There are many food and beverages I make well, I can even light a drink on fire. For whatever reason though, I don’t make lemonade well. It always turns out too watered down. I can empty the entire bag of sugar and it still tastes like bitter creek water.
At the playground last week I saw a grandmother go from threatening to begging to pleading with a child to come down from a tower so they could go to the store. This girl went from being in big trouble to being showered with promises of candy and toys in a matter of minutes. She was the master negotiator.
This grandmother was watering down here parenting. This may have been a small, inaccurate moment in her otherwise fantastic parenting but it set a pattern that her granddaughter can follow. Don’t listen, get a toy, repeat.
While drinking from my pious pitcher of lemonade I can speak to the same faults. My wife and I even have a running joke about it. Sometimes the other parent will be losing their perception and control on the situation and say something like, if you don’t brush your teeth then you’ll never have ice cream again! After these bold words the other spouse will softly sing empty threats, nothing but empty threats. (Even though we both do this, neither shows the right empathy in the moment of teeth brushing battle and there are plenty of dirty looks exchanged). The only truth contained in these threats is that we are liars and it sucks to be a liar. Kids learn that if we don’t mean what we say then what we say doesn’t matter.
Last summer we were having dinner with my in-laws and some of their friends and one of our children was not behaving. In an act of shortsightedness I declared that if some behavior didn’t stop we would be going home and going to bed. As the words passed my lips and flew to their ears I wish I could have caught them and brought them back. Like a collision you see in the making, my words foreshadowed an ugly departure. I knew it was going to happen too. The kids were being especially active and bothersome to each other. Five minutes later the banned behavior returned and we – not quietly – got our things and left.
I hated doing it but I’m glad I did it. It was important for me to stand by what I said and show our daughters that their behavior wasn’t acceptable. I’m learning the things to say or not say, do or not do. I ask what is the best way to teach them something that I’m willing to follow up on? Ice cream will never be banned and threats will never be empty but our actual lemonade isn’t tasting any better.