What Do We WANT? Parental Goals: Obedience Vs. Relationship

So today was another awesome day that started out with me getting a phone call around 10:30 from my son’s school informing me that my son, Samuel, was sick and needed to be picked up from school

Some background: I’ve gotten several such calls this semester, and none of those times has Sam actually been sick. In previous times after picking him up, I’ve been furious upon finding out that the nurse didn’t even take his temperature! They just send kids home these days with no evidence at all of sickness (insert me with a wizened old lady voice, ‘back in my day, you had to be at death’s door with a temperature of 104 degrees and a clear case of the sweats to be sent home!’).

Sam was not sick today either.

But today I did not give him the lecture about how, ‘if he ever pulls this stunt again! yada yada yada’ like I did last time.

No, I just signed him out, hugged him, and we walked the couple blocks home together. Because there are nine more days left of school, I’m homeschooling him next year (well, we’re doing online school), and he’s been mercilessly bullied all year.


I knew even as I heard his voice on the phone asking to come get picked up that something else bad had happened and he needed an out. I was happy to give it to him.

We came home and watched an episode of Stranger Things and ate pretzel sticks and ice cream, then talked about what had happened that morning.

Which leads me back to the argument/discussion that I had with my husband on Mother’s Day. Or rather the argument that led to the important discussion on our differing views on parenthood.

My husband John is big on order. He works in computer and was always excellent at math and the sciences. He expected, when we had a child, a certain modicum of respect and obedience. Well, then Samuel was born. And if you read my last post, then you read all about the Stubbornness with the capital S.

Getting this child to obey has been a struggle from the time he could understand the concept. Epic fights and battles have ensued over the years. Anyway, where we stand at this point are occasional escalated yelling matches—my husband never yells, his voice and face just get more and more heated while he insists our son do something and my son’s voice gets louder and higher pitched as he insists that we aren’t listening or something isn’t fair or in some other way tries to bargain. And then he gets more upset when the situation escalates higher because this has gone on for ten to twenty minutes and consequences begin to be imposed because of him not doing whatever task was initially asked of him. That’s where the screaming really begins and oh boy, let me tell you, there’s a ton of objectivity and listening going on on both sides at that point. *insert sarcasm face*

I’m on the sidelines during these matches or occasionally inserting myself into them trying to calm them down or taking my husband’s side so we can present a united front, at the same time knowing it makes my son feel ganged up on—but also trying to deescalate things. And then I get frustrated because all of it is so ridiculous!

It’s madness, I tell you, MADNESS! It has to stop!

So lately, when I see it all starting to blow, I’ve been making the eyes at my husband. The ‘You are the parent, keep calm and control the situation’ eyes. The ‘Deescalate! Deescalate!’ eyes.

Except my husband had no idea what the eyes meant. It’s so annoying when they can’t read your mind. Ugh. Husbands should really get on that. So. Mother’s Day. Husband and son have a blow out over Sam not putting the cups away in the cabinet when he puts away the dishes.

In my head, I’m thinking: we have a fun day planned—it’s far more important to keep it copacetic so we can all spend this quality day together than focus on the dish issue at the moment. John and Sam have barely spent any time together because John’s been working a lot of nights this week, and then when they do, so much of it has been this kind of confrontational stuff. I know they need to have this good day together, rebuilding relationships. But now John’s triggered Sam and Sam has gotten overly upset, saying he put away all the other dishes but all his dad can focus on are the ones he didn’t. John’s furious because in the end, Sam still hasn’t put away the cups. And I’m absolutely livid at John because once again, he’s put obedience over relationship. Not to mention, it’s Mother’s Day.

I frickin’ lose it on him after Sam is tucked away in his room watching Minecraft videos on his iPad.

“What is wrong with you! Didn’t you see me making the eyes! Deescalate! Deescalate! Don’t you watch the news. That is not how you deal with conflict!”

John looks at me like I’m crazy. “He still didn’t put away the cups!”

My mouth drops open. “The cups…? What are you even talking about, this is not about the f*%king cups!”

“I told him yesterday and this morning to put them away. He never listens. Just like I tell him not to drop his backpack right inside the door when he gets home but to take it to his room when he gets home.”

angry-momWell that just sets me off more. “Oh my God, you have got to be kidding me. You and that goddamned backpack. Every day this week, it’s the first thing you do when you get home, you start ragging on him about the backpack, or the dishes, or something else. Your interaction with him is always negative. You barely see him for an hour or two a day, and when you do, you two are always fighting!”

“So what, you think he should just run around with no rules and never hear the word no?!”

We’re both facing off in the kitchen at this point, red faced, and there have been a lot more f-bombs dropped than the one I put in here.

It’s at this point that I stare at him with a shocked sort of wonder. I blink and look at him. “Oh my God,” I say. “I think we are talking like two separate languages. Like we are looking at this thing so differently we’re not even on the same planet. We’re not in the same solar system.”

He thinks I’m being facetious, but I’m entirely serious. My eyes have been opened because he asked that question in total earnestness. He has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. He doesn’t know why I’m actually mad. This misunderstanding goes so deep to our basic understanding of what parenting is supposed to be, like, we gotta hit pause and go sort this out NOW.

So that’s what I suggest. I’m calm now that I’ve realized how completely off base we are with one another, so I say, “Babe, we need to go to Starbucks, right now, get some coffee and have a big conversation about what our approaches are to this whole parenting gig, because we are not on the same page right now. Like, my mind changed on my approach a few months ago and it’s been working and I guess we haven’t really talked, but now I see that’s why I’ve been getting so pissed at you lately.”

He eyes me warily and it takes me assuring him that this will not be a big session of me telling me all the great wisdom I have learned and how I am right and he is wrong. It will be an actual conversation—with both people having their say and both people genuinely listening.

We tell the kiddo—who is twelve and a half and old enough to stay on his own—that we’re popping out for a bit. Then we drive across the street to Starbucks, joking a little about how grown-up we’re being, doing real communicating and apologizing for the ugly fighting we did. That’s not us. I can’t remember the last time we argued in a way that got so heated it involved cuss words. It’s shaken both of us up. We hug outside the car and then hold hands while we go into Starbucks and order sugary coffees.

Then we sit outside. It’s a really lovely sunny day in May. And we begin.

Dun dun DUN – next post will be the conversation—sorry to cliffhanger you, but this post is already epically long and the conversation was a big turning point, I don’t want to stiff you on it.

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