Last Tuesday, I had to do one of those really tough things that parents have to do sometimes. I had to enforce a really painful consequence. I’m not sure who felt the greater sting—my daughter or me.
I drove two of my daughters to a much-anticipated costume party for a friend’s birthday. The girls were each dressed up like a favorite fictional character. They had spent almost a month planning their costumes.
When we arrived at the party, one daughter, who was dressed as Hermione Granger, got out of the car and went inside. My other daughter, dressed as Pippi Longstocking, sat in the front seat and waited with me. I told her that she could not go to the party if she hadn’t reviewed properly for a quiz she would be given the following day at a part-time classical school she attends.
For two full days, my daughter had been putting the vocabulary quiz preparation off. She had found a lot of time to goof off with her brother during the day, but not the time to study. She had ignored several warnings from me about being prepared for the quiz.
This failure to be responsible was not an isolated event, but rather a pattern we had been seeing crop up a lot lately. I didn’t want to hold to a hard-and-fast line for one lone incident, but felt like we needed to nip some bad habits in the bud.
So, I laid down the law: Be ready for the quiz or forfeit the party!
An hour before the party, after she was all dressed up for it—including at least 30 minutes of my helping her braid her hair around wire for the signature Pippi Longstocking look—my daughter made a mad dash to cram and get ready for her quiz the next day.
This particular child of mine is very bright, but I didn’t think it would be possible for her to learn 20 really difficult vocabulary words in just an hour.
On the way to the party, I did everything I could to help her learn the vocabulary words. I was making up little rhymes and stories to go with words; to jog her memory into making the connections between the words and their meanings. I was desperate for her to go and experience the fun times I knew were in store at the party with some of her favorite friends.
As we sat in the car, parked in front of the party house, I tested her on the vocabulary words once more. My heart sank as I realized she exceeded the amount of words I told her were acceptable to get wrong on a quiz.
I had a knot in my stomach, but I felt I had to be firm and follow through. I told her she couldn’t go to the party. Screams, tears, and gestures of outrage ensued. I’m pretty sure I was told, through theatric sobs, that I was ruining her life and didn’t love her at all.
My heart ached. It would have been so much easier to let her go to the party anyway.
I personally love having fun, and I want my kids to have fun times too. But there are things that must be learned in life that are far more important than having fun.
After we got home and my daughter got a stern phone call from her dad, reminding her to respect her mom, she calmed down.
For the rest of the afternoon, she worked with more focus and concentration than I have ever seen her have. She was also the most helpful and affectionate that she has ever been, setting the table without my asking her to do it. It’s almost as if she was relieved that I enforced the consequence she knew she deserved.
She may have been disappointed about not getting to go to the party, but she respected and loved me because she knew I didn’t shirk my mothering duties and I did what I needed to do.
This parenting business is not for the faint of heart!
The sad part is…I will never be able to think of Pippi Longstocking with neutrality ever again.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; second image courtesy of Amy Koons.