By STEVE BREWER
Scripps Howard News Service
October 18, 2005
This useful phrase should be practiced regularly - until it becomes your standard reply to every question. When a child comes seeking permission or wanting something, send him right out the door again by saying, "Go ask your mother." Then go back to watching the football game on TV.
Kids' demands never stop. If you work up a decision every time, you eventually will wear out the neurons in your brain and you'll end up one of those gibbering old men with gravy on his cardigan.
Worse yet, most of the decisions you make will be, um, wrong. You might think, as the Man of the House, that your word goes, and each decision is final and blah, blah, blah. But you're wrong about that, too. Because here's what happens: If the child doesn't like your answer, he will appeal the decision to a higher court - Mom - and you will be overruled.
Sure, Mom might consult with you first, might even have a long discussion on the merits of both sides of the argument. By the time you lose that debate, the football game will be over and - pop! - there goes another neuron. It's easier to send the kid to Mom in the first place.
At our house, my wife and I are known as the "Yes-No Parents." One of our sons will make some request - to stay out late, to hang out with friends at the mall, to buy a genuine samurai sword - and my wife and I will answer simultaneously. I'll automatically say, "no." She'll say, "yes." We'll share a long look, our eyes calculating the algebra of the disagreement. Then I'll say, "Whoops, I meant 'yes.' "
(To tell the truth, we both said "no" to the samurai sword. Shouted it, in fact. But that's another story.)
Why do I give in so easily? Because I know I'll lose on appeal. Because the result doesn't matter that much to me anyway. Because somebody's standing in front of the TV and I'm missing the replay.
Mostly, though, it's because I'm busy bracing for the next request. "Yes" is never good enough. If we say "yes" to loitering at the mall, the next question is, "When do I have to be home?" And that starts a whole new round of talks.
Parenting experts tell us we shouldn't negotiate with our children, that we should give a firm answer and stick to it, but we all know that's so much claptrap. Life with kids (especially teens) is one long haggle.
That's why I've added a new tactic to my arsenal. Now, along with "Go ask your mother," I use what I call "reverse negotiation." When a child tries to bargain with me, I go backward.
Say my son bids for a 11 p.m. bedtime. I come back with 10 p.m. If he then does the natural thing and tries for 10:30, I say 9:30. If the baffled kid argues, I say, "Make it 9 p.m." If he's slow to catch on, we can negotiate a settlement that results in him going to bed before kickoff.
Here's another example:
Son: "Can Nick stay for dinner?"
Son: "Can he spend the night?"
Dad: "No. And now he can't stay for dinner, either."
Son: "Aww. But ... "
Dad: "Keep talking. Nick can go home immediately."
Son slinks from room to play with Nick. Dad returns to football viewing. All is right with the world.
At least until dinnertime. When Mom announces that Nick is spending the night.
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)aol.com