I was leaning on the car looking at my phone while I waited. My grandson was strapped in his car seat, refusing to get out of the car. He was tired and so was I. I felt very tired.
It has already been a busy day. I had agreed to hang out with my 5 ½ year old grandson during the day because it was Spring Break and both his parents were working. I enjoyed doing it. Today was a busier day than usual as my eldest son’s 40th birthday was coming up and his partner had planned a surprise birthday party tonight, which I agreed to host.
I picked up my grandson at 10:30 am and on the way to the tennis club I stopped to pick up the Tiramisu cake my daughter-in-law asked me to pick up. My grandson and I went into the bakery. He spotted some cookies that he like the look of and asked for one. No problem. He asked to buy one for his little friend who was going to join us for lunch with his grandmother. He picked out one for him.
However, I couldn’t pick up the cake because they said they don’t make Tiramisu cake. After texting my daughter-in-law, she remembered that it was at a different store. We didn’t have time to get it then, so off we went to the tennis club.
I usually have a tennis lesson on Fridays from 12:00 – 1:00 pm. So this Friday I shared it with my grandson. He did very well for half an hour even though he got a blister. I had the other half hour. After the lesson we went down to the children’s area and played ping-pong while waiting for our friends. Unfortunately they didn’t come. My friend texted me to say that her grandson had gotten over-tired, had a meltdown and was napping. So my grandson and I had lunch, played some more ping-pong and then headed to my home.
I still needed to pick up the cake. On the way home I pulled into the store’s underground parking lot. My grandson refused to get out of the car. I was tired and I knew he was tired, but I could not leave him in the car. I told him I understood that he did not want to go into the store. I told him I didn’t feel like going either, but I needed to get the cake. The birthday party was tonight and if I didn’t get the cake now, I would not be able to get it. He emphatically refused.
I did not want to fight with him. I knew if I started to pressure him, he would resist more and things would go from bad to worse. I didn’t want to go there. I was in a bind.
I decided I would wait outside the car. So here I am leaning against the car starting to look at emails on my cell phone. I couldn’t help but think of all I had done for my grandson that day already, yet he was acting up. I knew thinking that way would not lead to a good place for him or for me. It didn’t take long before he cracked open the car door. Relieved, I thought he was ready to co-operate. I open the door more. No such luck. He still continued to say he was not going to go. I told him (all this time I kept my voice in a reasonable straightforward tone) again that I needed to get the cake. He continued to resist. I thought about bribing him with a treat. He’d already had a cookie earlier at the other bakery. It was at this point I thought – this is why grandparents spoil their grandchildren – they don’t want to fight with them. I certainly did not want to fight with him. While I think there are times that bribing children is warranted, I did not want to bribe him either. I love him too much to do that to him.
So, since I felt so tired, without telling him what I was going to do, I decided I would sit in the driver’s seat and wait. I closed his door and got into the driver’s seat. As soon as I got into the car, he said to me in a calm voice, “Nana, I will go.” I said, “Great! Let’s get it over with so we can both get to my place.”
We happily went into the store. I found the cake and got into the line up. I remembered that I needed bananas so I asked him if he would go get me some. He willing did this, going by himself, picking out a bunch of bananas and joining me at the checkout. Soon we were home at my place. We were good with each other.
I felt good about how I handled the situation. I did not yell at him, coerce him, call him names, complain about his behavior, bribe him, threaten him or fight with him. I did not give in to him. If I had, I knew I would feel resentful and that would not be good for our relationship. The time it took to wait (less than a minute) was much shorter and easier than if I’d gotten into a battle with him. It also strengthened our regard for each other.
The focus of the situation remained -I needed to do a task. It did not evolve into an issue of who was boss and who had bratty behavior.
When children and adults are tired, behavior can often dissolve into power struggles. Waiting calmly sometimes can avoid these struggles and take a shorter time and less energy than fighting. Relationships are enhanced rather than damaged.
With care and concern,
Children fight for many reasons. One of the major reasons they fight is to engage parent(s).
Years ago I can remember being busy in the kitchen. My two boys, around ages 3 and 5, were playing in the living room. Then they started fighting. Without saying a word, I stopped what I was doing and went into the bathroom. Within seconds, they had joined forces and were banging on the bathroom door trying to get me to come out.
Children like to have their parents involved with them. Before children start to misbehave or fight with each other, they usually ask parents to play with them, read to them, or just go for a walk or bike ride. Often they offer to help. Lots of time children will play well together waiting for the parents to finish their work. If none of these positive ways to get attention work, they will find negative ways. Mostly, I don’t think children do it consciously. I believe, for them, any kind of involvement is better than no involvement. They need the adult contact.
Often parents are legitimately busy since there is so much to do. Other times, parents just don’t want to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve already spent a good chunk of time with the children. Maybe they are tired, sick or distracted with other things. If children keep getting put off, then they start to do things that will bug the parents until they get involved.
A parent will usually get involved in their children’s fighting by “rescuing” the more vulnerable child. Usually, it’s the youngest, but not always. Some younger children are more vibrant and determined than their older siblings. Some older siblings are passive. Rescuing one sibling from the other can create a dynamic of VICTIM-BULLY-ARBITRATOR. The weaker child learns he or she can get the parent’s attention by being a victim. The stronger child learns that he or she can get the parent’s attention by being a bully. The parent feels needed as the rescuer/arbitrator. Children mistakenly think they have to have parents to settle disputes and parents, lacking faith in their children, believe they are not able to get along.
Most of the time weaker children do need to be protected from stronger siblings. HOW parents do that is a key to maintaining good relationships between the siblings and between the parent and each child.
When parents are aware of the dynamics of triangulation they have more options in handling it. In any case, without judging treat both children the same.
Of course, all of the above suggestions depend on the situation. Some will work in some situations, but not in all. Parents need to consider the circumstances and choose the best option.
With care and concern,
Dr. Bea Mackay
Shawna, a 30 year old woman and her father are enjoying dinner in a restaurant. Father’s cell phone rings and he answers it. It’s his wife. She angrily demands to know when he will be home. He gets flustered. He hands the cell phone to his daughter, saying he can’t hear his wife. Shawna gets exasperated with her mother for once again putting pressure on her father. Most of her life, Shawna has tried to protect her father from her mother’s domination. She grabs the phone, yells at her mother to leave her father alone and hangs up. Her father gets upset because he knows his wife will be furious with him when he gets home. He can no longer enjoy his time with his daughter. His daughter can no longer enjoy her time with her father. The rest of their conversation is spent talking about Dad’s relationship with Mom. They focus so much on Mom, it’s like she’s there with them.
What happened is triangulation.
In this scenario there is ongoing tension between the mother and father. Both father and mother triangulate the daughter – mother by phoning and interrupting the father-daughter time, and father by giving his daughter the cell phone and telling her he can’t understand the mother. The daughter allows herself to be triangulated by taking the phone and getting angry at the mother.
A better approach (avoiding triangulation):
Possibility 1: Mother does an activity by herself or with someone else. She does not call.
Possibility 2: Father turns off his cell phone, or lets it go to voice mail.
Possibility 3: Father answers the call and deals with it himself, does not involve their daughter.
Possibility 4: Daughter does not accept the cell phone when father holds it out to her. She refuses to be hooked in and reassures her father that he can handle it. She says, “This is between you and Mom. I’m going to stay out of it. You can handle it.” Father deals with the call. Father and daughter continue their time together, not talking about mother.
Mother and Father will reorganize their relationship differently if they stop triangulating – or are unable to triangulate their daughter. That would be healthy for all concerned.
Be aware of triangulation in your relationships. Once aware, you can choose to be involved or you can respectfully decline.
With care and concern,
Dr. Bea Mackay