Context Matters

Or, why the subtitle of parenting should be “Stop, Drop, and Think.”

Last night was not a good one for the younger daughter. She got up way too early yesterday, so by the time dinner rolled around, she was tired and grumpy. I made a spinach-alfredo-bacon pizza for dinner, and with every single bite (Every. Single. Bite.), she would grimace and squirm, or make a gagging face. Needless to say, she got in serious trouble for this appallingly rude behavior.

She then tried to deflect our irritation by complaining about an old blister on the side of her foot. It had healed up, but the flap of dead skin was still hanging on.  She pouted and demanded that we buy more band-aids so she could keep the flap down until she graduated from high school. That didn’t go over well, either. Despite her blubbering and freaking out, Jason removed the flap in about 30 seconds, at which point even Jensen admitted that it didn’t hurt and in fact felt better.

Then Jason’s ex called. Jensen took the phone in the other room. Shortly after she hung up, Jason got an e-mail from the ex about how Jensen was “crying” about how much her foot hurt, and inquiring as to what kind of medical attention Jason was giving to said foot.

Lady, you got played.

Jensen was ticked off that she got in trouble for her behavior. She was ticked off because we chose to watch the end of the (thrilling!) Denver game instead of letting them comandeer the TV to watch the Simpsons. She was ticked off that Daddy touched her blister flap.  And so she cried to her mama as the Last Resort of Sympathy, and it worked perfectly. The Oldest Trick in the Book.

Context matters.

Look, I understand the impulse. When Tyler tells me that he’s having hot dogs for dinner for the third night in a row, it’s super tempting to want to know why. Or when he tells me he’s gotten in trouble for something, I want to rush over there and scoop him up and carry him away. All logic and common sense are obliterated by the sound of your child’s tearful voice. You find yourself thinking things like, “I know he lit the cat on fire, but…..” 

As a parent, as an adult, I have to show a little self-control in these situations. I can’t rush in, guns blazing, demanding to know X and Y and why-haven’t-you-done-Z? My ex has his own household, with his own rules. Jason’s ex has her own household with her own rules. And we have our own household. We don’t get to control or affect what goes on “over there,” even when we find it abhorrent or even relatively harmful (too much television, too many donuts). And they don’t get to invade/influence our household with their nagging. I’m lucky – I don’t think my ex could care less about what goes on at my house. But Jason’s ex frequently sends e-mails that start, “(Daughter) said on the phone that you…..” 

The children are not messengers. They are not even reliable sources of information most of the time. And they will shamelessly spin any situation so that they avoid judgment or punishment. As parents, as adults, we have to resist the temptation to intercede on our children’s behalf at every perceived slight. We simply don’t have all the information, and we risk looking foolish – or worse. Sure, if your child tells you that he’s being beaten, or left in an objectively dangerous situation, then by all means step in. But we clearly trusted our ex-spouse’s ability to raise a child (including performing first aid, administering discipline, and avoiding public nudity) when we decided to make babies with him/her.  

Besides, if the situation was reversed, Jason’s ex would be furious if he started e-mailing her with every petty grievance. “Hollyn said she was searching for videos on YouTube. Do you properly monitor her internet usage? You need to install a filter so she’s not exposed to something inappropriate.” “Jensen said she fell in the driveway and scraped her knee. Were you watching her? Did you clean it properly? You need to….”   

We have to take a deep breath and accept that our children are not always within the sphere of our control. That the day-to-day workings of the other parent’s home are not something we get any say in. And we don’t have a “right to know” what goes on over there (except, again, in the case of actual harm). We don’t have a right to interrogate our kids. We don’t have a right to demand information from our exes. 

Context matters. And when we take statements from children out of context, we almost invariably leap to an incorrect conclusion, one that is colored by our own suspicions and biases.

Hot dogs three days in a row never killed anybody. Neither did a flap of old blister. And neither will taking the high road.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Context Matters

  1. Robyn

    Someone once told me that “Parenting is 90% reactionary, 10% rational.” I think “Stop, drop, and think.” is a good strategy to combat that.

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