't {try not to} spoil. If your child needs motivation to come in from the porch where they're letting in mosquitos and hot air, and you need 20 minutes to make dinner, an iPad game isn't going to hurt them. Or you.  Make a rational decision. We don't have to go straight back to Stone Age, and we also don't have to betray our deepest parental instincts about what is right for our children. Keep praying for discernment. Don't go crazy.  

And maybe, just maybe, in the mean time, you won't have Spoiled Child on your hands. I hope and pray, for your sake, Mama!


Anonymous said...

Interesting delineation between leverage and spoiling. I'm going to have to think about that, as the mother of a somewhat spoiled 5th child (the baby, of course--the others were not spoiled.).

Tacy said...

Thank you Leslie! I appreciate your weighing in. I can imagine it gets harder *not* to spoil as kids get older!