It was the greatest parenting play I have ever seen. It happened in a Blockbuster Video (remember those?) in Denver. As I was staring at the rows of new releases, I heard a guy say to his kid, “Put it back. I’m not going to ask you again or we’re leaving with no movie.” He didn’t yell or growl. He said it very matter-of-factly.
I glanced over. A kid was holding a box of candy toward his father, and the dad was pointing across the store to the candy rack near the checkout counter. The kid pouted and skulked off toward the rack.
Minutes later, as I’m checking out my video, the same kid, who is now standing next to me, grabs some candy and puts it behind his back. His dad sees this and, in just as a matter-of-fact tone as before, says, “I said I wasn’t going to ask you again.” He sets the movie on the counter, makes the kid put the candy back, and says, “Let’s go. No movie tonight.” The kid starts crying and protesting, reluctantly following his dad out the door.
As I see this, I’m thinking, “Countdown to them returning after another stern warning in 3… 2… 1…” — but no! The car headlights come on in the dark parking lot and the car drives off.
I didn’t have kids at the time, but I remember thinking, “When I’m a parent, that’s exactly how I’m going to parent.” Smash cut 15 years later, and a typical conversation with my daughter goes like this:
“I’ve asked you five times to turn the TV off. You’re done.”
“Just 15 more minutes? Please?”
“You’ve watched enough.”
“Please! I promise!”
“You promise what?” (Promise is a buzzword she uses when being grilled about teeth brushing and what not, but often uses it at random times.)
“Just . . . can I please watch 15 more minutes?”
“Did you read today?”
“Yes, I promise!” (Lightbulb!) “That’s what I was promising.”
“How much did you read?”
“Okay, just 15 minutes,” I say as if this will put it to an end and I won’t be having this same conversation again in 15 minutes.
After these interchanges, I often think back to the man in the video store. How the heck did he do that? Whatever elixir gave him the fortitude to lay down the law needs to be bottled up and sold to parents worldwide.
As a dad, I feel pressure to be the disciplinarian of the house. Without getting into a debate about gender roles or the modern family, it’s just the world I know. My dad was the disciplinarian, while, in my mom’s eyes, my brothers and I could do no wrong. My wife is a little like my mom in this regard (about our daughter, not about me).
The problem is that I’m just really bad at the role of disciplinarian. When I do finally execute the “One and Done” disciplinary approach, it’s so out of character for me that my daughter and wife both look at me like I’m some kind of a monster. While my daughter is off crying because of my “cruelty,” my wife and I have to have a discussion about discipline.
It’s a no-win situation.
So I’m proposing the idea of a Guest Dad. We use this approach at the youth soccer club where I coach. Once or twice a season, coaches are encouraged to guest coach another team, with the idea that they may be able to bring in some new ideas or, if the messaging is the same, players that have become jaded to the messages of their own coach will hear those messages reinforced by someone else.
So this is how Guest Dad would work: 15 minutes after I ask my daughter to get ready for bed and I see that she is still playing with her toys, I’ll call the Guest Dad. He’ll come in and tell her that if she doesn’t get ready for bed immediately, it’s lights off and door closed with no book or story. When he finds her still playing a few minutes later, he’ll simply turn off the lights in her room and close the door. While she’s crying and my wife is telling me what a monster he is, I’ll just shrug in agreement and say, “I know, but what can I do? It’s his shift.” Bam! Mission accomplished and I’m still a good guy.
I believe that I’d just need a few of these Guest Dad sessions and then all I’d have to do is threaten to get the Guest Dad. Eventually, I wouldn’t even need him. Hey, maybe the guy in the video store actually was a Guest Dad!
I know what you’re thinking, “Get over it. Parenting is tough. Isn’t the idea of the Guest Dad just a way for you to shirk your parental responsibilities?”
Yes. Yes it is.
But before you judge me (and don’t act like you won’t, because judging others’ parenting techniques accounts for 40 percent of communication between non-related parents), I don’t think I’m in the minority with my parenting style. Like other dads, I like to be positive around my daughter and I don’t want the stink-eye from my wife. I recognize that there is a balance, and that my role is to find that balance. I think that ultimately what’s important is that my daughter knows I love her and am looking out for her best interests. So regardless of whether it’s “lay down the law” time, or Round 12 of a please-brush-your-teeth match, what will ultimately matter is that she knows I care.
At least I think that’s what ultimately matters. I’ll have to check with the Guest Dad. That guy knows how to parent.