What to Expect the Sassy Years: Dealing With Back Talk

 

There are so many books, websites and blogs devoted to
chatting about the sweet early years of childhood but not nearly as many for
after age 7-8 and even fewer once they hit 10. 
I remember how lost I felt when the “What to Expect” books abruptly
ended. What do I do now? I thought.  Yet
parenting gets much tougher at this point, and the Sassy Years last many more
years than the Sweet Years (in my case, considering my oldest child argued
about what clothes she’d wear to school when she was in kindergarten, the Sassy
Years were in full swing at age 5 1/2). 
It’s a shame there aren’t more well-known advice-givers that specialize
on these later years like there are for the earlier years.  The Today Show and others always used to have their “go-to” guys for parenting help, but their talk always focused on early childhood.  
In lieu of that, we’ll help each other.

Dealing With Back Talk

One of the biggest points of
turmoil between parents and older kids is back talk. I hear other parents talking about it all the
time.  Parents are greatly saddened that
their once sweet child is sassing back to them.  I’m not going to get into the sociological, biological, or
psychological reasons it happens, it just does, in many families, pretty
commonly after a certain age.  If we
parents could just get a handle on this, things would be a lot calmer in the
long run.  In my own house and in
others, a typical scene went like this:

Child #1: You’re stupid and I hate you!

Parent #1: (raising voice to a pitch not unlike a bellowing
moose) How dare you talk to me that way! Go to your room!

Child #1: (screaming) No!

Parent #1: You’d better get to your room on the count of 5 or
you’re grounded from going to the birthday party tomorrow.  1-2-3-4-5. 
(Child still not in room).  Okay,
that’s it! No birthday party now!

Child #1: (crying and screaming) No!!! You can’t do that!  Please!!!!!!! Please, I’ll do anything to
go!!! I’m sorry I said all those things!!! WAHHHHH!

Parent #1: No! You know I mean what I say.  No means No.  And that’s final.  You
need to make better choices next time!

Child #1: (gets so upset she throws all her school supplies
from the second floor to the first. 
Colored pencils come showering like raindrops down the stairs.  Dog starts barking.)

Parent #1: Now you’re in trouble.  Pick up the mess you’ve made.

Child #1: No! Let me go to the party and I will!

Parent #1:  If you don’t
pick up the mess you’ve made, you’re grounded from having friends over this
weekend or going to their houses.

Child #1: Fine!! I don’t care!!! (Slams bedroom door so hard
the house shakes, a big no-no in our house). 
Parent #2 goes in and spanks Child, who cries and screams.

All this has taken a huge chunk of time out of our evening
and has left everyone exhausted.  Child
#2, the younger sister, is crying in her room, she hates all the commotion that
often swirls around Child #1.  Parent #2
is shaking, Parent #1’s heart is pounding and she is feeling like you could
peel her off the ceiling.  The dog has
slunk off to hide in a corner.  And they
all are facing a weekend where Child #1 is grounded and must stay in the house– not fun.  By the next day, Parent #2 is
trying to strike a deal for good behavior with Child #1 in order for her to
earn back her privileges, which makes Parent #1 highly upset that both parents
are not on the same page, that they are not showing a unified front (very wishy
washy and not good for the child!)  She
knows the child will never learn if stated consequences are not followed
through, and so bad feelings emerge between the parents and a possible argument!

 

All because of one utterance, one sentence: “You’re
stupid, and I hate you.”

 

For too long, I kept thinking of other parents in my head
saying, “Don’t take that from your child. 
How disrespectful. No parent should allow that kind of talk!” And so I
would get angry with my kid.  And maybe in some
families, a “Go to your room” would have worked just fine.  But in my family and particularly with Child
#1, it became clear that this type of reaction would always end up with a Power
Struggle spiral, spiraling out of control and downward into a lose-lose situation.  I have since found a way to get the upper hand, only in a different
way.  The Love and Logic books and
website have all sorts of great comeback lines you can use to keep your cool
(and still respect yourself) when your kid “takes you aback” by something
they’ve said.  You can use their lines
or come up with your own.  One that I came up with that I like to use is “Tell me something I don’t already know.”

 

Now, I will admit that we don’t do this if we get insulted in front of non-family members.  “Disrespect in public” is strictly forbidden, and the cell phone gets taken away, one day for every insult.  Also, sometimes I forget my mantra if I’m tired or hungry or have had a
really bad day, and revert to
Reactionary Angry Mom (nobody’s perfect). But those times
are now much fewer.  It’s just too
delicious to have the upper hand in a back-handed way.  Here are recent conversations that have gone
on in my house and minivan:

 

Child: You’re stupid and I hate you.

Parent: I know that. 
Please tell me something I don’t already know.

Child: (fuming) Why would you say that?  That’s stupid.

Parent: Because it’s true. 
I am stupid, and I know you hate me.

(Conversation eventually fizzles out, because she just can’t
say anything that will bug me, or she’ll try a more civilized way of saying
what she needs to say.)

 

The following conversations use a variation of my “mantra”:

Child: You’re such a dork.

Parent:  I know. I
agree.  I’m happy to be a dork.

Child: (fuming) Why would you say that?

Parent: Because if you didn’t think I was a dork, then I
would be doing something wrong as a parent. 
Kids are supposed to think their parents are dorks.  So actually, calling me a dork is a
compliment. I’m being a good parent.

Child:  Then I’m
going to say that you’re great and beautiful and perfect.

Parent:  Gee, thanks!

Child: (Fuming) Whatever.

——————————

Child: I’m the only one of my friends who has to do her own
laundry.  You’re such a loser.

Parent:  No, the
other parents are losers since they haven’t taught their teenagers something as
simple as turning on water and pouring in soap.

(Silence.)

The Uncool Mom Manifesto

Basically, I’m an uncool mom.  I’ve been told it many times by both my children, and I’m proud of it.  I do things like (Horrors!) sometimes wear workout clothes from the 80’s;  drive an often trashed out minivan (“Mom, pleeease don’t pull up by the school’s front door when you let me out!”); sing while driving that minivan (“Stop, you’re embarrassing me!”); lock out the TV so that I decide when it’s watched (No Way!!);  require my children to: do a few chores (What a concept!!); pay for their “wants” with their own money, earned through an allowance and jobs (totally uncool!); lose allowance dollars when they leave their bath towel on the floor, don’t carry their plate off the table, leave lights on, forget to do their daily chore, fight with their sister or disobey Mom and Dad (No Fair!!).  The list of uncool things I do goes on and on… 

If you live your life trying hard to be your child’s best friend and never make them upset, you’re in trouble, and even more, so is your child (although I look forward to the day my children are happy, responsible adults and hopefully then might consider me a best friend).  But a child will never be truly happy and responsible if their parent is constantly worried about what the child thinks of them, constantly second guessing themselves, not following through on things they say they’ll do, and basically letting the child have and do whatever he/she wants.  It may give you a few minutes of peace by saying yes to everything your child wants, but in the long run, it’s crippling your child from gaining real-world coping skills, not to mention squashing your own needs as your life centers around the child.  Remember, as a smart, caring parent of a growing child, you are not trying to win a popularity contest, you are trying to parent.  I hope this website will give parents the encouragement to “be tough” when necessary and start being the one in charge, instead of the child being in charge.  No Veruca Salts or Augustus Gloops allowed!!

That being said, I am not so strict that I don’t let my kids have any freedom.  I am always looking for ways in which they can safely and sensibly have independence, which some day I know they will realize was very cool, especially in the “helicopter” times we are living in.  I’m so sick of the helicopter parent epidemic.  It’s so widespread, it truly confounds me.  I’m reading about and hearing about this behavior from all over the country, not just in one area, but it’s as if they all went to the same parenting school—Helicopter U.  Parents who complete homework for their kids. Who always take their kids’ lunches to them at elementary school when they forget. Who never let their child walk home from school even if they live two blocks away.  Who fight their child’s teacher every time the child gets in trouble in class.  Who sue the school district because their child gets kicked off a high school sports team for blatantly disobeying the rules, like getting drunk or posting racy internet photos.  Parents who are in constant, micromanagement contact with their children via cell phone to the point that the kids never have to make decisions on their own.  Who show up on college campuses to argue about grades with their child’s professor.  I don’t get it.  Many of today’s parents (at least parents of kids who are teens and older) were raised by Greatest Generation parents, parents who let us play outside all day until supper time, parents who had better things to do than micromanage our homework and drill us past midnight to make sure we passed a test, and they raised kids who turned out just fine.  Do a lot of today’s parents not like the way they turned out, and are doing everything the opposite? Has the threat of child predators freaked everyone out so much that they’ve gone into this uber-protective mode that seeps into every aspect of their life?  When I heard recently from a friend who works in downtown Dallas that parents are now accompanying their children on job interviews and calling to ask about benefits, I knew our society has hit a new low.  I want to be a  voice crying in the wilderness that says, “Stop it already!”  Again, because it cripples children from gaining valuable coping skills and self-esteem that they need for the large part of life when their parents won’t be around.  

I guess that stance makes me uncool also to a large amount of parents!

And so the name Uncool Mom fits pretty well for my blog.  But I think that “uncool mom” is more a state of mind than a person. Anyone that feels the same way can be an uncool mom, even if they’re not a parent.  So jump on board– this minivan has lots of room! (just please pardon the Taco Bell cups, grocery coupons, ballet costumes, tennis shoes, old newspapers…)