Posted by Casey
We’ve come to realize that almost all of the recent craziness stems from our son’s obsessive need to control every piece of his own life.
Unfortunately, he’s too young.
We give him as much control as possible, whenever possible. Even when there isn’t technically a choice (as in, “get ready for bed”), he decides the order of operation.
He always chooses his own clothes (although I sometimes send him back with the directive “pick something that can be seen in public” when he tries to don a dirty, worn t-shirt for a trip to our favorite coffee shop, or to wear torn jeans to church).
“But these are my holey jeans. HOLY jeans.”
His in-home counselor (yep, she’s here about 10 hours a week) asked him what he wanted to control.
“What I eat” was at the top of the list.
This utterly confused me.
He orders his own food at restaurants off the kids’ menu. He makes his sandwich for lunch any way he likes. He chooses what to eat for breakfast. After he made his “what I want to control” list, I handed him a list of available food and gave him the opportunity to plan what the whole family would eat for a week.
He didn’t complete it, because…
What he really wants is to eat whatever he wants whenever he wants without anyone telling him “no.”
A few weeks ago, Hubby and I confronted him about his habit of taking or doing whatever he wanted without asking. He told us the reason he does this is his aversion to hearing the word
“If I don’t ask, you can’t say no.”
He’d prefer to experience a major consequence after the fact rather than hear “no.”
Being one of those individuals who tends to ask for forgiveness instead of permission, I understand a little. However, when I use this strategy, I’m looking for the quickest route to what I need, not for a reprimand. If there’s even a chance of a consequence, I check first. This kid just doesn’t care.
He’d also rather lie than tell the truth.
We’re not big on spanking, but sometimes, let’s be honest, we’re in a hurry and there isn’t latitude for a long discussion.
Right now, things are pretty crazy thanks to a move and an eviction (not our own, thank goodness; we kept our first little house as a rental and ended up with some tenants who were unbelievably inept at paying rent). On top of everything, Hubby ended up having a work trip the week of the move, so we decided to move everything a week early.
During the “quick, let’s get the stuff moved” effort, around 10 pm and on the third trip taking trailer loads to the new house, Hubby and I walked toward the truck and heard a banging noise. Really sounded like something hitting the side of my truck (yes, I drive a truck and no, I’m not a hillbilly).
We got to the other side of the truck in about 15 seconds. The boy was sitting, angel-like, in the back seat of the truck.
Hubby: What was that?
Boy (smirking): What was what?
Hubby: The noise.
(Knowing his propensity for word games, we provide a minimum of information in our questioning, as he considers saying “no” to “did you take a cookie?” to be completely honest if the question we should have asked is, “did you take THREE cookies?”)
Boy (more smirking): I didn’t hear anything.
Hubby: I’m sure you heard it. Mama and I heard banging.
Boy: Maybe it was the hose?
Hubby: The hose?
Boy: Yes. You know…sometimes it bangs on things. Were you near the hose?
Hubby: *eyes narrow*
Me: The hose did not make the sound.
Boy: Oh, the banging sound…I think it came from over there. (Motions vaguely off behind the truck.)
Hubby: We don’t have time for games. It’s two hours to midnight and we’ve got two more loads to go. We’re exhausted. Just tell us. What were you banging on?
Boy: I wasn’t banging on anything. (Emphasis on “banging” indicated we were involuntary participants in the Word Games game show, and the boy was our host.)
Hubby: Okay. I will count to ten. Tell me what made the noise, or I will spank you.
For those of you who gasp at corporal punishment, let me tell you…these spanks are not abuse; they’re few and far between and are just a swat on the behind. Maybe because they’re rare, immediately afterward he often acts as though we’ve pushed a reset button on his Behavioral Operating System, which was Hubby’s intended result. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if we should spank more often. My brother participated in at least one good spank session a day for years, and he’s turned out to be a fairly cool dude…but I digress.
Hubby counted to ten, then popped him on the behind. The reset button was apparently not working that night, as the boy continued to smirk.
And then began to wail as though we’d thrashed him.
This kid has perfected the art of crying on command (the kind of cry that sounds like he’s broken a bone) and can turn it on and off at will. He knew the neighbors could hear. He thought we’d back down.
The counselor told us not to make allowances or remove him from a situation for a reprimand. He’ll think we’re too weak to give him a consequence in front of others, which leads to sometimes-uncomfortable scenes (sorry, mom). So, we let him scream.
Hubby suggested that maybe the boy should tell the truth. The boy insisted he had no idea what we meant by “noise.”
Hubby gave him another ten seconds. No dice. He gave another swat.
We went through this SEVEN TIMES.
This kid is determined. So are we. (And to be clear, it’s not about “winning” the argument. If we don’t find resolution to this ongoing battle, this kid is going to grow up into a lying, manipulating adult…and I refuse to do that to my future daughter-in-law.)
Finally, with an immediate and somewhat creepy change in demeanor (from screaming banshee to calm and collected), the boy said, “The noise was me. I was banging my shoes to get the dirt off.”
Now, to be clear, he never said what he was banging them ON (it sounded like my truck), so in his mind he was still in control of that piece of the truth, but whatever. At that point, we were so tired, we didn’t have the energy to pursue it.
We asked why he didn’t just say so in the first place.
“I don’t know.”
This has been an ongoing battle, once again for control.
He is determined to have control of everything, including the truth.
He believes we can’t MAKE him tell the truth.
It’s true. We can’t.
For the last year, we’ve tried everything we can think of to help him realize that telling the truth is best, including giving him NO consequence when he tells the truth about something he’s done.
We started this mind-bending and counter-intuitive technique because he constantly says he lies to stay out of trouble. However, he’s only in trouble if he lies, so this reason no longer makes sense.
Literally. NO consequence.
(Of course, if he did something really awful, we’d have to make an exception, but we’ve stuck with this so far.)
Me: “Did you eat the entire package of cookies and stuff the trash behind the refrigerator?”
Me: “Since you told the truth, I won’t give you a consequence. However, don’t do it again.”
Ridiculous? You bet.
He STILL lies compulsively about almost everything.
This year has been exhausting on both mental and emotional planes. We spend hours every day trying to train character.
Popular parenting advice says, “pick your battles!” but popular parenting doesn’t have this kid. We can’t pick battles, because if he wins one, he’s twenty times worse the next time.
Counselors say, “give control of everything you can!” and so we have. But for him, it’s not good enough until he can do ANYTHING he wants. I’m not even kidding; this is an open conversation we have at regular intervals, and he consistently states he does not want anyone else telling him what to do AT ALL.
Recently, he’s upped the ante; he wants to control where he lives and WHETHER he lives.