During our last parent-teacher conference we were talking with Jackson’s principal about how to make children obey. Not how to turn them into little robots, mind you, but just to teach them the self-discipline to do what’s asked of them (eat your dinner/put away your toys/write a thank-you note to Grandma) without a prolonged series of negotiations.
But so the principal was talking about how it’s especially important for me, The Mom, to get Jackson to do what I say and for me to win in confrontations now, otherwise when Jackson becomes a teenager I’ll be shit out of luck when it comes to having him listen to me at all. And then he added the kicker: “The child respects the mother because the father demands it.”
Let’s think about that for a moment. The child respects the mother because the father demands it.
After having a good long and productive discussion about ways for me to garner Jackson’s respect and compliance, I was taken aback by the sudden gust of traditional values that blew through the room. What compounded the shock was later at home when Jackson came up with the old “Dad is the boss of the house.” Why is dad the boss of the house? “Because he pays for everything.”
Okay, maybe he thinks that because we’ve watched the dinner scene in Talladega Nights about 400 times now (“I win the races and I get the money!”), and with some discussion I can nip that one in the bud.
But the notion that my authority is so flimsy that it needs Jack’s weight behind it, that no matter how many times I bend the little twig of Jackson’s will beneath the mighty wind of my chocolatey breath, it’s only the times when Jack brings on the full hippo hurricane that really count? (“Well, you know, dad was the disciplinarian and mom provided the unconditional love; that was mom’s job, until she committed suicide in ’81.“)
Now, I will be the first one to admit that Jack can indeed bring it. I’m normally one to discuss and cajole and warn of the pint-sized consequences, but when a kid does something so blatantly wrong and stupid that you need to make sure they never do it again — here I’m thinking of the time Jackson spit in Jack’s face — so that dragging Jackson home by the arm, swatting his ass, and leaving him to stew in his room for awhile did indeed achieved our family’s saliva retention goals, and we have not seen that particular sign of disrespect ever since.
That kind of muscular discipline really reinforces the whole “dad’s the boss” thing, though.
And despite the fact that I make an okay amount of money doing whatever it is that I do, the fact that I do it at home seems to render my contributions as mysterious as vapor to Jackson. While daddy leads a small army of men in the construction of giant houses with motor courts, tennis pavilions, and drought-resistant landscaping, all I can do is point to a page on my computer with a lot of typing on it and tell Jackson, “Yeah, Daddy can build a house, but I know how to read ALL THOSE BIG WORDS.”
And this leads us to the question: How much allowance should a six-year-old get?
These are the chores Jackson has to do to get his money:
1. Empty the bathroom trash into the kitchen trash.
2. Sweep everything Peanut doesn’t eat (leftover bits of zucchini, lettuce, peaches, etc.) off the balcony.
3. Fill Cookie’s bowl with kibble at dinnertime.
4. Put away all the clean clothes I’ve left folded on his chair.
For this he gets the princely sum of $5.00 a week. I know! When I was his age I got a dull quarter and a warm glass of grape Kool-Aid. Did you know I also walked to school uphill both ways and lived in a shoebox in the middle of the road? All true.