Episode #112 – My kid’s begging and pleading is wearing me down.
Question of the Day
My 8 year old has an unhealthy relationship with screen time and video games. He’s a great kid, very active, competitive, a math whiz and knows it. He is constantly trying to get access to video games but especially when it’s my busiest time of day. In the morning and evening, I am busy with my special needs daughter and he gets bored and starts pestering me for access. He knows the rules but he also knows I’m distracted and likely to cave if he keeps at me. I know I should set clear, consistent boundaries but he wears me down. Whenever he’s bored he starts needling me: asking, pleading, begging, sneaking, manipulating, bribing me, the kid is a relentless genius and extremely determined.
I know I’m doing everything wrong but he wears me down so much that I’m too tired and just give in. His Dad walks in the door, hardly says a word, and that kid drops his video game in a heartbeat.
It sucks to feel like you are failing at the job you’ve devoted your life to. I know I need to set boundaries and be firm but I’m just so worn down. Can you help?
Parent Educator Answer:
What Cady is describing in your 8-year-old sounds like a personality type that craves excitement. We tend to think our kids are motivated in the same way we are. If you are a people pleaser, we think our kids should want to please, too. If you crave peace and harmony, it can be hard to imagine someone would create conflict and drama just for the fun of it.
My first suggestion to Cady is to try and figure out what motivates her kid to push her buttons. Is he yearning for power, attention, superiority, revenge, display of inadequacy, peer acceptance, or excitement?
In this situation it sounds most like power, attention, and/or excitement.
Video games are super exciting. So is sneaking around behind mom’s back and “getting away with something.” Manipulating, pleading, and begging, are ways to create drama when life gets boring.
Does mom need to set clear, consistent boundaries? Absolutely. But the core issue here is that Cady has (inadvertently) taught her son that the cure for his boredom is to harass her into exhaustion. He is getting rewarded with a whole bunch of dopamine for pleading, begging, and pestering her. Dopamine is the reward chemical that feels so good, we keep coming back for more.
Setting firm boundaries would work (as it does for Dad) but would require energy and attention. Since she’s already exhausted, doesn’t set boundaries easily, and has her hands full taking care of her special-needs child, I don’t suggest she start with that.
Instead, let’s give the kid the excitement he’s yearning for.
It’s hard to compete with a video game and FOR SURE this mom isn’t going to be able to come up with creative, exciting ideas in the moment while she’s tired and preoccupied.
What I suggest is that she create a special jar filled with fun ideas folded up on pieces of paper. Every time her 8-year-old gets bored, she can direct him to this jar of activities.
The papers might say:
Count all the windows in the house and measure the biggest one (might as well capture his love of math and action).
Set the timer and walk on your hands for 30 seconds.
Juggle the soccer ball outside for one minute.
When he finishes his activity, he gets a reward: money, a new Pokemon card, a sticker on a chart, a sweet treat, something to feed his dopamine addiction.
This way, he is being rewarded for physical activity, competition, and perseverance towards building a skill instead of being rewarded for getting one over on mom.
Life Coaching Answer: What gets in the way?
Thinking you are supposed to be good at every aspect of parenting!
How many moms out there developed a new appreciation for teachers during the Pandemic? Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher! Just because you know stuff and have kids, does not mean that you should expect yourself to be good at educating children.
Would you expect to be able to remodel your own kitchen after reading a book or two? Why not? You’ve got tools, you’ve got brain power and knowledge. Why wouldn’t you take this task on yourself? Because you aren’t expected to by society. If you people shamed you for hiring out, called you selfish or lazy for not taking this task on yourself, you would probably believe you “should” be able to do it on your own.
You could learn to fix your own car by watching youtube videos. Are you self indulgent because you delegate this task to others? No, because society has deemed it ok. But there is way too much societal shaming if you try to delegate the parts of parenting you don’t enjoy and aren’t good at.
Why is there judgement around delegating certain aspects of parenting to more qualified people, but there isn’t any judgement when moms pay someone else to cut their hair? It’s illogical. You have a mirror and scissors at home, you’ve had this hair your whole life, shouldn’t YOU be the expert in cutting your own hair?
Let’s stop buying in to the cultural programming that says: ”I am a mom, and therefore should enjoy every aspect of parenting and be good at all of it.”
Instead, let’s start asking, “What helps my kids thrive?” and “When do I see them light up?” Start off really broad: competition, being a part of a team, having freedom to roam, using their creativity, structured routines, consistent boundaries and consequences, keeping busy with outside activities, etc.
Then ask, “What makes me the best version of myself?” “What helps me thrive?”
Time by myself to learn and explore, being in front of an audience, exercising in nature, time with friends, organizing parties and events, etc.
Then ask, “How can I facilitate a dream team of people that help my child and me thrive?” “Who can I delegate to that will bring out the best in me and my child?”
If you love cooking but hate house-cleaning, find a mom who feels the opposite and ask to swap.
If helping kids discover their creativity brings out the best in you, then don’t waste your time stuck following other people’s rules that drains your energy and enthusiasm. If you’d rather do arts and crafts with kids than drive your kids around town, find someone to swap with while you spend more time in your Zone of Genius.
The only reason we feel resistance to delegating some of these tasks like cooking, enforcing rules, teaching appropriate behavior, driving, organizing, and party planning is because we don’t see a lot of other people doing it. You wouldn’t think twice about hiring a soccer coach, piano teacher, or tutor because society has normalized those things for us.
Believing you are “failing at the job you’ve devoted your life to” can be tackled from two angles.
Recognize the areas of mothering where you shine. What are you really good at? What do other people compliment you on? Focus on your successes and let go of the idea that you are supposed to be good at every aspect of parenting.
Ask yourself, “How hard do I want to work?”
Could you learn to set firm boundaries and come up with creative alternatives to your child’s boredom while also caring for a special needs child and running the house? Sure. But it’s similar to me decidingI’m going to become a plumber. Can I learn that skill set? Sure. But it’s so misaligned with my essence, my interests, and my talents that I would have to work really hard to be happy plumbing everyday.
There’s nothing wrong with people who devote their life to their art, but if I devoted my life to art, I would feel inadequate everyday because I’d be comparing myself to people who are doing work they love. It would be joyful and effortless to them, but difficult and confusing to me.
Stay true to yourself, your talents and interests, and what makes you feel fully alive and feel the ease, joy, and success that comes from being aligned with your essence.
Supermom Kryptonite: The belief that it’s not ok to ask for what you want.
Many kids, girls especially, are socialized to believe they cannot ask for what they want. We all come out of the womb knowing what we want and believing we have the right to have it. If you don’t believe me, just hang out in a preschool for a week and you will see free spirits demanding, asking, insisting, and pursuing their hearts’ desires.
Somewhere during the elementary or middle school years, we stop going after what we want. We start paying attention to what our peers tell us we “should” want instead. We ignore any desires that aren’t socially acceptable. Our desires are important to us. When they get dismissed, minimized, or rejected, it’s painful. So instead of continuing to go after what we want, we decide the pain isn’t worth it and we stop asking.
This is often at the root of moms who struggle to set boundaries. They don’t think it’s ok to say, “I want you to stop jumping on the sofa right now.”
Today’s Supermom Kryptonite is not believing it’s ok to ask for what you want. Some moms will only stand up for themselves once they are past the breaking point. Some create drama or play the victim in order to justify their right to get what they want.
Start believing it’s ok to ask for what you want. Tell your kids to ask for what they want. Practice asking for what you want every day.
The act of tuning in to yourself enough to know what you want, and then believing you are worthy of having it will connect you to the best part of you. It doesn’t matter if you get it or not because there is so much magic in knowing what you want, believing you are worthy of receiving and having the courage to ask for it.
Supermom Power Boost: The Manual for Teens
One of the exercises I do in my Leading Your Teen class is I ask Moms to write down their “manual” for their teens. We all have this unwritten manual for “how our teens should live” and when they don’t live up to our expectations, it drives us crazy.
It’s not that we are wrong, it’s that we expect them to do it easily and without effort on our part. These subconscious expectations are the cause of a lot of frustration so it can be helpful to write them out so we know what we are dealing with.
What surprised me is how much fun it would be to read everyone else’s manuals! Somehow, seeing it written out in an instruction book creates levity around a situation that normally causes frustration.
Here are some examples from the manuals of moms in the Leading Your Teen class list
- Be an active part of the family.
Be supportive of their siblings.
Prioritize their mental, emotional and physical health (eating healthy, exercising, being confident, having a positive self image and growth mindset)
Know when to take a shower.
Be able to go into a store and buy something.
Be able to use the home phone to call someone.
Be able to have a conversation longer than 1 minute with their grandparents.
Find extra-curricular activities they are interested in and pursue them with determination and passion.
They should confide in and share their feelings with their mother.
Not leave dirty dishes in their bedrooms.
They should want to spend holidays and vacations with their family.
They should let their parents take their picture once in a while.
They should listen to their mother’s excellent advice and accept her offers to help.
They should be happy 90% of the time.
Be appreciative of all that they have.
Be able to cook scrambled eggs or anything really.
Don’t do the minimum, maximum effort is the expectation.
If we all have the expectation that teens should be nice to their parents and siblings, and we are all frustrated that they are not obeying this rule in our manual, perhaps we are wrong! Perhaps teens shouldn’t always be nice to their parents and siblings and this is just something we made up.
I will post some of these instruction manuals in the Supermom is Getting Tired Facebook Page so you can get a boost of energy, a laugh of recognition, and a little more levity while raising your adolescent.
Quote of the Day:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein