I’m off to visit my daughter in Portland today, and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that she’s done with college and is now out on her own, ready to take on the world.
As I was packing for my trip, I started thinking about her as a little girl and became teary about how fast time has passed us by. How can she be 22 years old already?
Then I remembered the scene which turned out to be what I consider one of my proudest parenting moments, and I stopped crying and stood a little taller.
Sara was in first or second grade, and we were standing in the kitchen after dinner. She kept talking about a Shih Tzu, only because she thought it was really cool that she had found a way to say “shit” without actually saying it.
After working “Shih Tzu” into the conversation a couple of dozen times, I couldn’t stand it any more.
Me: It was funny the first few times but that’s enough, okay? Stop.
Sara: Stop what? Stop saying “Shih Tzu”?
Sara: What? You want me to stop saying “Shih Tzu”?
Me: Sara, no more.
Sara: No more saying “Shih Tzu”?
Me: Listen, if you say it one more time, you’re going to bed at 8:30.
At this point, Alex, who was two years older, started paying close attention.
Sara: (laughing) You’re not going to make me go to bed at 8:30.
Alex’s eyes were getting bigger as the tension mounted.
Me: Yes, I am, Sara. Don’t test me.
Don’t test me, I was thinking, because I have failed this test before. I had threatened to take away privileges many times before but never followed through. My kids knew their electronics were safe, they wouldn’t be missing their favorite TV shows, and they’d still be going to the movies with their friends.
I was incapable of being the “mean mommy.”
Sara: You mean don’t test you by saying “Shih Tzu” again?
Sara was practically dancing, Alex eyed me carefully, and I broke out in a sweat. I knew that neither of my kids believed I would make good on my threat. Quite honestly, I didn’t believe I would, either.
I realized all my years of parenting were coming down to this single moment. I was either going to teach my children that their actions had consequences and that my threats—and promises—were real, or I was going to chicken out, miss this opportunity, and send them into adulthood believing they could get away with anything.
In that split second of self-analysis, I noticed Alex imperceptibly nod his head.
Me: Sarah, you’re going to bed at 8:30.
Sara: You don’t mean it. I won’t say it again.
Me: I do mean it. I gave you a lot of warnings, and you chose to ignore them.
Sara: I promise. I won’t say it again.
Me: Great. Start getting ready for bed. It’s almost 8:30.
Sara: (bursting into tears and running out of the room) I can’t believe you’re making me go to bed at 8:30!
I glanced over at Alex, who was grinning from ear to ear. “Good job, Mom,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d actually do it.”
Wow. Schooled by a 9-year-old.
We all learned a valuable lesson that night—me, most of all. It is one of my proudest parenting moments because I taught all three of us that I was capable of keeping my word, and more importantly, that my children’s actions have consequences. After that day, I was a more consistent parent, and my children—both of them—took my threats seriously. And so did I.
The irony of the whole thing is that Sara is now working with dogs—obedience training. You can bet when I visit her and she starts telling me all about her job, she’ll be sure to go into great detail about the importance of consistency and following through on your actions.
I guess the lesson really did sink in after all.