The bad guy

The thing about having kids, I’ve found, is that there is no way for you to really prepare yourself beforehand. Sure, you go into it with a lot of ideas, a ton of opinions and a truly ridiculous amount of information relative to the first year of a child’s life but you still end up just flailing about in the dark with nary a clue as to what you are doing and where you are going and how on earth you are going to get there, somewhere, anywhere.

I had a very strict mother, I didn’t want to be a strict mother, I wanted to be a laid-back and easy-going yet firm and friendly mother. Notice how that sentence is just a long, run-on oxymoron?

I’ve since realized that I can be easy-going and friendly but that’s not going to result in my also having well-behaved, respectful kids, the only way I can get that is to be firm, and be their mother. I’ll never be laid-back; I was born without that particular gene. And since I’d rather have well-behaved, respectful kids than not, I’ve found myself becoming stricter and stricter. Basically, I’m turning into my Mother. I’m living a cliché.

But still, I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to be the one always yelling and scolding, I don’t want to be the pain in their patootie (literally and figuratively). The hard part is trying to figure out how much is too much and how much is too little. I want them to have fun, I especially want them to have fun with me, I want them to be silly and enjoy their childhoods and I want them to have good memories with me, the good, happy moments have to largely surpass the annoying, boring, trite, ones. But I also want them to be polite and to listen to me and to follow the rules. When I say let’s go, we go, when I say we put up the toys, that’s what we do, but I’d like it to be done with much less yelling on my part and fewer sour pusses on theirs.

I don’t want to be the bad guy, but I do want to be the boss. I don’t believe we live in a democracy, I’m aiming for more of a parliamentary monarchy, they get to say what they want, but my opinion is the only one that really counts. After all, I’m their mother, part of my job is to teach them both manners and morals, neither of which can bear any argument.

I’ve been reading this book called “Bringing up Bebe”, written by an American mother living in France, it’s really good and quite funny at times and she brings up the notion of “cadre”, which literally means square and in this context is used as a framework of set rules that cannot be tampered or argued with. I’m very familiar with the French concept of cadre as I went to a French school (in Houston) and education is based on it. In it’s application to motherhood, though, it basically means that you have a set of rules that you do not deviate from, ever, that create the basic framework of your child’s education and within that framework you give the child the freedom to make his choices and do what he will.

I basically grew up in a “cadre-style” household, but until I read it described from an American’s point of view I had never realized what it was. To give you a very specific example (one which I’m in the process of implementing right now) I used to fight nightly with the kids at bedtime, yelling at them, chasing around after them, screaming, crying… it was complete chaos, but now they get ten minutes of crazy time, then they brush their teeth, they go potty, they get in bed and I read them a story. Within this framework, they pick which toothpaste to use, where they brush their teeth (I used to insist they stand at the sink, now I don’t care where they are when they’re actually brushing as long as they spit and rinse in the sink – as opposed to, say, the toilet), they pick which songs I sing to them and which story I read. They have some control, but they’re doing what I say. Now, if you’re reading this thinking, “we’ll that’s obvious, isn’t it?” then I envy you, but to me it was a bit of a revelation.

My cadre is still a work in progress, I’m still defining, both for myself and for them what the framework to our lives and routines is but it’s already making things easier. They have fewer rules to follow and they are clearer, more easily defined. It’s easier for me too, cause I’m not getting frustrated at every junction, I have to stop and actually think about what it is I want from them exactly and what is the best way to get there. I have to think more, but I yell less.

I’m still flailing about in the dark, but at least now I’m actually thinking about which direction I want to go in and formulating a plan as to how to get there.

I don’t want to be the bad guy, but I don’t want to be the good guy either, I guess I just want to be the person they look to for direction and for comfort as they live their lives autonomously. Or, you know, as autonomously as two people who still need me to wipe their bums can live.

5 thoughts on “The bad guy

  1. I have only read parts of the book but I think I might have to read it all. I actually think that it is not so much French parenting as it is the French culture and social system that creates this notion of “cadre”. When people congratulate French parents on their well behaved children – I think it has very little to do with the parents and more to do with the education system and social norms. For example – at school they serve a 3 course meal. My kid doesn’t have to eat it all or anything at all but he has to stay seated in his chair until all of his classmates are done eating. I don’t know if I would have been able to teach him that on my own.

  2. I think we do a bit of this here too. I know that probably sounds crazy – since my life is obviously insane. But bed time – with all of mine, has always been easy. A system. It’s the only thing I’ve ever gotten right:)

  3. Oops accidently hit post before I was done, haha!
    I didn’t want to be the “bad guy” either while raising my kids. My youngest is 17 now and I’m almost done, whatever that is! My older two are still very much a part of my life but I don’t have to be the “bad guy” at all anymore. I think it is great that you are thinking like you are and writing about it! You are doing great, I can tell!

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