I consider it crucial to listen to my kids, to care about the things they care about, to allow them their own opinions and not try to force-feed them mine. I want for my kids, who are currently 14 and 10, to feel like they have a say over what’s going on in their lives, over the activities they choose, the classes they take, and how they spend their time.
As long as my kids are doing their chores and their grades are up, I don’t try to influence their behavior too much. They can watch three hours straight of Minecraft on YouTube while simultaneously playing Minecraft with their friends online. If it’s family movie night and one kid isn’t into the movie we’re watching, they’re free to do something else. I don’t force them to eat their vegetables. I trust they will get their nutrients one way or another via the variety of food I offer up over the course of a week. We’re pretty laid back around here.
But there is one behavior that I absolutely will not tolerate from my kids. It’s the single behavior that turns me instantly “old-school.” It’s the only time I hear myself saying things like, “My house, my rules!” or “This is not a negotiation!” And that is if one of my kids talks to me with a shitty tone of voice.￼￼￼￼￼ I absolutely will not tolerate my kids speaking to me with a disrespectful tone. It’s a huge non-starter for me, a reason to totally shut down a conversation.
It’s one thing for my kids to feel like they have a sense of control, to have a say in what goes on in the household. It’s another thing entirely for them to think that they’re in charge or that they can talk down to me. That shit does not fly with me.
I want my kids to have a say in their own lives—in the activities they choose, in their friends, the media they watch (within reason)—but at the end of the day, I am the one who pays every single bill in this house. It is my literal job to maintain control over my kids. And until they are shouldering the burden of running a house entirely on their own, the amount of say they have is, and should be, limited.
If my tween screeches at me like a three-year-old who wants the blue cup, not the red, that demonstrates a lack of maturity. If they can’t display maturity, they don’t get to participate in decision-making. I understand all of us lose our cool sometimes, but the moment my teenager starts yelling at me and interrupting me mid-sentence so I can’t even finish a thought is the moment all discussion completely and utterly stops. I’ll say something like, “Go pull yourself together and we’ll revisit this conversation later, but no way in hell am I entertaining this disrespect with my attention.”
Granted, my kids rarely speak to me with a shitty tone, but that is because this has been my rule forever. And they are well aware of it.
When they were three and got pissed off they got the wrong color cup, a tantrum or even a whiney voice never, ever succeeded in getting them the preferred cup. Since the time my kids were toddlers, if they asked for something by screeching for it, I would model for them how to ask for what they wanted respectfully. “Can we say ‘please’ nicely?” I would ask when they were toddlers, and their squeaky-yet-frustrated “pwease” was more than adequate. Around age three, I started saying things like, “We use a kind voice when we ask for things. Try, ‘Mommy, may I have the blue cup instead?’” They would either choose to repeat it nicely and have the coveted cup delivered with a smile into their chubby little hands, or they would dissolve further into tantrum and forfeit the cup for the moment.
If ever my kid threw a tantrum over something, that was an instant reason for them not to get the object of their desire. Tantrums, screaming, disrespect, sarcasm—each of these immediately halt negotiation. This doesn’t mean I withdraw my affection in any way. I never, ever do this, and no parent ever should. In fact, many tantrums and even yelling matches have ended with hugs or long, meaningful conversations. But the object of my kid’s tantrum would have to wait.
I just don’t want to teach my kids that the way to get what you want is by demanding it. Negotiate, sure, but don’t be an asshole about it. I have lost count of the number of times I have said, “In this house, we use a kind voice when we speak to one another.” It’s a mantra I still repeat regularly. We’ve got more than enough rude, entitled assholes in the world, and I will not be responsible for producing two more of them.
I am not the most confident parent in the world. I’m far from perfect, and I carry around the same worry, guilt, and fears of inadequacy as any other parent. Hell, sometimes I’m the one apologizing for losing my shit. But one thing I’m confident I’m getting right as a parent is teaching my children how to express what they want without being shitheads about it.