Giving Ice Cream For Breakfast: When Parents Cave In

With kids now at home during summer vacation, how can parents draw the line between compromise and caving in? Whether it's with food, TV time or bedtime, our savvy moms offer tips in this week's parenting segment. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with journalist Jamila Bey, author Asra Nomani and Denene Millner, founder and editor of the blog "MyBrownBaby."

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TONY COX, host: I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

It's time for our regular moms conversation. Each week we reach out to a diverse set of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. With summer vacation in full force and millions of American kids at home, more parents are hearing this familiar sound a little too often.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODDLERS AND TIARAS")

MAKENZIE MYERS: Mommy, where's my (unintelligible)?

EDEN WOOD: We'll grab it.

MYERS: (Crying)

WOOD: I'll get it for you.

MYERS: Please. (Crying)

COX: That particular whine comes from Makenzie Myers, one of the stars of the TLC reality series "Toddlers and Tiaras." Almost every child will at some point go through a terrible phase of meltdowns and temper tantrums, testing the rules that parents have set for them.

It might be about wanting ice cream for breakfast, staying up late to watch TV or buying that extra video game. It can be a daily, if not, hourly battle of wits between parent and child. But trying to balance good parenting from caving in is a dilemma that lasts well beyond the toddler years. And gets even tougher with teens. So, when do you hold 'em and when do you fold 'em?

We turn now to our panel of moms for their tips. Jamila Bey is a journalist and currently a blogger for the mothering site for NBC's "Today Show." She's also a correspondent for Voice of Russia Radio. And she has a 3-year-old son.

Asra Nomani is an author and teaches journalism at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies. She has an 8-year-old boy. And we are also joined by Denene Millner. She is founder and editor of the blog "My Brown Baby." She recently wrote a column for Parenting magazine about getting your toddler to do what you want. She has three kids who range in age from 9 to 18.

And I'm the daddy today. I have three children now grown. So, moms, welcome.

JAMILA BEY: Hello.

ASRA NOMANI: Hello.

DENENE MILLNER: Hey there.

COX: So, Denene, let's start with you. Tell us about the most memorable time you had to make the choice between laying down the law and giving in to one of your kids.

MILLNER: Hmm. I think that might've happened just yesterday, with the 18-year-old.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MILLNER: Oh, every mother has a horror story, right? Mine usually happened in the grocery store, usually with the toddlers. So my littlest one, Lila, was always quite dramatic when we would walk into the grocery store. And if I didn't come in with a plan, we would usually leave without groceries.

COX: Oh, my.

MILLNER: Oh, yeah.

COX: Asra, what about you? What's your story?

NOMANI: Oh, man. So it was the eve of summer vacation just last week. I'm getting this big journalism award. There's 200 journalists in the room. There's the dean of arts and sciences at Georgetown University. I'm about to go up on stage and my son says, I want to go up there with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOMANI: And I'm, like, OK. All right. Well, that'll be wonderful. Just get the award with me. And so, lo and behold, he walks up with me. He finds the three-foot rope that's behind the podium and decides he's going to turn it into a rodeo routine up there as I'm giving my speech. Yeah.

And all I could do was just be, like, and on our side here we have Mr. Magician. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COX: That's funny. I thought you were going to say that he was going to say, mom, I got to go to the bathroom.

NOMANI: Oh, no. He was just completely...

COX: You know how they do that at that moment.

NOMANI: Yeah. He just wanted to turn it into the rodeo circus time.

COX: So, Jamila, what about you?

BEY: Well, my three-year-old is now getting to the point where he understands that he can exasperate mommy with asking the same thing again and again. And it's either at bedtime when he says, one more "Shaun the Sheep" and then I'll go to bed. Or, but you didn't read the same story, mommy, I need it again. And we just get into these locked horns about, you go to bed now, and then he cries or I cry, depending on how bad he's made me feel for - he only wants a story.

But then I know, you know, it's the nose in the tent and the next thing the camel will be in there and I'll be in the sand freezing at night.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COX: Where do these kids get this power over us?

NOMANI: They know it makes us feel bad. They can feel it.

MILLNER: 'Cause we love them.

COX: Is that what it is?

MILLNER: That's what it is. I mean, last night my son was also, like, three more funny stories. That's his ritual at night. He wants to hear funny stories. Like, how do you fight with a kid who wants to hear a funny story. And it's - we love them and we want to make them happy, right?

COX: Yeah, but, Denene, and I know that you've written about this and you've written some suggestions in an advice column for parenting. There has to be a point, I'm assuming, and maybe because I'm a dad I'm saying this, where you just draw the line. It's like, no. Okay, no. Is that right?

DENENE MILLNER, MYBROWNBABY.COM: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we, that's a part of being a parent, is the - having the ability to say no. The question is: how quickly can your kid embarrass you out of actually raising your voice and smacking down the law? And so, you know, they know how to push all of those buttons. And your job as a parent is to keep them from pushing those buttons and actually keep your wits about you. And it may involve a little trickery, it may involve just raising your voice just a tad bit so that they understand that you mean business, or it may mean maybe a quiet little corner where they can think about their actions. But it's about being a parent.

COX: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox sitting in for Michel Martin and we are talking to our moms about when and how much they cave in to their kids' demands. We're joined by Denene Millner, editor of MyBrownBaby.com, author Asra Nomani, and journalist Jamila Bey.

Asra, as a single mom, I would think that maybe that makes it a little tougher for you. Does it?

NOMANI: Oh, man, yeah. Like when it comes down to bedtime, and I've been up since 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning and, you know, my son's gotten to sleep in, right, because it's summer vacation, I'm just spent. And I ended up Friday night having him read me "Diary Of A Wimpy Kid" as I went to sleep because I was just exhausted and he was just still going and I couldn't fight it anymore. And I was like, you know what, go ahead and read that little book to bed on your own, and I'm going to just take a little nap here for the night.

COX: Were you raised the same way? I was raised with parents, with my mom and my dad, and they were just really strict with their rules, you know? And so they were very clear about what the boundaries were. And that's what I think has changed a little bit here in our generation, is I see so many more choices, so much more going on. I used this analogy in my own mind of we're living sort of like in these snow globes, you know, and our world is just shaking with all this snow coming down and all this stuff happening and it's up to us to sort of still that's snow globe and just calm things down a little bit. And that's what I decided to do this summer, was actually just take a chill pill and relax about some of this stuff, because I realized fighting it was more difficult sometimes and even more fraying.

Jamila, let me ask you about this. The U.S. Supreme Court just this week made a ruling regarding violent video games. And it raises a larger issue, I think, about obstacles that we face as parents in terms of what we will allow our children to be exposed to. There's video games. There's sexually explicit lyrics in music. There are films that, you know, a 10-year-old wants to go to see an R-rate movie. Do you let him go? Do you not let him go? How do you handle, you know, balancing those kinds of choices?

BEY: I'm so glad you asked me that.

COX: Oh, well, great.

BEY: Because I was always the kid who was able to watch pretty much - you know, as long as it wasn't sexually explicit we could pretty much watch whatever we wanted, because I lived with both of my parents and both of my mother's parents - big house. I was never alone in the home until I was 16 years old and then it was only for like an hour then. So we were allowed to see anything, hear a lot. The music started getting really - I mean raunchy for us was Prince's "Kiss." You know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: But I always had parental or grand-parental involvement in what was happening. And my dad in particular would ask, what's going on? What's that about? And if there was anything that raised an eyebrow, you know, kids know. They don't want to explain why somebody's doing something with their parents. So I feel sort of the same way. My three-year-old can sing much of the soundtrack to "The Book of Mormon" right now. It's blasphemous. It's indecent. It's funny and he's got such a cute little voice. I personally think that's great and it's, you know, his mom sings along with him.

I have a problem with blatant and gratuitous violence. And I say that as a gamer. I love "Mortal Combat," will always. But until I understand that my child understands what is real and what is not and that if you throw a Trident at someone it will hurt him, we're not going to be playing those types of games. But I do think it should be the parents' decision and not the government's to say who may or may not possess the thing. It should be the government to say you've got to tell them what's in it.

COX: Well, that's what the Supreme Court said. Denene, let me come to you, because we call this caving in. Is that an unfair characterization of what parents do when they yield to their children?

MILLNER: I don't think so. I think we are caving in, personally. I think that our job, again, is to parent, and when we let our child rule what's supposed to be happening at the moment that it's happening, we've lost control. There's no circumstance under which a three-year-old should tell you as a grown woman what to do or as a grown man what to do. There are some instances where you should chill out and relax a little bit about some things that are happening, but caving I have an issue with as a parent, because it's our job to parent.

COX: Does it matter whether or not, Denene, there are two parents parenting or just one with regard to when and how you cave in?

MILLNER: Oh no. I think that we're both equal opportunity suckers...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MILLNER: ...that gives the kids the chance to play one against the other. I can speak very clearly to this because my kids have tried to go to daddy when mommy said no, or go to mommy when daddy said maybe. And we often have to remind them that daddy and mommy are on the same team. You aren't on our team. We're on our team and you have to do as we say. And so I don't think that any one is more easy than the other or harder than the other, they're just different.

COX: And you know, sometimes, to be quite honest, daddies and mommies are not on the same page with regard to caving in, at least not in my household. There's been a number of discussions about, well, you let them, the boy is too soft, then you do this, you do that. I know that fathers listening to me can relate to having said that a number of times.

Asra, my question for you is - how do you feel after you have given in for something that you really didn't want to give in to?

NOMANI: Well, you know, I'm kind of going to argue on the side of caving in because I don't think that the idea of caving in is a negative one. I think the idea that like parenting as being a set of rigid rules is not going to be true. We shift in our own values from month to month, year to year, based on what one child may be like or another one. And so to me, you know, it's about being flexible and often times I just realize that it's not worth it, you know, that as long as we kind of focus on important values of our children, of goodness and kindness and education and compassion for others, everything else is going to work itself out. I mean these kids are going to end up, you know, being able to get to bed on time when they're 30 and they're going to be toilet trained by the time they're 15. And you know, they're going to...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOMANI: Everything is going to work out fine. And you know, if we hold true to the important values, then that's what's most important. And flexibility, I think, allows us a little bit of compassion for ourselves as parents.

COX: But isn't this a slippery slope? You know, you cave in today and then tomorrow you're going to have to cave in on something a little bit bigger and down the line bigger and more and more and more and more.

NOMANI: You know what happened? My parents didn't let us have Coke when I was a kid growing up except for the big dinner parties. And so when I was 21 and I could make my own purchasing choices, I was drinking Coke every morning for breakfast. And so the other day I made Diet Coke popsicles for my son.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NOMANI: Diet Coke too, on top of it. Like that's like blasphemous to me. And you know what he did? He didn't even have it. Like he was so excited about me just making it that he thought, oh, that's so cool, Mom's made me a Diet Coke popsicle. But he didn't even have the popsicle. And so to me we went through the motions and it didn't end up with a child with, you know, a Diet Coke addiction.

COX: I want to ask you, Jamila, this question. When you do cave in to your child, do you do it out of love - well, I'm sure you love your kids. Don't misunderstand me.

BEY: Mm-hmm.

COX: Are doing it primarily out of love and caring for making that person feel good, or are you doing it so that they'll stop crying or that they'll shut up or that they'll just sit down and leave you alone for a few minutes so you can rest after a hard day at work?

BEY: You know, it's probably, it's probably 75 percent, you know, I love you. You can have one more packet of fruit snacks. Another 56 calories is not going to make that big a difference in your life. Twenty-five percent of the time it's like I'm tired of you throwing water at me in this bathtub. The bathroom battles are a bit hard because he loves the tub and I don't like getting splashed. And so sometimes we come to splash wars in the tub and then I have to clean it up. So much of the time it's okay, honey, a small concession, one more story, five more minutes of a show I let you watch. And the bathroom, when it has to do with me cleaning something up or we're in the store and I just don't want to have to deal with one more helpful person, you know, it's like, okay, here, eat the M&Ms and we're leaving.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BEY: ..TEXT: COX: Denene, I'm going to bring the last conversation, the last question of this conversation to you. And the reason is, your children are older. They are - you said you have one that's 18 years old. So tell us, does it get any better? Does it get any easier or do you just cave in on different things as your children grow older?

MILLNER: You definitely cave in as your kids get older, I promise you this. And that's because there has to be compromise. The 18-year-old is now for all intents and purposes a man. He went away to college and lived away from us for a year. And so he was able to create his own rules and to live his own life and do what he wanted to do while he was away from home. The challenge is when he comes back to the same rules and observations that we have as parents that we had before he left, and so you find yourself compromising a tad bit more. You know, yes, you can go out and yes, you can stay out. That wasn't something you were doing before you left. But you have to understand that if you are not back by midnight, you need to stay wherever it is you are at midnight. Because I'm not going to have this garage door opening and waking me up in the middle of the night. So you know, there are things that you have to sort of bend those rules, understanding that you're now dealing with a young adult.

COX: Denene Millner, founder and editor of the blog MyBrownBaby. She recently wrote a column for Parenting magazine about getting your toddler to do what you want. She has three kids ranging in age from nine to 18. She joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting. Here in our studios, we were joined by Asra Nomani. She teaches journalism at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies and she is the mother of an eight-year-old son. And Jamila Bey is a journalist and currently a blogger for "The Today Show's" Moms site. She has a three-year-old son. She was also with us here in Washington.

Moms, thank you, and good conversation, I think.

NOMANI: Thank you.

MILLNER: Thanks so much.

BEY: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COX: And that's our program for today. I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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