Cookies, Candy, and Bribes, Oh My!
I posted this status update the other day on my Facebook page:
Buckling Eric into his carseat is often a challenge. And by “challenge,” I mean “probably a lot like trying to snuggle a rabid raccoon into a baby sling.” Today, I convinced my little rabid raccoon to sit in his carseat by luring him with a Trader Joe’s cookie. It was half parenting/half dog training. And though I may have harshly judged this sort of practice in the past, now I know better: when you’re dealing with toddler/rabid raccoon hybrids, SOMETIMES A COOKIE BRIBE IS JUST WHAT YOU GOTTA DO.
Yesterday, I had another car + kids challenge when Alec (4), Eric (15 months) and I found ourselves stuck in a monster traffic jam that turned our 1.5 hour trip from Grandma’s house into a 3.5 hour trip. Which, you know, is just fan-freaking-tastic.
“I’m thirsty, Mommy!”
“Mooommmmmy, I’m so thirsty!!!”
“Eric stop crying! MOMMY! I’m THIRSTY!”
“Mommy, when is this car trip gonna be over because I’M THIRSTY!!!!!”
(That last “waaaaaa” was from me.)
About one hour into that hot mess, I found a way to retrieve Eric’s sippy cup and toss it into his car seat. Go Go Gadget** arms for the win! But that didn’t help Alec at all. He was still crying, and the line of cars in front of us was still showing no signs of moving.
Then I had a miraculous epiphany when I remembered that I had confiscated some candy from Alec the last time we were at my parents’ house. And where had I stored that candy? In my purse, which was right next to me in the passenger seat of the van.
So of course, I started hurling packets of Smartees into the backseat.
“Alec!!” I exclaimed. “If you can take some deep breaths and chill out and stop crying until we can get home, I’ll keep throwing candy back there while we’re stuck in this traffic jam!”
And it worked. No more tears. No more freakouts.
The sour warheads that I shoveled into my own mouth worked too, if by “worked” you mean “stopped me from losing my ever-loving mind while trapped on the interstate.”
In my experience, there are a few different reactions* that one could expect to these sorts of Moments in Parenting.*These reactions may or may not be a wee bit exaggerated.
Don’t you know that <<insert speaker’s favorite parenting manual>> says that we should never ever use any sort of bribery whatsoever and that we should especially never use bribery + food because THAT’S WHEN WE DAMAGE OUR CHILDREN PERMANENTLY, DO YOU HEAR ME, WE DAMAGE THEM?! WE DAMAGE THEM TO HELL!
Your toddler was trying to tell you something. Try some more patience next time and really listen to what he is communicating to you. Respect his choice, and if you need to wait for an hour until he’s ready to get into his carseat, then you just might need to wait.
You shouldn’t feel the need to suppress your child’s frustration by giving him candy. He needed the space to express himself in the car. Take some deep breaths next time, and try and be more sympathetic to his feelings.
Um, why would anyone judge you for bribing your kid with a cookie or candy? Defensive much?
And to all of them, I would respond:
That’s so awesome that everything you’re doing as a parent is perfect. I bet you’re raising kids who are just as awesome as you are too. But what you see as damaging, I see as a freaking awesome exercise in MacGuyver** parenting. I had a paper cup filled with TJ’s cat cookies and a toddler who was going all rabid raccoon in his carseat, and I used what I had to stop the Bomb of Toddler Doom from detonating. In fact, it was better than MacGuyver. Because MacGuyver would only have had half a box of matches and a paperclip or some useless crap like that, and I don’t really think that letting my kid play with fire and a sharp pointy piece of metal was really going to avoid “damage,” if you know what I mean.
And was my toddler trying to tell me something? Yes. It probably sounded a lot like, “This carseat is bullshit.” And “fuck you, Mom.” But when I gave gave him that cookie, his expletive-filled tirades turned into something more like, “Oh, awesome, cookie, I think I’ll sit down right here in this super seat that you and Dad bought for me while you strap me into this five-point harness that I love with all of my heart and soul. Let’s go pick up my older brother from school now. I certainly wouldn’t want to keep you waiting out here in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. And Mom? You’re the best. I’d like to name my first child after you. Because you are an angel on Earth.”
And my sad little Alec whose sad feelings were whisked away on a rainbow of artificially flavored candy? The next time you’ve been listening to your child cry for over an hour about how thirsty he is, I want you to tell me how easy it was for you to look at a sack filled of candy–even if it was ridden with Cancer Dye #666–and say, “No, my sweet son. I am going to give you the space to keep feeling what you are feeling, because it’s okay to be sad, and I’m not going to force you to hide those feelings at all. We have not seen an exit for the past hour, and I don’t know when we’re going to find any place that sells liquids of any kind, but that’s okay, because I am your sympathetic mother, and I am immune to the torture of listening to my kids cry for an hour while we’re stuck in a van on the highway. Namaste.”
And yes, I’m defensive much, because people really do say things like that, I promise you, they do.
So the moral of the story is this: if you’re the sort of parent who sometimes has to bribe your kids with a cookie or a piece of candy, you’re a-okay in my book.
(And look, I get what everyone is saying about bribery and respecting children’s choices and making space for kids’ feelings, and I really try and do all of that in most of my parenting choices, but sometimes I think that people who write parenting advice need to do so while at least two of their kids are screaming and crying somewhere within a five foot radius, and if they don’t have at least two kids then maybe one kid and five hungry wolves, because then I think that I’d find the advice a bit more trustworthy and real.)
(Also, it pains me to think of how many people who grew up in the U.S. will look at words like “MacGuyver” and “Go Go Gadget” and say “oh, that was before my time, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”)