Now before you go calling child services on me, hear me out. You might even be rolling out the oats as you scoff your Pad Thai next Friday night too.
You see, I would describe myself as a fairly typical modern day parent. My children are most definitely always heard as well as seen. Unless they are up to something that may occasion bodily harm, or involves permanent marker, or they’re mean to one another, they have a pretty free run at life. I take the Dr Phil approach with extra-curricular activities and let them keep trying different things until they find their passion (which worked brilliantly with No 1, but I admit I’m struggling a little to keep up with the numerous passions of No 2). We regularly engage in whole family activities, we play board games with them, we take an interest in the TV shows they watch and books they read, we ask their opinions on things. Basically we treat them like any other people we like and respect … they’re just shorter, is all.
And generally speaking, they are pretty good kids. They are interesting and they make us laugh a lot. So we like spending time with them. In fact, we’ve developed a bit of a Friday night ritual where we all go out for a meal together – for a nice if not fine dining experience to end the working work and herald our weekend hanging out time.
As much as we all would look forward to our Friday night family outing, though, for some reason, for some god-unknown reason, so often in the half-hour before we’d be set to leave, the kids would turn feral. Feral, fighting lunatics. (Bear in mind they are 14 and 9!) Despite numerous requests to cease fire, useless efforts at counselling them through their given issue of the evening, and moving beyond that to full-on threats (realistic ones like ‘if you don’t stop fighting we are NEVER going out to dinner again) somehow, our lovely family dinner out would end up more like joining a divorcing couple for their last supper. Snide remarks, sniping, bickering, and constant tension in the air.
Watch these very brave women admit the moments they felt like a terrible mother. (Post continues after video.)
It reached a point where we felt completely ripped off. Not just financially (though the idea of forking out cash for that kind of experience wasn’t exactly palatable). It didn’t feel like the kind of behaviour we deserved from them. We’re nice parents. We’re kind parents. We’re engaged parents. Why couldn’t they be nice to us and JUST GET ALONG?
So one night several months back, we decided to pull it up. When the fighting started, at first we threatened that we weren’t going if they didn’t stop. But then, we pointed out that that wasn’t really fair on us. So I said, ‘Actually, we’re going, you’re not!’ After years of bluffed threats, they barely blinked. Their fight entered round two.
I then said, ‘You don’t believe me? I’m ringing Kylie (our neighbour). You can go and stay there for a few hours while we go out without you.’ Now, this probably wasn’t the worst threat, because the girls happen to be great friends with Kylie’s kids. And Kylie is a pretty good cook. But at least, I thought, we were taking a stand. We were saying this was absolutely not acceptable and we weren’t letting them ruin our evening.
However, when I rang Kylie, they were already out enjoying a nice family dinner together. With two kids who were probably sitting calmly at the table, talking politely to one another. And not poking forks into each other’s knees under the table.
We needed a plan C. So we came up with this. We told them we were ordering take away. For just us. Not them. They would be eating cereal. And none of the fun cereal, either. It would be rolled oats. When my husband returned with the takeaway, they didn’t even get so much as a prawn cracker. I felt awful and mean and pleased with myself all at the same time. Although it was by no means the first time they’d ever eaten cereal for dinner, it was certainly the first time when they hadn’t requested it.
A few weeks later, they tried it on again. So they got the same result. Outing aborted. Rolled oats for them. Yummy takeaway for us.
And you know what, I can’t say the Friday night ferals haven’t ever struck again since, but all we’ve needed to shut it down fast have been six little words: ‘Do you want cereal for dinner?’
Australian author, Deborah Disney, practised as a litigation lawyer prior to finding her true calling in the school pick-up line where she started typing a little story on the notes app on her iPhone one afternoon. Deborah’s first novel, Up and In, hit the bestseller charts on both Amazon and iBooks and has enjoyed international acclaim. Deborah is currently working on her second novel, which is about in-laws. You can connect with Deborah anytime on Facebook. You can buy her novel on Amazon, iTunes and in all good bookstores.