By Sandy McDaniel
A mother called me recently, very distraught that her family was in turmoil over an event that happened the previous night. Her daughter, age 12, had just received a new basketball for her birthday. Her younger brother asked to use it at a game that night during half-time. Her answer was affirmative, as long as she got to bounce the ball on the court first. Half-time came and the boy went to where the team put individual basketballs. His sister’s was not there. He fussed and fumed, but his sister was in a huddle with her team. Naturally, he took his problem to his mother, who got so angry that she left the gym. At the moment she called me, she was home, waiting for her daughter to return.
Me: Did you ever ask her if she hid it?
Mother: Who else would have done it?
Me: Doesn’t matter. Every person deserves the respect of being asked. The other thing you did was to model getting super angry over a supposition and storming out of the gym. That behavior may show up in your children as you modeled it.
Mother: How do I talk to my daughter?
Me: It is easy here to confuse the lesson. Since the truth is unlikely to be known, the lesson is about choice. Say to the daughter, “We don’t know if you hid the basketball or not. The problem is that if you did do it, YOU get to live with your shame and guilt. You did not make a loving choice. If you lied about it, you are teaching yourself to lie rather than telling the truth. Lies have a way of catching up to you. So, this whole drama is just a lesson for me to let you learn your lessons and for you to make choices that bring you a better life.”
Mother: My husband is going to scream and yell at me for not punishing her.
Me: For a supposition? First of all, tell him you will listen to him when he stops yelling. The problem isn’t that he yells, it is that you allow him to yell. “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.” I am not suggesting your husband is a pig — it is an old saying. The point is, that would not be the time to educate or inform him. Talk when he is calm. Secondly, if you choose to, tell him this problem is between your daughter and you and he doesn’t need to involve himself in it.
As to the original issue about the boy’s request to use the basketball, there may be a hidden agenda between the two children; his sister may have had a reason to decide he couldn’t use it. Or perhaps she just thought, “You can use my new basketball another time.”
The mother told me it wasn’t kind (my motto is to always be kind) to refuse to let him try the new basketball. Again, we don’t have a clue as to what trouble might exist between the two siblings. The mother could’ve taken the daughter aside, asking the reason for her denying use of the basketball (if that was the case) instead of shaming her into sharing; or she could have talked about a compromise.
Everything on TV, videos, and movies is about fighting to get one’s way. Communication is dying, if not dead. Then a frustrated parent adds shame to the game and the anger goes underground to fester and become a volcano. You may not agree with me about my choice of handling this situation, but what I am inviting you to do is to exchange shame, blame, and anger as a way of disciplining or trying to control your children and opting for something more positive.
The lesson at hand is like an architect’s lesson to create a structure that is sound and filled with life-enhancing qualities. You want your child to be a reliable, respectful, responsible, resilient, loving human being. My book, “Leave Your Baggage at the Door” (Amazon), can help you with your “buttons,” and the intent of this column is to guide your thinking in a way that will mold successful human beings. There are no re-runs in this parenting game.