||Parenting is obviously a delicate balance, a dance even, between bribing and threatening our kids to do what we want them to do. My mother once bribed, er, encouraged my son with $5 for each ‘A’ on quizzes, tests, progress reports and report cards when he transitioned from the beeswax and fairies of Waldorf education to public school at the beginning of 5th grade. Within months, she had shelled out a considerable sum of money, to which she complained,
“I don’t think we (she and my stepfather) can afford this. Maybe it should be just for his report card.”
“Mom,” I said, “you can’t change the terms until after the school year.”
I always thought myself better than offering external rewards (and punishments) for my children. The reality was much different. I cannot begin to count how many times I have said, “No treats until you finish everything on your plate,” or the more positive, “You get dessert after you eat all your dinner.”
But those were standard statements in the parenting arsenal. I’d avoided the more blatant forms of bribery, until now.
A few months ago, I signed up Miguel, now 16, for a two-week community service-Spanish-immersion-vacation in Costa Rica.
“Nope, not going,” he said.
“Yes, you are!”
The next day I offered, “You can drive the car over the summer until school starts if you go on the trip.”
“Okay,” he agreed.
Since I don’t believe in bribery or threats, Miguel knew that even if he got his driver’s license, which he did in April, the rule is “Bs for keys”. And, since he got a couple of Cs on his last report card, his driving was to be limited to transporting his sister.
Recently I read a powerful article about the World Cup in Argentina in 1978 amid the military junta’s torture and murder of anyone suspected of political dissent. Several people who survived being raped with a cattle prod and other unfathomable violence said the World Cup always stirred painful memories for them.
I thought, given that Miguel and I are totally absorbed in the World Cup, that he should read the article for another context to the World Cup, sports, and geopolitics. Yeah, I know, expecting a teenage boy to even care is overly optimistic, but a parent still has to try.
Earlier in the day I’d read the article, Miguel had complained about having to spend his own money for golf, dinners out with friends, even dry cleaning his work clothing.
“You’ve got a job, Miguel, it’s up to you.”
“It’s not fair,” he said.
So I phoned him from work with an offer: “Miguel, read the article I left for you on the couch and I’ll pay for your dinner out tonight.”
“And cover the dry cleaning of my shirt and pants?”
“Okay,” I said. “You know, Miguel, I shouldn’t have to bribe you to read an important article about the World Cup and the disappearance of thousands in Argentina in the 1970s.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but you put it out there.”
The dance continues.
Steven Friedman was widowed in 2010 and has two children and is working on a memoir about his family’s cancer journey, It’s Not About the Breasts.