Has your child ever made you feel like one of the indulgent parents from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? You know the scene—the kid is screaming “I want it now!” and the parent hurries to get whatever their child wants—to avoid a tantrum, to avoid embarrassment, or in my case, to avoid having their child go ballistic at an ice skating rink.
It all happened at my son’s 5th birthday party a few weeks ago. We invited about 20 kids and their parents to Family Ice, decorated the party room (in a dragon theme, his favorite) had a piñata, and of course, served the prerequisite cake & ice cream. My son’s haul was huge: present after present, and he couldn’t open them fast enough. I have to admit I was starting to feel a little panicked at this point, trying to keep everything and everyone straight (I’d taken Ibuprofen as a preventative measure, my typical antidote to a kid’s birthday party.) I felt like a handler for one of the Rolling Stones (just trade some of the vocabulary) as I whispered into my son’s ear, “Say thank you. Don’t grab the presents out of the kids’ hands. Wait so that we can write down who they’re from. Open the card first.” But still, so far so good. The kids skated, everyone enjoyed themselves.
Then it came time to hand out the goody bags, and my son went into full meltdown mode. Even though I’d explained what the bags were for—to say thank you to the kids who had come and brought him presents, and that it was important to make sure there were enough for everyone—my newly-minted five year old insisted that he should get one, too.
It was the classic “I want it now!” moment. By this time the sugar and sheer giddiness of his party had kicked in full force, and there was no stopping him from grabbing one of those goody bags—he shook me off like the Tasmanian Devil. It was then that I tried all the classic parenting techniques: I began by reasoning with him, then tried giving him consequences, and when that didn’t seem to have an effect, I went for the secret weapon, the time-tested fallback: I called my husband over to deal with the situation. At this point my son was already diving headfirst into my tote bag and sorting through the goody bags to see which one had the best prizes inside. And I have to admit, in the face of his sheer determination and sugar-crazed eyes, I caved.
You’d think I’d know better, but the truth is, there are times when I take shortcuts or give in when I shouldn’t, all the while chastising myself for my inconsistency as a parent. I was sure that everyone was convinced we were raising the most spoiled kid on the planet. I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that caving in to greed might set my family up for something bigger and harder to deal with somewhere down the road. I also felt bad—after all, it was his party, he’s five, and he was whacked out on rainbow frosting and all the attention—the more he got of each, the more he wanted.
To tell the truth, I didn’t blame him at all. I think it was my parental wimpiness that was the real culprit. I knew there was a better way of handling the situation, I just for the life of me couldn’t think of what that was.
At the end of the party, my friend Paul made me feel a little better when he said, “Hey, it’s the classic birthday party meltdown. In my family, it’s a running joke that I cried at every one of my parties until I was about 12.”
I’ve got a whole year to recover. In the mean time, I’m going to try to come up with a better game plan for the next time my son screams “I want it now!”
(And if any of you have advice about how to avoid parental wimpiness in the face of kid greed, please leave comments below!)
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.