My kids seem to lack the absolute bare bones of sensible negotiation; it’s like dealing with The Chuckle Brothers if they were to become terrorists. The point with negotiation is that there needs to be movement from both sides and an understanding that there are repercussions as well as rewards when horse trading with a super-power (i.e. me). But my kids seem to regard this particular propersition as mad as spotted tripe. My question is: why?
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
I want to get my kids dressed and ready for school / playgroup. On good days, when the sun is shining, the birds are tweeting and the postman waves a cheery ‘bonjour!’ to me, the kids dress themselves (with a few comedy moments along the way) and all I have to help them with are shoes and we skip out the door like The Swiss Family Robinson. However, on bad days they refuse to even look at a sock, it’s raining, the birds are crapping over my car and the postman opens my mail looking for goodies, and the kids lie naked on the floor, wailing as if I killed the dog for fun. So, I say to them:
‘Okay, let’s do this the easy way,’ they look at me blankly. ‘Why don’t you start getting dressed and I’ll help you to get the rest on?’
‘But I don’t like that top.’ (three tops later)
‘Listen, let’s just get dressed – it’s getting late and we need to get a move on.’ Grumpy faces all round. ‘Get dressed quickly and you can an extra star on your star chart.’
‘I don’t want to get dressed,’ says Darling Daughter with a face that could curdle milk.
‘What about if you get dressed and you get a sweet as well?’ No joy. ‘Look, it’s this way or the hard way.‘ They cross their arms and crumple their faces into even more grumpier expressions. ‘You won’t like the hard way – I’ll have to man-handle you into your clothes…’ Hmpppfff! from both of the kids.
(at this point I want to scream: ‘So, let’s review the highlights for you two geniuses: you’d rather be wrestled and practically hogtied into your clothes like a couple of tweeking sociopaths off One Flew Over The Cukkoo’s Nest involving muchos, muchos wailing, weeping, frustration and anger that nobody is going to enjoy – least of all me – than helped to get dressed, get an extra reward star and a Smartie? Are you OUT OF YOUR TEENY, LITTLE MINDS?! Take the deal! What are you? The Taliban? Take the deal – it’s a good deal! – you’ve won. This is deal of the bloody century! Take it. What possible point are you trying to prove with your stubborness? AHHHHHH!!!)
So, I leave the room to compose myself and think of an alternative strategy but come up empty: short of offering them money and Barney The Dinosaur carved out of chocolate ice-cream I got nothin’. I return and they’re dressed. ‘Do we get a sweet now?’ ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!
My kids have eaten a crap breakfast, a crap lunch and have survived – seemingly – on one rice cake each and some water, like dwarf versions of Bobby Sands. I need to get them to eat something. So I make them an absolute slam dunk, guaranteed, sure-fire, superstar meal: Spag Bol.
There are few certainties in life: death, taxes and the knowledge that any time of day or night, if I put a bowl of Spag Bol in front of my children they will eat it, almost as a reflex. So, my kids sit in front of their bowls of untouched pasta. ‘Do you want cheese?’ I ask.
‘No,’ says Darling Son, ‘Can we have straws?’ I get them a straw each. ‘Two straws?’ I get yet another straw. ‘Could I have red ones?’ FFS! ‘I want pink!’ says Darling Daughter. Give me fucking strength.
‘Now will you eat your dinner,’ they nod and dig their forks into the pasta but when the straws appear they drop the forks, untouched and drink water. They then start blowing bubbles in the water. ‘C’mon guys, stop mucking around and eat your dinner.’
‘If we eat our dinner, do we get a treat?’ asks DS. ‘No,’ I say.
‘I don’t want my dinner,’ grumps DD.
‘Listen, if you two eat your dinner – and I mean all your dinner – you can watch some Spongebob.’ they look extremely underwhelmed, ‘I’ll even feed you.’
‘What about a treat?’ asks DS hopefully. ‘Please? Please? Pretty please?’ I think about it.
‘If you eat all your dinner then you can get a treat,’ DS claps his hands excitedly. I spoon one mouthful into his mouth.
‘I don’t want my dinner,’ grumps DD and slumps in the chair like she’s just necked half a litre of gin. DS pulls a pained expression, as if he is trying to pass a large, awkwardly shaped fruit out of his small, four year old arse, and rubs his tummy: ‘I’m full…so full.’
‘How can you possibly be full?’ I turn to DD, ‘Open wide! C’mon darling, just one mouthful…’
“I don’t like it,’ says DD as DS son sits there rubbing his tummy as if I have just fed him a goat. ‘Guys, you have been at this table for half an hour, your pasta is cold and you will not get any tv, treat or be able to leave the table until you have finished.’ I sigh, ‘ take the easy option.’
(What I want to do is shout: ‘Why would you possibly want to sit at a table for so long that your food gets cold rather than have it spooned into your mouth at sensible intervals like Jabba-the-Hut, tv afterwards and then a treat of your choice? Why? What is the motivation here? Do you like cold pasta? Do you like just sitting, staring at each other moaning? Why don’t you just reach for the stars and get a job in The Citizens Advice Bureau with a broken microwave?!?!?! Take the deal! Just take it – don’t play hardball with me; I am like granite, I never cave in – you know that, yet you still try it on! WHY!!!Y!Y!!!!???)
I break from my reverie and see that they have both eaten most of their pasta. I has taken them less than five minutes. ‘Is there anymore?’ DS asks. FFS.