Bribes and Barters

Nickolas Muray, "NUCOA MARGERINE, KIDS ON SWING," George Eastman House flickr stream

"Okay, Ollie, get off the swing and I'll give you a nice piece of toast!" "Go screw yourself!"

Here’s something about parenthood I didn’t bargain on: the complex barter system that is life with a two-year-old. Or my life with my two-year-old anyway. Probably I’m doing something wrong, which would explain why day-to-day life around here involves more bribes than Tammany Hall – hey-oh!

No but really.

Here’s a sampling.

Using the potty nets a sticker. Actually, a Rock Star Games sticker from Daddy’s work. Adult Harper will see this logo and not understand why it makes her have to pee.  Oh, and using the potty a lot gets you the opportunity to wear underwear. Elmo underwear. Oh yes. We went there.

Staying in bed (or at least in your room) until 6 am also gets you a sticker, but a different kind, and on a chart. This one was probably our most successful system to date, by which I mean it quickly rendered itself obsolete — the actual chart was only in play for about a week. Now she checks the clock against the little sign I made one desperate morning – 5 means STAY, 6 means PLAY – and starts patting my cheek at exactly 6:00. This is a luxurious delight. I am serious.

A good nap will earn you a refreshing glass of pink milk upon waking. This one doesn’t work worth a shit, by the way. We are tutu-deep in a week of no napping.  Going to daycare at the gym without a fuss equals one coveted squeezy-fruit-thingy. (They cost like thirty dollars each.)

Then there are the heat-of-the-moment threats/bribes/cajoles (“Get in the stroller or I’m taking away Special Baby Doll/Get in the stroller and you can do the straps yourself/Big girls get in the stroller”). These start flying fast and furious towards the end of the day, when everything is a negotiation. What, do I think Harper should eat dinner, take a bath, brush her teeth, let me brush her hair, and go to bed without a major debate-team-style match at each step? Where’s the challenge in that?

And don’t even get me started on the coached trading and turn-taking of playdates these days. “I’m setting the timer. You get the dolly stroller for 2 minutes, and then it’s Malka’s turn. In the meantime, you can push the shopping cart. Then you’ll trade.” (The other day a mom-friend and I agreed to let the kiddos sort out a situation with a coveted plaything themselves. This ended in both children holding one end of the truck and shrieking at the top of their lungs in each others’ faces. Very becoming.)

I don’t know. I feel like such an idiot sometimes with all the bribing and so on, but I feel even more idiotic saying things like, “Maybe you should behave because I’m asking you too and not because you’ll get a lollipop out of it.” I mean, what goddamn sense does that make?


10 responses to “Bribes and Barters

  1. You are absolutely doing the right thing. You are tangibly rewarding good behavior at a 2 year old level. It is much worse to try to explain why H should stay in bed or use the potty and how it is ultimately in her best interest.
    All life is a negotiation. You are teaching your child how it works.

  2. Oh, yes. Bribery. The kids just started sharing a room because I got tired of the baby waking up, seeing my peacefully sleeping face and shrieking at a frequency only dogs and moms can hear. But he goes to bed at 7:00 and Iris goes to bed at 8:00ish (or as late as she can push it) and no matter how sternly I tell her to BE QUIET AS SOON AS YOU STEP FOOT INTO THIS DARKENED ROOM WHERE YOUR BROTHER IS SLEEPING, she is full of loud questions and complaints. Enter: bribes. Specifically, her current obsession: my childhood collection of 1980s Care Bears. We have a chart and she gets a sticker every morning when she remembers to tell me that she didn’t wake up the baby the night before, and then every few weeks I find myself on eBay, frantically bidding on an obscure Care Bear Cousin that I didn’t get to have as a kid. But it works. Hurray, bribes!

  3. Personally, I’m choosing to bask in the glow of Harper and August taking turns on the riding truck without any adult prompting and I’m going to forget all about that pesky bus incident. I’m also planning a second career in mediation, arbitration, and hostage negotiation.

  4. What’s the alternative anyway? As far as I know, the parenting style that preceded, uh, motivational parenting (bribery) involved the children being scared s**tless of punishment, often corporal punishment, and/or their parents and or going to Hell for Being Bad.

    Or, you could just have children who were always perfect, like you were, Dear.

  5. I am so glad you are writing about this. It is our lives too. Everything is a negotiation, every little tiny step we make each day. It is a crazy new life we are entering for the next ten, fifteen years?

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