You don’t have to wait until your father gets home

Remember that 70’s cartoon Wait Till Your Father Gets Home? If you never saw it, think All in the Family meets Family Guy and you’ve got the idea. Basically, it’s about a suburban family – mom, dad, three kids – whose everyday lives are marked by the type of conflict made of the proverbial “generational gap.” But funny as this fictional episodic animation is, it is an affront to women today to think that a mother has to actually wait until her husband gets home to properly teach her kids a lesson. And yet, up until a few weeks ago, I was playing the role of Irma in that show – in real life. I’d outsourced the role of disciplinarian to my husband. And Margaret had always gambled on my poor record of following through as I’ve recently outlined in a previous post.

But those days are long gone. So far, I have committed to following through with discipline. Yes, I realize it’s only been a month since I’ve implemented this new system, and true, these last several weeks have utterly exhausted me on every level possible. But two weeks ago, we had an incident that has reinforced my commitment to following through with things, even though it’s been the bane of my existence.

Like any good horror movie, the day started out as unpredictable as it could as we set about on a grim, rainy Sunday afternoon to do some grocery and school supply shopping. But without getting into the gory details, it ended up resulting in the longest punishment I’ve given to Margaret to date: no cell phone until school is out. Which to Margaret, meant the demise of her social life.

We have roughly three more weeks to go and I have not wavered one bit. (I’m kvelling as I write this.) And to Margaret’s credit, she has not whined or tried to negotiate a ‘Get outta jail early’ card, which I’d fully anticipated.

The initial sting of the punishment seemed to resemble a diluted five stages of mourning and loss. She immediately went into denial (understandably) thinking I wouldn’t follow through with the terms. Once she suspected things might stick, I didn’t see any demonstrable anger outside of a few dirty looks, and if asking questions about the terms can be considered bargaining, then she did a bit of that. But when she realized I wasn’t budging, she became sullen, and now she’s finally attained the last stage, acceptance.

But now, even though things have struck somewhat of an equilibrium, I have noticed that there is an underlying tension between us in virtually every interaction we have. And since I am not a morning-friendly mom as I’ve also discussed previously, mornings tend to be the most un-fun time of the day for us. We’re like two cats hissing as one tries to show her dominance by licking the other’s derrier. (I’m not making this stuff up, this is how alpha cats behave).

When we are in the mist of this unsettling rhythm, I find it hard to be her “swim wall” – an analogy I read in an article recently that talked about the importance of parents being there as a support for their kids as they trek through the rough waters of adolescence. The challenge is that I am not really sure these days if she’s swimming to me for comfort and support or away from me to explore the new waters. Instead, most of the time I feel like the chlorine, making her eyes burn and her skin itch, acerbating her as I keep her healthy. And then, when I’m convinced that she’ll never swim back to me again, she comes back in full , making me laugh out loud at her extemporaneous comments, and all is perfect for the moment. Until she swims away again.

Still, the punishment stands. Yup, GoalsI’ve got this.

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