They say to never negotiate with terrorists. Real terrorists (of the hostage taking kind) are likely something that I will never experience in life except through the news and movies/TV. However, I never realized that in my house, I actually have two (soon to be three) terrorists of the home-grown kind. That’s right, people. I have been unwittingly aiding and abetting two extremely cute, but also, manipulative toddlers who are now, thanks to my inept parenting, master negotiators.
It all started innocently enough. “If you do X, then you’ll get Y” types of conversations would occur on an almost daily basis. Especially when it came to consequences of not cleaning up or obeying or whatever and the consequence would be a time out. Sometimes, Cookie Monster would say, “One more!” for things he wanted, but that was adorable and usually, I gave in because it was no big deal.
As my kids got more difficult with eating, I started to say, “If you eat your dinner, then you will get dessert. If you don’t eat dinner, then you won’t get dessert.” Perfectly reasonable expectations, right? (Also, in retrospect, I feel as if I should turn in my Chinese card because really, when I was growing up, if I didn’t finish my food, my parents would keep serving it up for all my meals until I finished it. My mother once found me asleep in the high chair with my mouth still full of food. On top of that, there was never any dessert.)
Then one day, “If I eat all my fries, can I have a cookie?” came out of Cookie Monster’s mouth.
By this time, I had been so inured to my children’s constant bargaining that I didn’t bat an eyelash. “Hmmm? What? Yes, Cookie Monster, you can have a cookie if you eat your fries,” I replied.
Hapa Papa, however, was aghast. “Did he just negotiate to eat cookies if he ate his healthy lunch of fries? Like, that’s his reward for eating FRIES?” he asked.
And just like that, I snapped out of it. First, we both couldn’t stop laughing because the situation was ludicrous. Second, I got sad because I was such a failure of a mother at mealtimes. (We often have fries for lunch on at least a bi-weekly basis. They get smoothies with the fries, though! That’s kinda healthy, yeah?) Third, we admired Cookie Monster’s negotiating abilities. That’s really all we have to look forward to – our children’s excellent killer instincts at gaining the upper hand.
Of course, even with copious bribery, mealtimes can often be a battle. A few weeks ago, I made dinner and although Gamera was a good girl and ate all her dinner for her promised ice cream (which she totally forgot about, but I still forced her to eat it because I want her to know I keep promises), Cookie Monster was NOT cooperative in any way, shape, or form.
The funny thing was, he was such a good boy all day. But by dinner time, I guess all the good behavior got used up. Blergh. Every time I shoved a mouthful of dinner into his mouth, he would gag. On purpose. For no reason other than to be a punk. It would take him over ten minutes to chew and swallow that one tiny mouthful. After an hour of forcing him to eat, him gagging on the regular, several time outs, he had one more bite before he got a fruit bar as dessert. And then, he proceed to barf up everything he just ate all over himself, the chair, and the floor.
He looked miserable. I honestly don’t think he realized that gagging would induce barfing. Well, I hope he knows it now. (Sometimes, he doesn’t really learn from experience.) And because he is a clean freak, he was super upset that his hands, his clothes, basically his entire body, was covered in vomit. We try not to yell or make our kids feel bad – even when they vomit on purpose because really, barfing in general is bad enough. Then to be yelled at for doing so just compounds the pain. So, we promptly stripped him and started to clean up. Of course, I had to break the news that if his tummy didn’t feel good and he barfed, then he clearly couldn’t eat his fruit bar. He cried. I felt bad, but not really. I mean, he barfed on purpose.
I’m still not sure if I did the right thing by forcing dinner down his throat. I could’ve just said, “Fine!” and let him not eat dinner and then be hungry. After all, the result was the same. 🙁
Clearly, I have to re-think my meal time strategies. Blargh.