In a fit of exasperation with their interminable bickering, I took away my kids’ Nintendo DS and iPod privileges until Christmas. Unfortunately, we have to drive six hours to my parents’ house tomorrow, and they’ll be intolerable in the car without electronic distraction. My lovely Satan-spawn will probably kill each other, too. For the sake of my sanity, can I give them back their privileges just for those six hours without undermining my parental authority?
Parenting is a never-ending festival of positions taken and abandoned/compromised upon.
As is life, come to think of it ...
Before I had any kids, I had all these notions about how I would raise them: “My kids will watch only very limited amounts of TV,” my younger self would tell my younger self. “As for video games, fuhgedaboudit. Especially those war/crime video games: absolutely out of the question. They will have to pry the controller from my cold, dead hands before I'll let them.”
If you asked me, back then, what trait I most hoped my theoretical future kids would possess, I'd have furrowed my (unwrinkled) brow, run my fingers through my (thick, lustrous, longish, chestnut-brown) hair, glanced about my book-lined bachelor pad and said: “bookishness.”
Cut to reality, 14 years and three boys later: Me, yelling down the Nerf-bullet-littered stairs into the toy-gun-strewn basement (it's like a plastic toy munitions warehouse down there), where they've been playing “Dawn of Doom ” or whatever for like six solid hours: “Boys! Your friend Diego's coming over and he's only 7!”
“Okay, Dad,” my youngest, Adam, will call back in his cherubic voice. “When he gets here we'll turn off the blood!”
Me thinking: “Sweet kid!” Turning off the blood is a courtesy they extend to their younger guests, so the game will seem less gory, violent and disturbing.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying one should give up the fight against letting one's kids become video game fanatics. Nor am I saying that you, sir, should give up your fight against the endless squabbling and internecine bickering of your offspring.
Like the fight against growing older, it's a war you must wage even if it's one you may ultimately lose. And, obviously, two of the weapons in your rucksack are: a) suspension of privileges/access to electronic devices and; b) your authority.
Which in turn depends on your being consistent. I'm a bigger believer in that than anyone. Despite how I might've depicted them above, my kids are quiet, polite, obedient and tractable – partly, I think, because they know I'll ask them once to do something, and if I have to ask twice I flip out.
I’ve always been “consistent” about that, at least. I’m not even sure it’s good parenting, but they do tend to do stuff the first time I ask.
But to maintain an electronic-device-free environment on a six-hour car ride, all in the name of “consistency?” That's a suicide mission. Your minivan is the DMZ, soldier! You've been dropped by chopper behind enemy lines and all bets are off! You have to do whatever it takes to survive!
And that means throw all notions of “consistency” and any similar parental hobgoblins out the window of your mini-van, and throw in that same window every DVD player, iPod, iPad, i-anything, Playstation, Nintendo, Wii – whatever bleeps, quacks, tweets and will prevent the kids from climbing the walls of the van and you from committing suicide by repeatedly bashing your melon against the dash.
When you return from holidays, you can reinstate all restrictions, regulations and penalties. If they ask why the same rules don’t apply in the home as in the van, tell them that in even the greatest leadership there is an element of capriciousness.
Or say: “What happens in the van stays in the van.”
Or just take a page from the book of every fed-up, end-of-the-rope parent since the dawn of time and flip out and say: “Because I said so!”
Little parenting tip: It helps if you can get a vein on your forehead to throb as you say it.