How a “Pushover Parent” is Learning to Establish Firm Limits

Posted January 31, 2011 by

This time I thought I’d offer a little hope to all the beleaguered parents who read Empowering Parents and wonder if the advice here will ever work for them.

Those of you who have read my other blogs know that my 9-year-old grandson, Coby, has never been nominated for “best behaved boy of the week” and I have never been nominated for “most likely to become a drill sergeant.” Rather than a Tiger (Grand)Mom, I am more of a pushover parent.

Coby’s great talent to date is testing limits.

My response has all-too-often been to move the limits:

“Well, just this once.”

“If you’ll do/stop doing [whatever behavior] then I guess it will be okay.”

“I just bought you [toy A]; now you say you’d rather have [toy B]. I’ll let you have them both if you want them enough to take care of them.”

Understand that he and I each have our own definition of “take care.” Mine is the usual, “make them last into the next century.” Coby on the other hand uses the phrase like the Godfather: “I’m gonna take care of youse toys so you won”t ever run again!”

For him, taking such care extends to everything he has grown tired of playing with.  Will a radio-controlled car survive a high-speed collision with a brick wall? How many times? Can he take apart a skateboard and still make it work? Does putting bean pods in the lawnmower oil pan decrease the need for so much oil? Needless to say, few things survive such attention.

Well, I have been reading the advice given on empowering parents and am trying to follow the suggestions that seem to fit our problems such as establishing firm limits. Our last shopping trip was educational.  Coby wanted to go to the mall where there is a skateboard store, a pet store, a video game store, and a Radio Shack. I agreed to go but established that we would not take with us any means of making a purchase. This was to bolster my own resolve; Coby saw it as a minor inconvenience.

As we went from store to store  he found something in each one that he wanted worse than anything else in the world. A set of fancy skateboard bearings, a pet mouse, a $60 video game rated “mature”, a radio-controlled car. Each item became more desirable than the previous one and the pressure built steadily as thunderclouds gathered around his head and his lightening temper began to flash.  I girded for the final battle, the one where I get a firm grip on his elbow and head for the door as his screams attract a large group of onlookers, most of them convinced I am a child abuser or worse!

Finally, the ultimate threat, “I am going to walk home.” This threat is only used when we are 15 or more miles from home and it is getting dark. I told him that he was not walking home on the busiest streets of our town in the dark, PERIOD. Miraculously, we sat quietly for a few minutes (I would have been happy with that much of a change!) then he got up and said, “Come on, Grandma, let’s go home.” End of incident. Believe it or not, I had a pleasant companion on the way home.

He needed to test the limits once again to see if my newfound backbone continues to function.  He is not yet sure that he can control his own urges and I am his Jiminy Cricket and his anchor. When he has butted his head against the rules as hard as he can and they don’t give, then he feels insulated from some of his other scarier urges.

I hang my head to think that, through misguided kindness and fear of a confrontation, I have not been giving this amazing boy the thing he needs most: firm limits.

About

Parent Blogger “Gigi” has a PhD in physiology and taught entering nursing students for many years. She is the mother of four and is currently raising her 9-year-old grandson, Coby.

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