A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about delayed-payment parenting?

That pacifier buys you a good night’s rest now, but what price will you pay down the road? Delayed-payment parenting bites you back with a hefty interest penalty.
That pacifier buys you a good night’s rest now, but what price will you pay down the road? Delayed-payment parenting bites you back with a hefty interest penalty. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mom is fast asleep when she feels the unsettling sensation of breath on her face. Jerking awake she finds her young daughter at her bedside for the third time that week. She struggles to get up to return her to her room but then hesitates . . . maybe just this once she’ll let her crawl into her bed to sleep. What could one night hurt?

You want the truth about delayed-payment parenting? I think you can handle it.

Americans love their credit cards. We happily embrace Wimpy’s refrain in the Popeye cartoons: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” So it stands to reason that this approach may spill over into our parenting methods.

Parenting credit works like this: Your little baby is fussy and cannot be soothed. You are sleep-deprived and delirious and your nerves are shot. So you pop a little pacifier in her mouth and voilà! She is out like a light and you are a genius.

But when your four year old still is still screaming for the binky at bedtime you aren’t feeling quite as brilliant.

This is when you realize what delayed parenting has cost you – as with all types of credit when the bill comes due you still have the original issue to pay off, plus the added interest accrued during your deferment. You realize with dismay that taking something away that has become routine is significantly more painful than never having it all.

You may be amazed to discover that these scenarios present themselves constantly.

Any challenging moment with kids offers the possibility of parenting on credit: the temper tantrum in the check-out line tamed with a candy bar, the separate meal prepared nightly for the picky eater, the musical beds game played by the grown-ups who somehow have lost their spot in the “big bed.”

Bottom line: it can be very tempting to parent on credit. I’m sure all parents have done it at one time or another - I know I certainly have. And have lived to tell the tale.

But I’d rather tell you about a time when I didn’t throw down the parenting credit card.

When my son was three he popped out of bed late one night, pranced down the stairs to the family room and announced, “I want a show!” My husband and I reminded him of the time and that TV was for daytime while nighttime was for sleeping. Time to go back to bed!

My son was not pleased. He dug in his little feet and hollered, “I. Want. A. Show!”

We were a bit startled. As we moved to scoop him up he began stomping and circling, yelling louder and louder. “I want a show! I want a show! I . . . want . . . a . . . SHOW!!”

My husband and I watched dumbfounded as the shrieking continued. And then our eyes met. It was going to stink if this kid woke up his brother. Probably if we turned on the TV he would settle down. Once he settled down he would fall right to sleep . . .

But we knew we couldn’t afford this deal – succumbing that night surely would mean we would revisit this scenario for many nights to come.

So we left him to his tantrum with no TV, baby-gating him into the room while shutting all other bedroom doors in the house. We got into bed and put pillows over our ears. At one point we woke up and listened . . . and heard the muffled refrain: I want a show! Finally he wore himself out.

We paid in full that night and did not have to deal with the TV tyrant again.

So typically you know what to do and when to do it. But I get it. The truth is, sometimes when it feels like too much you’d gladly parent Tuesday for just a little bit of peace today.

Want to get a better handle on prompt parenting? Check out John Rosemond’s advice for tantruming toddlers, contemplate the bribing kids debate with this NY Times piece, and enjoy a throwback jam with Bow Wow Wow’s tantrum anthem I Want Candy.