Let me be clear — I love my kids. Ninety percent of the time they are perfect angels who bring unbridled joy into our household. But there are moments. Oh, there are moments. There are moments when my boys — 3 and 1 — turn into raging, demanding, insatiable, life-sucking little monsters who could force the most patient — Mother Teresa? Dr. Phil? An army of grandmotherly, cookie-baking, constantly-doting, head-rubbing babysitters?– to beg for mercy.
Suffice it to say, I’ve learned a thing or three since my kids were born and one them is that it’s ok — at times — to ignore your kids.
This isn’t an “ignore-them-while-they’re-in-mortal-danger” kind of thing. If it was, I’d be writing this from the nearest prison. Rather, it’s a reasoned, thoughtful, objective lesson in sanity maintenance. It also comes after months of explanations and discussions and entreaties with my kids on why their particular behavior is not cool.
The bottom line — there are four times when I reserve the right to pretend I don’t see, hear, smell or acknowledge my kids.
When they whine. If whining were an Olympic sport, my kids would not only be gold medalists but world record holders. They could teach a Master class on whining. Whining is less of an action in our house and more of a language. They whine about being made to eat. They whine about being hungry. They whine about the cup we pour their juice into. They whine about us not pouring the juice into their cup quickly enough. You get the point. The whining is like a tornado — you know it’s coming but there is no possible way to predict where it’s headed. Therefore, my response is ignorance. When the whining begins, I tune out.
When they should be sleeping. We were ardent advocates of the cry-it-out method when our children were babies so when our 3-year-old gets out of bed for the umpteenth time at night to ask for a). a drink, b). another book, c). a toy, or d). the last morsels of my rational thought, I retreat to my happy place. There is no conversation, no eye contact, no pacification. I pick the boy up, carry him to his bed and deliver him there with indifference.
When they know the answer to their question. I’m sure your kid has tried this on you — he asks mom for more screen time or another treat and gets denied so he decides to ask you. He knows the answer but figures if he asks again, maybe you’ll give in. It’s actually a pretty smart strategy, like if I got denied a raise at work and simply kept asking my boss for one until he threw up his hands and gave me what I want. Heck, if that worked, I’d be making mid-6 figures and have 20 weeks of vacation. Back in real life, my boss would either fire me or walk away, calling security to have the lunatic guy escorted from the building. Last time I checked, I can’t fire my kid (I’m not Donald Trump, after all) but I can act like a deaf man when he pulls this stunt.
When I’m about to lose my cool. I’ve seen those dads who are always calm under pressure, responding with a gentle hug and soothing touch, no matter how many buttons their kid is pushing on the cellphone of their soul. I’m not one of them. I yell. I scream. I get nuts. Fortunately, it’s pretty rare but you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Lately, I’ve tried a new tack — when my kids are playing my last nerve like it’s a guitar string in an epic guitar solo, I walk away. It’s my version of counting to 10.
Look, I don’t know if this would work for you. Maybe being constantly engaged — in the battle, so to speak — works for you. For me, I’m a dad who tries his best and sometimes his best is to briefly ignore the little monsters until they morph back into the lovable cherubs who’ve turned my hair white.