My oldest daughter, Elora, occasionally suffers from abdominal migraines. For the longest time, we didn’t know what they were. She’d break out into spontaneous sweats at the oddest moments–usually when she was at her most calm and reading in bed. Many tests and doctors later, it turned out her stomach was just having a headache.
If she takes her pills every morning and every night, the migraines disappear. But she’s 9 and taking pills isn’t something she’s used to and it was getting to be a habit of hers to miss the morning pill in favor of getting to school on time or eating breakfast. Then the TV show Once Upon a Time came along. Elora watched the pilot and was hooked.
Elora’s bedtime is 8pm, right when Once comes on. I got the idea to bribe Elora, telling her that if she could take her pill every morning and every night without fail, then on Sunday she could watch Once live before going to bed. She agreed and for several weeks she took her pills successfully like clockwork. Until yesterday.
Elora admitted to us during dinner that she’d missed that morning’s pill. The mood at the table dropped. My wife and I both know how much she loves the show and we didn’t want to make her miss it… but we gotta be good parents. So, I came up with an idea. A way for Elora to still feel the consequence of having missed her pill (besides the obvious one of a potential migraine), but also get to watch her show.
Elora recently learned how to clean the bathroom after we made her do it every day for a week as punishment for a crime far worse than skipping a pill. She’s become a real pro at it. I told her if she cleaned the bathroom that night–put things away, scrub surfaces and the toilet–then she could watch the show on Sunday. Missing one pill isn’t that big of a deal. It’s missing several over the course of a week that can negatively impact her health.
Elora thought about it a minute and made her decision.
“No,” she said. “If I clean the bathroom then I’ll just think it’s no big deal in the future if I miss a pill. I can just clean the bathroom to make up for it. I need to remember to take my pill.”
This is why this is a great moment in parenting: because Elora parented herself. Erin and I tried to give Elora a way out. She didn’t take it because her self-discipline was more important to her than what she wanted. Man, how old was I when I learned that? 18? 19? 30? She’s friggin’ 9. It’s not just about pleasing us any more or not getting in trouble. There are things that are important to her.
I think most parents are like me and probably fear the teenage years. That’s when The Turn happens–when the innocence falls away and the anger and incorrigibility starts. Kids act more for themselves and angering their parents through defiance isn’t something to fear–it’s a motivator. Elora gave me a lot of hope last night that the good kid at the center of her being–the one who volunteers in the autism class during recess and tells boys who want to be her boyfriend that she’s too young for that nonsense and who has never once fought with her younger sister with special needs–isn’t going to be lost. I have no doubt she will struggle through adolescence just like her mom and I did, but I think she’s got a good chance of making a better go of it.
If not, I’m sure there will be other TV Shows we can hold over her head.