I swore I would never, ever bribe a child of mine to get them to do something. Obviously, I made this pledge long before I actually had a child, a promise to myself that joins the ever-growing list of parental pledges that I have been systematically breaking with bitter abandon ever since my womb-tenant vacated. Smelling the arse of my baby in public to ascertain if he has pooed. Licking a tissue and wiping a dirty cheek (let me just clarify: I am talking facial cheeks. Even I have some standards). Finishing off left-overs from his plate. And now bribery.
It is just that there are certain sticking points, or more accurately, flash points, that seem to end up in protracted, painful and inevitably fruitless negotiation. And it does seem that several of these are all based around the theme of trying to get the incalcitrant child out of the front door. Whilst experience has taught me that it is wise to add at least twenty minutes to the schedule to accommodate the last fifteen foot of the journey out of the house and over the threshold, sometimes even this is not enough.
Getting shoes on. Now there is an innocuous enough activity that can turn into a monstrous power struggle of epic proportions. Some days I can be found chasing E round the kitchen table, brandishing his shoes in my fists like some kind of middle-aged hoodlum that got tooled up in the Clarks’ kids department, cajoling him with ever-increasing desperation to just SIT DOWN. When I do catch him, I find a leg-lock is by far the most successful strategy to achieve full shoe-ness, although it is usually accompanied by a fair amount of screaming, emanating mostly (but not always exclusively) from E.
Getting a jacket on. ‘Give your child a choice within a choice’ I have read many times from a variety of parenting guides. You know the books, they are peppered with ridiculous photos of an ethnically-diverse range of young children all looking suspiciously clean, with gleaming complexions brought about by a sickeningly varied diet of fruit and vegetables, with sentences that seem to acknowledge that parenting is hard, but with a subtext that reads ‘but if you really do find it hard then you are not fit to be a parent and please take your unfortunate off-spring to the nearest social services’.
A choice within a choice. The aim of this, I think, is to allow the child a semblance of independence in a controlled way. In reality, it is a stark demonstration of the old adage: ‘give them an inch and they will push you and push you and push you a mile, until you crack and lie sobbing on the floor’. I may be paraphrasing a little.
I hold two jackets up for E to choose from. Ha. A choice within a choice. I have this nailed. I hold all the cards (or the jackets, to be precise) and E holds an illusion of choice. E immediately walks over to the coat rack and pulls off his winter coat. “This one,” he states. Wait a bloody minte. That is a choice outside of the choice. That’s not the bloody rules. And anyway, fifteen minutes in that fleece-lined coat and his internal organs will reach boiling point and his eyes will melt.
‘No,’ I say firmly. ‘This one or this one.’ I wave them toward him to clarify, just in case he didn’t understand the first time. ‘This one,’ he repeats, waving the coat toward me to clarify, just in case I didn’t understand the first time. I think one of the jackets I am holding is squeaking until I realise it is the sound of my teeth grinding together. ‘No,’ I repeat. ‘You are wearing one of these two. Tell me which one you want or I will choose.’
‘This one,’ he replies and looks at me with defiance. Several options are open to me at this point. Choices within a choice, if you will. I can use brute force to get him into a jacket, but past experience tells me that this is inevitably a lose-lose situation not dissimilar to trying to get an angry octopus into a small carrier bag, with the aforementioned octopus then having the mother of all strops down the length of the High Street. I can forgo the jacket all together and teach E a lesson by being outside in a tee shirt, except my middle-class parental guilt will not allow this to happen. I can carry on with the ‘you choose’ negotiation until there is no oxygen left in the house and we both fall over, or it gets dark and the shops shut, whichever happens first. Or I can employ a strategic slice of bribery. Bingo.
‘If you put this jacket on, you can have a packet of raisins.” Two compliant arms shoot out and stepping over the quickly discarded winter coat, E navigates himself expertly into the jacket, even turning to face me so that I can zip it up. I am a broiling mass of self-loathing at my pitiful capitulation of my no bribery rule, seasoned with a large dollop of relief at having achieved Mission Jacket-On without the need of a second adult, a shoe horn or a shouting match.
We cross the threshold of the house as I slip a second packet of raisins into my pocket. Bribery. Now there’s the real choice within a choice.