How Rebellion is Born

“Did you eat your breakfast?” I asked my son this morning as he turned on his video games before school.

“Uh, yeah,” he said.

“Alright, what did you eat?” I asked my little Tasmanian Devil.

“Oh yeah, I didn’t. But I’m not hungry,” he told me.

“Turn off the game. You’re not allowed to play until you have finished getting ready, and that includes eating breakfast and brushing your teeth,” I reminded him.

“Oh my gosh, Mom! You don’t care about me?” My son likes to go into dramatics when he isn’t getting his way, especially when it’s getting in the middle of his game playing time. “I told you I’m not hungry, and now you’re making me eat!”

“Turn off the game,” I told “the Taz” again. “Go eat your breakfast.” And grudgingly he did so. He ate as fast as he could, put his bowl in the sink, then went back to the games.

“Did you brush your teeth?” I asked him. He loudly groaned, then stomped upstairs to do a poor job of brushing the gunk off. 7:45, and he went back to the game. “We don’t have time for you to play. It’s time for us to leave for school,” I told him, totally aware of his reaction just as I was aware of the time.

“What?!? You mean I ate breakfast for nothing?!? You wasted all my time!” he yelled.

“No, you have to eat breakfast before school. You wasted your own time when it took you 20 minutes just to get out of bed this morning,” I pointed out to him. “You’re just going to have to play video games later when you have more time.” And while we all got ready to leave the house, he lay on the floor and sulked until we left.

I think my biggest pet peeve is the arguing that goes on over things that we have to do. Once a week I have to go grocery shopping. It never changes. If we want to eat, we have to have food. But tell that to my son and he moans and groans like I am extracting one of his teeth, and even produces a bit of tears. I have taken to scheduling my grocery shopping at times that aren’t that convenient for me (during lunch breaks or right before I pick them up after work) just because dealing with the inevitable tantrum is much more stressful. The house has to be clean. If I want peace of mind, the table needs to be cleared, the toys need to be put away, and their pigsty of a room needs to have a little bit of order so that I can get to their drawers and put their clean clothes away without killing myself on a Lego landmine. But it takes twice as long to get them to clean as I have to urge them both to keep going and not murder each other in the process. After breaking up fight after fight between them as they attempt a task they really don’t want to do, it’s hard not to succumb to just telling them they’re done and just finishing it myself. Or, more often than not, just living with the mess.

“Bedtime is at 9 pm.”

“Wash your hands after you eat.”

“For Pete’s sake, will you please tie your shoe?!”

“Homework is to be done BEFORE you play with your friends. Yes, all of it!”

“Do not eat your snack in the living room.”

“Your school lunch needs to have something more than a granola bar and a Capri-Sun.”

“You need to wear underwear if you are going to school.”

“Will you please stop doing somersaults in the grocery store aisle?”

“Stop sitting on your brother.”

“Can you please stop changing every word to the song on the radio to ‘poop’ or ‘butt’?”

“It’s after 11 am. Can you please wear something around the house besides your underwear and a blanket?”

“Why? Because I said so.”

Those are the words that used to make me cringe the most in my childhood days. “Because I said so.”

“Crissi, clean your room right now!” my mother would order as she surveyed clothes and books over what might have been a floor had it been visible.

“But why?” I would ask. “It’s my room! I’m the one who has to live in it!”

“Because I said so.”

And after that, I would take my sweet time cleaning, grumbling the whole time, doing a halfhearted job of it so that it looked like I had made a little progress, but also so it was clear that I wasn’t going to do a great job just because my mom wanted me to.

Arguing is ingrained in us. It’s part of our nature. Tell anyone to do something, and their immediate reaction is to rebel, to argue the point, to harbor resentment that someone is even trying to control our movements. Once a kid gets to the wonderful age of the terrible twos (or its even worse cousin – the tumultuous threes), they learn that they have an opinion, and it is usually opposite of yours. For the very short window of time before that, these precious little beings went along with everything their parent told them. As far as they are concerned, you hung the moon. They will follow you to the ends of the earth. After that, however, they come to the realization that they don’t have to go along with everything you say.

It all goes downhill from there.

At ages 2 & 3, kids are so into their newfound independence that they will say NO to anything you say just so that they can assert themselves. By age 4, they understand that they can make a choice based on what they want. Sometimes that goes inline with what you want. Sometimes it doesn’t. But the idea behind their decisions isn’t based on just defying your wishes, it’s an actual calculated decision that they are even willing to discuss with you. It’s a heavenly age for a child, and it continues for a couple of years. But right around age 8, they revert back in time and start questioning anything that gets in the way of their own freedom – the freedom to have scummy teeth, dirty hands, and time to play with their friends or their toys. And once they hit their teenage years, they are age 2 all over again, fighting anything that you say just because you said it. Except this time you’re an idiot and couldn’t possibly be wise enough to know what they are thinking about or doing or what goes on with them and their friends. And when the apple of your eye starts questioning your authority over and over and over again, sometimes the only thing your exasperated mind can think of to say is, “because I said so.”

(In case you missed it, a repeat of a classic example of “the Taz” arguing with me:

So how do you get through the constant arguing that occurs between a parent and a kid? I know for me, I am so exhausted from having to put up a fight to get anything done around here. It’s draining. Things would go so much easier if the kids didn’t fight me on every single task I lay in front of them, especially since it’s not like these required tasks have changed. And yet, I fully understand what it feels like to not want to do something just because it was ordered to me. Any other parents have ideas on how to change the arguing to actual agreement, or can even relate to the constant power struggles between adults and kids?

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2 thoughts on “How Rebellion is Born”

  1. I ignored everything. They lived in dirty rooms, wore dirty clothes and shoes that were falling apart.Never took them shopping. Not hungry? Fine don’t eat, But I put out a hot dinner everyday that they gobbled up right after school. Went to a really good counselor who specializes in boys stuff (Robert Cassanova). I basically kept them from killing each other and from burning the house down. Most fights I ignored. They never wore sox or coats. Both are Eagle scouts, both university bound and both are very warm, loving individuals. I have grey hair and feel tired, but also feel that they turned out very well.

  2. “Oh my gosh, mom! Don’t you care about me?”
    That is the best response to the suggestion a child eats a healthy breakfast I have ever heard.
    Closely followed by, “What?!? You mean I ate breakfast for nothing?!?”

    When I was growing up, my mom (having been subjected to an overuse of it herself) did her best to avoid the ‘because I said so’ response, and to explain why she came to her decision, sometimes even backtracking and changing her mind if it came to light that her refusal or insistence that I do something might have been hasty or that she might not have seen all the facets of the situation. I appreciate the fact that she used this tactic.

    However, despite the fact that I was (believe it or not) a pretty darned tractable and well-behaved daughter who was not fond of arguing, there were still times that she had to pull the parental trump card. Though there were times I was sure that she was simply put on the planet to make my life miserable, and that there was no way in which her age and experience could possibly hold up to my own teenage virtue of knowing absolutely everything, I grudgingly accepted in later years that she may have actually had the right of it…at least once in a while.

    I guess what I am saying is that it’s important to be fair and show your children that you listen to their concerns, and to let them make their own mistakes when that which hangs in the balance is not too heavy a burden for them to bear…but that there are times that the family democracy cedes to parental dictatorship–times when the matter involves health or safety, or their education, or some other thing that young adults don’t grasp the ramifications of, and won’t until they are grown and have the responsibilities you do now. You can be assured that they will hate you for it from time to time, and tell their friends how you are crueler than Cinderella’s step-mother and step-sisters all combined, but you can also be positive that later in life they will understand your reasons and appreciate the guidance you gave.

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