Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Losing Battle

My husband and I don't give our daughters everything they ask for. Every week they come to us, begging for (insert current electronic "have-to-have" item here) or money to go on some optional school field trip or some such thing. They do not lead deprived lives; they have every thing they need and quite a few things that they don't. Compared to our childhoods, they are spoiled rotten, though they don't often come across as such.

Last year the question of cell phones came up. They were 11 and 12, and their friends started getting cell phones, so immediately my husband and I became Bad Parents since we didn't think that children needed them.

Then their mother came back from Afghanistan, and one of the first things she did was to buy them both cell phones.

Let me tell you a little bit about their mother. This is the woman who went away for seven months into a dangerous operational theater, and who called her children perhaps once a month while she was gone. This is the woman who made her kids cry themselves to sleep out of worry every night for half-a-year because they never knew if their mother was alive or not, because she couldn't be bothered to call. (In contrast, my husband called me at least daily while he was in the same theater, so it certainly wasn't a matter of access... and she never left camp, either.)

By any account I can give, she is a bad mother who cares far more about her own interests than about her children.

So. She buys them cell phones. The youngest immediately lost hers, and mummy replaced it just as quickly with a newer, better model.

So it's become, in this matter and many others, her against us. She is quick to throw money at their every whim, which I suppose for her is much easier than actually loving her children, or wanting to set any kind of boundaries for them. Anything we deny them they run to her for. I know this isn't a new story or situation, that countless children of divorced parents manipulate their parents in the same way, but by God is it frustrating.

My husband and I set limits for the girls so they learn to appreciate what they have, so that they understand that sometimes you have to earn the things you want. That maybe getting everything you want isn't the best thing for you in the long run. That learning the pleasures of delayed gratification builds a strong, enduring character.

She undoes everything we do, every lesson we try to teach she renders invalid. We're the mean parents, in the girls' minds, the ones who are more likely to say no to everything. I know that twenty years from now, they'll be on a therapist's couch, realizing that their mother really didn't love them and we weren't being mean, we were just trying to raise decent human beings. In twenty years, we shall be vindicated... but until we win the war, we shall lose every battle.

I hate parenting (step-parenting, in my case.) This is exactly why I never wanted children in my life in the first place... it's a lonely, thankless job. They hate me for trying to do what's best for them.


Aline la Bergère said...

I really don't like all the gadgets kids are exposed to these days and I agree with your MO.

I grew up with no indoor plumbing and the bathtub was in the wood shed. Tough love.

Velda said...

I could write a novel on this subject but I won't bore you. In the end they *will* know who cared and who loved. It may be no consolation now, but of a child product of a mother who didn't care, or love, it will matter in the end. The girls will know and all the anguish you're going thru now will yield smart, thoughtful, loving adult women in the end. Women who won't end up like their mother (I use that term loosely, I have my own issues with her) I know this is so hard for you.

raino said...