I baked muffins this weekend. Is there such a thing as Strike 4?
In my professional heyday (hey, I’ve never called my work life a heyday before), I counselled many parents whose children were acting up. I learned that when a parent starts setting firmer limits, the child’s bad behaviour initially escalates. Instead of skipping the curfew, a teen may stay out overnight. What better way to test whether the parent means business?
I’m getting too theoretical here, so I’ll share a recent personal example instead. For years, Jelly has enjoyed occasional evening couch time with her moms, but this cuddling ended with the recent purchase of a new couch, which happens to be a dog-hair magnet. We have had the couch for a few months now and we’ve stood firm on our new no-couch-time rule. Every evening, Jelly lays her snout on the couch, looking up at us with her mournful Basset eyes and waiting for her invitation. Every night she is sent back to her bed.
I hadn’t considered how difficult this limit would be to enforce when Jelly’s bestie, Rosie the golden doodle, came over to visit. Jelly and Rosie enjoy the occasional indoor off-leash romp, usually instigated by ours truly. Yes, Jelly races through the kitchen and dining room and, since it is en route, jumps onto the couch, where she stands at her bestie’s height and taunts her. But no more. The couch is now out of bounds.
On this particular day, while I was seated at the table, Jelly instigated a manic romp. I jumped up to obstruct access to the couch, neglecting to push in my chair. Jelly’s pace was frenetic, and nothing would slow her down. She couldn’t quite access the couch, so she had to change her romping route. In a split second, she leapt onto my abandoned chair and, with one more step, onto the table.
Jelly’s expression suggested she was just as surprised as I was to find herself where no dog had ever gone before. She stopped for a split second and looked at me with both terror and confusion in her eyes. Her thought bubble said: “What the heck have I done and how do I get off?” Then she calmly regrouped, walked to the other side of the table, and hopped down to the floor. So much for limit setting; I was speechless.
From my knowledge of parenting, I should have anticipated this turn of events. Set a new limit and expect an escalation. “I can’t get on the couch anymore? Well, then, just watch me jump on the table.” But considering how scared Jelly looked up there, I’m not expecting her to push that particular boundary again. Now if I could just get her to stop jumping up on our bed, which is 5 inches lower with our new mattress.,,,
And so we arrive at my second key parenting principle: Not all parenting decisions are based on what’s best for the child. Parents have needs too. Sometimes I invite Jelly up on the bed because I want to cuddle. Is that really so bad? Don’t answer that.