A participant in one of my workshops once contributed, “It’s easier to loosen up than it is to tighten up.” He was talking about leadership and how it’s easier to relax your strict style of management than it is to get more strict after you’ve already been relaxed, but that bit of wisdom has been useful to me in many other circumstances, as well.
For example, I’m in the doghouse right now because of my youngest son’s prayer at dinner last night. (I promise, I’ll make the connection – keep reading.) We sat down to eat, and I asked him to say grace. He prayed the typical, memorized prayer of, “God, thank you for this food, and thank you for today. Please bless Agit (our sponsored child) and help Mr. E_____’s dad to learn how to play slapsticks (family joke from a kid’s sleepy prayer one night)…” Then, he began to ad-lib.
“It’s gonna happen to you! And you! And YOU! Fear this warning! Twisted tail! A thousand eyes! Trapped for-EVER! EPA! EEEEEEPPPPPAAAAAA! AHBUDIBUDIBUDO! Thanks for listening. Lord, thank you this bastardly penis.* Amen.”
My wife was a little shocked at first, not knowing (as I did) exactly where this monologue had originated. But a few direct questions and her famous piercing stare did the trick.
“It was Dad’s fault! It was his fault! He let us watch the movie!”
“You let them watch The Simpsons!?! That’s not appropriate! I wouldn’t have let them watch The Simpsons!”
I had been laughing up to this point, but I sobered up pretty quickly.
“Uh, well, uh, it was late, and, uh, the kids wanted to watch a movie, and, well, there weren’t any good kid movies, and…”
“The Simpsons is not a “kid” movie. You are SO out of the running for “Father of the Year!”
So, here’s where I tie this all together. The reason my youngest two had watched The Simpsons was because their brother had been allowed to watch it. He’s thirteen, and we allow him to watch movies that the other kids can’t. The Simpsons originally started as one of those. A privilege of being 13. An opportunity for us to talk about other peoples’ (to be read, “non-conservative–non-Christian”) points of view. (While I don’t share political or spiritual views with Mr. Groening (creater of Homer, Bart and the rest), I do think he’s funny, and I think it’s a good exercise to laugh at your own worldview sometimes.)
Anyway, as I was saying, The Simpsons started as a privilege-of-being-older movie, but I get weak after 9:00 p.m., and the kids know it. They wore me down quoting scenes they had heard of from their older brother. Before long, they had me laughing, and that’s when they set the hook. In minutes, I was saying, “Aw, it wasn’t that bad for kids, was it? I don’t remember any questionable parts. Okay, I’ll watch it with you!” Looking back, that was the exact moment I rented space in the doghouse. Moving day was a few days away yet, but I was already a tennant.
In my own defence, once you loosen up the rules for the older kid in the family, it’s much harder to keep them tightened up for the others. Parenting gets easier if you just treat all the kids the same – one set of rules to govern them all. But if you have the loose rules for the teenager and the tight rules for the younger kids and even tighter rules for the youngest kids, parenting is a nightmare. The younger kids lobby incessantly. “That’s not fair! How come I don’t get to…? Why do I have to wait?” Before long, you start questioning your own decisions. Kids are great lawyers for their own causes.
And now, my wife wants me to tighten up the rules for the younger kids. How am I supposed to do that? Pandora’s box has been opened. The milk is spilt. The water has passed under the bridge. The toothpaste is out of the tube. It….means….that….I’m….going to have to be…….the bad guy! It’s almost more than I can bear.
The moral of the story is that you are much better off keeping your rules tight until it’s appropriate to loosen them up. Or, that you should keep them tight for everyone and just tell your teenagers “tough noogies,” as my sister used to say. Or, that you shouldn’t have kids. Oh, just write your own moral. This parenting thing is tough. I might be more like Homer Simpson than I thought. Doh!
* Incidentally, the “bastardly penis” line was my son’s malapropism for “bountiful penis,” a line from a later part of the movie. If he had just stuck with “bountiful penis,” I doubt this incident would have even registered on my wife’s bad parenting radar.