Kids Don’t Come With a Manual

I was 23 when our first child, a daughter we named Jennifer, was born. My mom had cancer and was admitted to the City of Hope 5 days after that. Mom died 3 months later.  I missed having her around for many reasons, just one of them being the fact that I could not ask her for advice. But we did okay, my husband and I. We handled the diapers and the interrupted nights of sleep and the why-is-she-crying times.  

Our son, Brian, was born 5 years later. Once again we traveled through that exhausting but precious baby stage. Jennifer loved her little brother, and things were good.

Until, oh, let’s say 3-4 years later when we started experiencing the typical, occasional clashes between brother and sister.

I discovered I didn’t know how to help my own kids successfully resolve their problems. My Mom wasn’t there to ask. I hadn’t received an education in this area; and, as we all know, kids don’t come with manuals.  So I signed up for a parenting class. I needed to learn effective parenting techniques.

Two of the principles we discussed were Choices and Consequences.  We learned about giving a child choices so they can feel that they have some power and control over what they do. We also talked about the consequences of their choices, both good and bad – what was an appropriate consequence and how to administer it in a loving manner.

At this time, it seemed like every evening meal was a struggle. We constantly heard, “I don’t like that,” or “How much do I have to eat?” or “How much do I have to eat to get dessert?”  It was exhausting. 

One night Brian didn’t want to eat dinner. Remembering what I had learned in class, I said that was fine; it was his choice.  But told him the consequence of that decision would be that he couldn’t have anything else to eat that evening. Even when I reminded him he was going to a birthday party after dinner, and he wouldn’t be able to eat cake, he was still fine with his choice. He was all smiles and looked like he had just won the lottery. He did NOT have to eat dinner!!!! 

He felt a little different when he was served cake at the party and I whispered in his ear, “Don’t forget, you can’t eat that because you didn’t eat your dinner.”  He burst into tears and ran out of the room. I felt horrible for him, but also realized this was a positive step in the right direction for both of us.   We both learned from that experience, and although I can’t say parenting has always been as easy as that night turned out to be, what I learned in that parenting class helped me tremendously throughout their childhood.

A few weeks ago when I was at Brian’s house, he and his wife had gone out to dinner and I was serving my grandson, Owen (age 5), and my granddaughter, Ella (age 3), dinner.  Owen looked at it and asked what it was.  I could tell by the way he was looking at it, he wasn’t going to be a fan. It felt like deja vu. 

I told Owen dinner was a chicken and sweet potato casserole that his Daddy had made for us.  Owen said that he didn’t really like it, and then with a rather sad face and a slight shake of his head he said, “Oh, man, I’m for SURE not getting any dessert tonight.”

I wanted to laugh. I know I smiled. But not only because of Owen’s reaction, but also because of the training he had already received from his parents. Without a word from me, he knew what his choices and his consequences would be.

It made me wonder if Brian found a manual somewhere.

Brian helping with dinner. I guess he figured if he wanted something to eat that he liked, he needed to fix it himself. 🙂


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Comments (15)

  1. Well Karen, the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree. Brian may have learned more along the way, but his roots began with you! Don’t underestimate Mothers! You deserve a huge hug!

    July 27, 2019 at 3:14 am
  2. This is SOOO darling. And didn’t we ALL have to teach the consequences of this exact choice when our kids were little. When serving a new (and probably not so tempting dish) we had the THREE Bite rule. You could pass and leave it on your plate if you ate three bites. –one for Mommy, one for Daddy and one for your decision. Sometimes this hunted—sometimes it didn’t. It wasn’t an option not to try –those consequences were, like you, nothing more to eat until morning…………….And they survived! Imagine that!

    July 27, 2019 at 7:00 am
    • Karen

      I love your 3 bite rule. We had the kids try 1 bite, but 3 is much better!

      July 28, 2019 at 5:31 am
  3. Glori

    Gosh, it was hard to read about the passing of your mom at such a young age and as a soon to be mom yourself! But, I loved reading that your parenting was reiterated through your son’s son! That even put a smile on my face! 😉

    July 27, 2019 at 7:13 am
    • Karen

      Thanks, Glori, for your kindness. Losing my mom at such a young age was extremely difficult. I often wonder how I would be different today if I had her influence in my life for longer. Anyway… thanks for smiling at my story. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      July 28, 2019 at 5:36 am
  4. Renee

    Manual or not you have wonderful kids and grandkids! And how smart that you went to a parenting class… I wish that more people would do that. I am in retail environments for my job and I see how parents interact with their kids, it is usually not very nice and you can tell they don’t know how to talk to their kids. My DIL always always talked to her kids about choices and consequences and sometimes they learned the hard way! Hope your heat wave cools down a bit. Have a great day Karen.

    July 27, 2019 at 8:13 am
    • Karen

      Thanks for your feedback, Renee. I’m sure it must be hard not to step in at times when you see certain actions taking place. Your gkids are amazing; it’s so easy to tell from the scrapbook pages you create about them. How fortunate we both are to have gkids with the parents that they have.

      July 28, 2019 at 5:35 am
  5. Loved this story!

    July 27, 2019 at 10:28 am
    • Karen

      Hi Sheryl! Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

      July 28, 2019 at 5:32 am
  6. Barb Barker

    This is such a sweet post, I wish I had learned how to discipline more gently. This is lovely.

    July 30, 2019 at 3:46 pm
    • Karen

      I’m sure there are many of our generation wishing that, Barbara. Thank you for reading my post.

      July 31, 2019 at 7:09 am
  7. […] weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled “Kids Don’t Come With a Manual.” In that post, I talked about my experience as a young mom and my lack of knowledge in dealing with […]

    August 23, 2019 at 1:46 pm
  8. I do exactly the same with my kids : you take your own decision, you assume consequences. One day in July, Capucine wanted to eat more candies and I wasn’t ok. But I told her, ok, if I give you some today, you won’t have any during one full month. It’s up to you. Her choice was to have 3 more candies and nothing during one month. It’s been a very long month for her, but it was HER choice…

    August 24, 2019 at 10:13 am
    • Karen

      Oh, wow.. that’s a big lesson for her, isn’t it? But SO the right thing to do as a parent!

      August 24, 2019 at 10:28 am
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