Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rewarding Bad Behavior

This morning I took my usual walk after my teenage daughter left for high school. It was a beautiful day and lots of my neighbors were out, many with their canine companions. 

One woman about a half mile from my house had an older black lab with her alongside an adorable fuzzball of a baby golden retriever. As I neared, the puppy's tail began to wag about a million miles a minute. He (she?) strained at the leash and waited impatiently for some expected adoration. 

Unfortunately, as an allergy sufferer, I can't pet other people's dogs (I've grown immune to our ancient mini dachshund, fortunately). Well, this did not please the pup who started growling and leaping toward me.

"No," said the dog's owner. "No, no, no."

This was appropriate, n'est-ce pas? Not really. You see, the owner didn't say "No" with any kind of conviction. In fact, her soft, loving voice made "No" sound exactly like "Yes, sweetie-pie, little lovebug, mommy's doggie angel. Yes, yes, yes!"

Great. Rewarding bad behavior.

This little interchange made me think about the word "No" and how, as a mother, I have used it effectively and ... well ... not.

Last night, for example, my daughter got home from the stable at about 7:30. Now, I should preface this story by explaining that I asked — specifically — about the homework and study situation. How much did she have to do? Was she sure she would have time if she went riding? Should she maybe consider skipping a day?

"Yes, I'm fine." "Don't worry about it." "It's covered mo-o-om."

Fast forward to 11:00 pm and I'm sure you can picture what was going on in my dining room. Let's see ... there was the thesis for her essay on the Odyssey, a packet for World Cultures, and about six dozen French vocab flash cards. And, guess what I did? Send her to bed and let her face the consequences? Hell to the no.

Like the puppy's owner earlier, I rewarded bad behavior. I stayed up alongside her, helped print and proofread, and baked her a chocolate chip cookie dough soufflĂ©. 

Worst. Mother. Ever.

Years ago, before I was a parent myself (and consequently thought I knew everything about parenting, LOL), I was visiting a friend and her toddler. We were getting lunch ready and the little guy was helping ... by jumping on the open dishwasher door. Seriously. At some point, he tired of this and reached up to the counter where there was a large, sharp knife that had just been used to cut sub sandwiches.

"No!" I yelled from across the room.

The child stopped short, burst into tears, and ran to bury his face in his mother's legs. She looked at me and quietly explained "We don't like to use the n-word with him."

Okay, then.

(BTW, that same child later poured a bottle of pear juice into the keyboard of my new Mac Plus. Ah, sweet memories.)

Well, apparently I'm not that good at using the "n-word" either. Apparently, I'm incapable of administering "tough love," or letting my daughter sink or swim. Apparently, I'm not preparing her for real world accountability. Apparently, I'm a pushover and an enabler. 

But, I do make a mean chocolate chip cookie dough soufflĂ©.

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