Mother May I?
It’s not uncommon for me to hear The Donkey ask a question like…
“Hey, am I allowed to go out anywhere tonight?” or… “How many nights are you going to let me hang out with my brother when he’s in town?” or… “I was just wondering if there’s any chance of me getting permission to go to the movies this weekend?”
And it’s not uncommon for him to hear a response like:
“What do you mean will I allow you?! I’m not your mother, you know. What are you going to do next–pull out a permission slip for me to sign?”
After that we usually get into an interesting discussion. He says he knows I’m not his mother, but that he also knows that he does indeed need my permission before he goes anywhere. I ask why he insists on treating me like some kind of task master.
He says, “Well I guess this means I can’t go out.”
I say, “What do you mean… I never said you couldn’t go anywhere?!”
He says, “No, I know. But I can just tell that it’s a bad idea. I’m sure I’ll get in trouble if I do; so don’t worry about it–I’ll just stay home.”
At this point I am backed into a corner. If I say he is not allowed to go out, I confirm that I am, in fact a task master who controls his every move. But now I definitely don’t want to say yes either, because I feel like I’m being bullied into it.
And forget about whether I actually want him to go out or stay home. Maybe it happens to be a good night for him to go out because there’s a Jane Austen movie on the Tivo that I want to watch in peace. Then again, it could be a terrible night for him to go out because I’ve been sick for two weeks and watching children all day long, and I can’t bear the thought of doing the kids’ bedtime routine one more night on my own. But the fact is, by the time we’ve played out the “Mother, May I?” conversation, I am not even thinking about whether or not it’s a good night for him to go out or what I actually want. I’m just focused on not being perceived as the bad guy.
And so we end up in a situation where nobody can win. He may get to go out, but he won’t enjoy it because he’ll be worried all night that he’ll come home and find out he’s been grounded. I may convince him to stay in, but he’ll just feel upset that he has no control over his life, and I’ll feel upset that staying home with me wasn’t what even his top choice that night.
Is there any solution to this cycle? I’m clearly no expert, but here are a couple things I think would help:
I could: Examine my attitude. Do I truly hate being asked for permission all the time, or am I actually saying, “I’m not your mom… except when I want to be.” Because I’m pretty sure there are plenty of times when I do expect to be asked about things, or when I do get after him for making plans without clearing them with me. I could find a better balance–where I’m expecting to be considered and consulted, but I’m not attempting to dictate what he does.
He could: Soften his approach. To me, there’s a huge difference between, “Am I going to be allowed to go out at all this weekend?” OR “Hey, I was thinking about going out with my brother Saturday night, but I’m just wondering if that would work for you or not–did you have anything else in mind?”
Is it just me? Do any of you find yourself in similar situations? What do you do?