The Long Game

Yesterday was a shit-show with my kid. Epic fucking shit-show.

My son is in the throes of pre-teen hormonal craziness; let’s start there. Let’s add that I am totally perimenopausal and my patience is at an all-time low. It’s like a permanent state of PMS up in this jayjay, and the combo is, well, let’s just say my son and I are in a hormone-infused horn-locking dance that would put bighorn sheep to shame.

It’s not cute.

Yesterday we had a weird amount of time to kill after school before going to a doctor’s appointment. We opted to come home for 15 minutes, have a snack, and then turn around and go back out, rather than try to kill 30 minutes in the no-man’s land of the doctor’s office (and with a kid like mine, you don’t want to try to kill 30 minutes somewhere that doesn’t have a climbing structure, a trampoline, or wifi).

So we go home, snuggle with the puppies, and I offer to make my son his absolute favorite snack. Which involves cooking.

While I make the snack, he disappears, and within minutes I hear the TV on.

Um, no.

I go in and tell him that we don’t have time for him to watch tv right now; he needs to turn it off and be ready to leave after he eats his snack (that I’m cooking, remember?).

Immediately my child starts screaming, whining, arguing, negotiating, “But Moooooooom, I have ten minutes, and I really want to see the rest of this scene of my show, it’s my favorite show and something really important is happening and I neeeeeeeed to watch it and I prooooooomise I’ll cooperate and we’ll leave on time and…..”

“No, turn it off. I’m not asking again.”

I leave the room and hear the TV go back on, quieter this time.

Wait, WHAT???

Now, my child is rarely sneaky. He doesn’t do shit behind my back, and if he does, he usually tells me, adorably sheepishly. His idea of sneaking into the pantry to get a cookie is to do this super-obvious Scooby-Doo tip-toe creep. It cracks me up. His name means “truth” in Hebrew, and, despite his many faults, the one thing I can count on is that my son lives up to his name.

So this whole TV being put on again, just quieter this time? Whoa. This is new territory. And I'm pissed. And I lose it. 

I go in and yell a few things I can’t quite recall because blind rage and hormones but I know includes something about disrespect and me cooking his favorite snack, and as I’m walking out, I hear, “I hate you!

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these words. It is, in fact, the third. Because we moms, we know exactly how many times our kids have told us they hate us. The second was last week, and the first was when he was like, 6 (and then he cried).

And now I’m at the crossroads every mother comes upon at least a few times a day. This behavior sucks and needs to be shut down. More and more often, my son is talking back to me. More and more he’s pushing back against my mandates. More and more I’m crumbling because he’s so fucking efficient at pushing my buttons, manipulating, negotiating, and I’m tired, hormonal, emotional, have no backup (#singlemom), I just want it to be over, and the quickest way is to give in to whatever negotiation he’s working because then there’d just be peace and quiet and we can get back to loving each other.

But the fact of the matter is that that’s the short game, and I’ve been playing the short game for a long-ass time, and it’s this short game that’s getting me into this trouble to begin with.

So, now I have to play the long game, and that one is so exhausting I can hardly stand to even talk about it.

Because the long game involves holding my ground. The long game involves realizing that my kid is getting older—and bigger—and he’s not getting less motivated or less good at manipulating me; he’s getting better at it. Because the more he wins, the more he pushes to win the next round, because he knows at some point I’ll break. And, with a few exceptions, he’s usually right.

But over the last few years, I’ve had to dig deeply and look at my shit. I’ve had to examine why exactly I’ve been playing this short game, because at the end of the day, all of our parenting choices are about us. This isn’t about our kids; it’s about how we were raised, what triggers we have, what we’re willing to put up with and what we just can’t stand.

In my case, I've often used my ex as a threat. To be honest, I want someone else to do the heavy lifting for me, in multiple areas of my life, but in parenting, my ex makes a better heavy. And so, for many years, when shit got really hard, I would call my ex and he'd back me up. But lately I've come to realize how disempowering that is to me as a mother, and that it unfairly makes my ex into the bad cop at times he just shouldn't have to be (God love him for being willing). So I've opted instead to put on my big-girl pants and face my battles alone. It's so much harder, but it's also an opportunity for me to expand and grow.

It’s not hyperbole when people say that parenting is the hardest job in the world. It’s the hardest job because we’re not just dealing with small tyrants; at the end of the day, we’re having to confront ourselves, and our own limits. And that’s where this shit really hits the fan.

So now I have a decision to make, and the big-girl pants go on.

I tell my son in no uncertain terms that he has now lost all screen privileges for the rest of the night, and as I do, I know I’m going to have to stick to my guns, or I’m totally screwed.

It is 4:07pm, and for the next 5 hours, my son tries to break me.

These are his attempts:

  • Moaning
  • Crying
  • Screaming
  • Negotiating
  • Throwing
  • Begging
  • Pleading
  • Manipulating
  • Running away
  • Threatening
  • Complying
  • Parental comparison
{I think this is a really good time to mention that I am currently doing a stupid fucking clean eating program with some friends which means I’m not drinking for 30 days and had to deal with this without a glass of wine...or ten.}

It would have been so much easier to have given in last night. It would have been so much easier for me to have said, “OK, great, you learned your lesson, you've suffered enough, we've both suffered enough, let’s make some popcorn, snuggle down and watch Arrow together.” He would have been happy, and I would have had peace.

But that would have been the short game.

I chose instead to play the long game. I put in my time, and paid my dues, all so my kid can realize that mommy actually means business too. When mommy says no, she actually means it. When mommy says something’s unacceptable, it actually is, and there’s a consequence and mommy actually fucking sticks to it.

In the end, after a few hours of hell, my son and I lay in bed together reading, until he finally turned over and said, “I’m sorry mommy, I love you,” and fell asleep.

God I love that little fucker.

Have you been playing the short game? Come share your story with me and other moms in the Lost Moms Club!

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Kate Anthony

Kate Anthony is the incredible mom, coach, and personal development superstar behind “How To Not F*ck Up Your Kids.” Kate uses her 20+ years of personal and professional experience to help moms stop losing their shit on their kids, and raise happier, healthier kids. With both her group and 1:1 programs, Kate offers her clients a breadth of expertise, tools, and skills for customized results that make the greatest impact on their lives. Check her out and say “hi” over here.