Yesterday was a pretty good day. I never know, lately, how the day is going to go. These kids are moody little critters. One morning they'll climb out of their beds, up the stairs, and wake my wife and me with their laughter. The next, they'll resist everything, from getting out of bed to taking off their pajamas to going to school. Their resistance takes the form of screaming and crying, mostly.
They're three. I understand that this is normal behavior, and usually subsides by the time they're in their mid-twenties.
But yesterday was a good one. Cobra woke up a little belligerent, but improved greatly after breakfast, and didn't even have to be bribed to go to the gym with me. They had the childcare lady at the gym all to themselves, and whenever I peeked in, the girls were laughing and running and kicking balls, not trancing out on TV, as they'll do if the Kids Club staff let them.
They ate a great lunch of leftover Vietnamese soup (greens, pork, fish sauce) from when their grandmother visited, mixed with leftover noodles from god-knows-when, and played all afternoon at home with minimal pummeling of one another. Then we heard the rumbling of "Mommy's Loud Car" pulling up in front of the house, and prepared for her arrival.
Mom was home much earlier than usual, just in time for afternoon snack. In fact, it was a little past snacktime, and Cobra was getting ornery. She wanted Goldfish, and she wanted them now. And she wanted to eat them out of the bag, not out of her snacky cup.
"No, boo--you can't eat them out of the bag," Mom said.
"Yes I caaaaan..." said Cobra. "I eat from the bag when Daddy gives them to me!"
"Really?" said Mom, looking at me incredulously.
"Um...yeah?" I said. "I let them eat out of the bag. I didn't...I didn't know that was against regulations."
"I WANT THE BAG OF GOLDFISH!!!" Cobra said.
"No," said Mom. "We don't eat Goldfish out of the bag. That's the rule."
This launched Cobra into full-on freak-out mode. Snotty, gasping, sobs. Eyes wide with horror and spurting hot rage-tears.
Every fiber in my being willed my mouth to say, "Just give her the fucking bag of Goldfish, for fuck's sake!"
But I didn't.
Even though my wife and I often cave in to the demands of our kids and let them stay up a little later than they should, or eat multiple desserts, or postpone potty training indefinitely, we've always had this belief that one of the worst things we could do is to not back each other up when one of us is laying down the law.
So I bit my tongue, and let the tantrum run its course. One of my guiding principles in parenting (and my wife's too, usually) is to chose your battles. Is it really worth hours of pain to impart unto your kids the message that they must not wear their princess costumes at mealtime? Not to me. And the "no eating out of the bag" rule was certainly not a hill I would have deemed worthy of dying on.
But I wasn't about to override Mommy's authority in front of the kids. It has been an article of faith with us that, despite our own parents' vastly different approaches to discipline, one of the things that made us respect and/or fear them more than some kids did their parents was, as my wife likes to call it, "presenting a united front." Although my mom and dad may have had different ideas about what was acceptable when they were dealing with us one-on-one, I can't imagine ever hearing one of them say, "Aw, c'mon...let the kid eat the damn Goldfish out of the bag." My wife's parents were the same way.
Nonetheless, I questioned that wisdom as I prepared to leave the house to investigate the death-rattle of Mommy's Loud Car. The tantrum was subsiding, but I was still rattled. Had I subverted the putting down of the mom-foot by slipping the bag of Goldfish to the kids to prevent a meltdown, would a whole new angle of parent-manipulation have opened up before them?
Probably not. But I thought about how I would have felt if she had let the kids do something I had forbidden them from, however meaningless. Maybe the "united front" thing isn't as much about being consitent in front of the kids as it is about not pissing off your partner.