How We Used Hard Cash and Disney World to Help our Kids Feel a Little Less Hatred Towards Each Other

When my wife said, “I think we should take the kids to Disney,” I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to go. The flight alone would be thousands of dollars, and we didn’t have enough to stay at a Disney resort – we wouldn’t be able to come home in the afternoon to rest.

This meant 8+ hours a day, no breaks, five days straight, at one of the most crowded places on the planet, with our three children.  We did it. And in the middle of it all something happened that none of us expected.

We told the kids they could have ten dollars a day for spending money, which would roll over to the next day if they didn’t spend it, or they could blow it all in one place if they wanted. This of course meant that my wife and I were constantly harassed by our kids, “Can we stop here and go shopping?” “Can we buy a treat?”

“It’s our money.”

We didn’t want them to waste it, and as good helicopter parents we tried to use this as an opportunity to teach them about delayed gratification, budgeting, general fiscal responsibility, etc.

Three days into the trip, on the long drive home from the park, the kids got super rowdy and weren’t listening to our warnings. I said, “No talking. The next one that makes a sound loses five dollars.” Silence. 2 minutes later one of them started giggling under their breath. I responded, “Hey, I’m serious, I’ll seriously take away your five dollars.”

I’m what some would call a “soft” parent, and everyone in our family knows it. I talk a big game, but follow-through is always a struggle. My wife’s the exact opposite. They lost their five dollars.

The next day, on our way back to the war zone, she said. “If you guys can be nice to each other today, you can earn back some money.” There’s a problem with fighting amongst our kids and we’re always on the lookout for ways to ease the tension. Might as well try this.

Our oldest, and most fiscally shrewd child immediately said something super nice, and way out of character, to our youngest, and by far most sensitive child. My wife gave her a dollar.

I could hear the wheels turning in everyone’s head – “holy shit,” I’m sure they were thinking, “is this real?”

For most of the day the kids would do something nice and immediately turn to one of us and say, “do I get a dollar now?” so we had to find ways to help them understand that this wasn’t going to run like a strip club, that we expected them to be consistently nice. We quickly learned our rhythm and doled out just enough cash to keep the fire going.  Our middle kid latched onto this like nobody’s business. She was actually having a good time being sweet to her sisters. Apparently, the idea that kindness is good for everyone is a concept she hadn’t previously considered.

Some say that using money, treats, TV time, etc. to reward good behavior only teaches kids to seek rewards. When we were potty-training our first, we used M&M’s as a motivational tool. Barring the time our dog ate the evidence out of her kiddie toilet before she could get her treat, it worked like a charm.   A well-meaning friend warned me, “You’re just teaching her to love treats,” as if for the rest of her life she’d have to eat candy after going potty. Not true. Rewards are powerful if they’re used the right way.

Our middle kid, a month after Disney, is far sweeter to her sisters, and to us, than she was before. Last night, on the way back from their first ski lesson, she said to her big sister, “I hope you had a good time skiing today and I’m sure you did very good.” Super cute coming from a six year old, and way out of character.

And she didn’t ask for a dollar.

We’ve talked to our kids ad-nauseum about the importance and power of kind words, but nothing has worked like the money we spent on the battlefield in Orlando, Florida, early November, 2017.  Fighting in general has gone down a bit, mainly because all the kids have a little more trust in the power of kind words. The lesson wasn’t cheap, and the problem hasn’t gone away by any stretch, but we’re farther down the road, and that’s always a victory.

Best $150.00 I ever spent.

When You “Hate” Your Kids

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If you have kids you’ll understand what follows.  If you don’t, you’ll probably be horrified.  Rated rRated for less-than-good-parent language.

I have 3 kids.  A 4 year old. A five year old.  An eight year old.  Dark days indeed.  The fighting, whining, disrespect, property damage – all come part and parcel to parenting young children – regardless of what mad skills you might have in your quiver.

Of course I don’t hate my kids, nobody really does.  We just feel, let’s say, a very strong dislike towards them from time to time.  What’s funny/interesting is the difference between how we feel about them when they’re “good,” and how we feel about them when they’re not.  We get warm feelings when they’re playing nice, eating all their food, cleaning up, loving their siblings, sleeping – and very different feelings when they’re doing things that anger us.  They’re not so cute anymore.  The mere sight of them brings up feelings of disgust.  You’d think we’d just get a little frustrated but it goes way deeper than that for most parents.

When you have kids it’s not long before they’ll push a “button,” some unhealed wound or two that you carry inside – something that happened long ago at the hands of another human that you haven’t quite put to bed yet.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have multiple places in their soul where they’re still hurt.  I do know tons of people who’ll tell you they’ve dealt with it all –  “moved on” –  but most of us haven’t.

I have a friend who experienced something horrible years ago.  She told me she gave herself two years to grieve, then she got over it.  Sounds great, but it doesn’t work that way.  It’s likely that we’ll take so many of our buttons to the grave, mainly because we have no respect whatsoever for how deep they are.  The cutesy moniker “buttons” betrays how clueless we are to their severity.

Either way, when our kids push our buttons it hurts, and it’s easy to see these little button-pushing fuckers as enemies – people who don’t care about us, against whom we have to defend ourselves – that’s how we respond when we feel hurt.  That’s why kids appear different when they’ve done something that’s not only wrong, but rubs its finger in our unhealed areas.  That’s why we lose our shit at some of the shit they pull.  We’re on the defensive.  We’re retaliating, many times in ways that will create the same buttons in them that we’ve been wandering through adulthood with.

In the past, when other people have pushed our buttons, we’ve been able to distance ourselves, or break the relationship altogether.  But you can’t do that with kids, we have to stay engaged.

My eight year old did something small yesterday that made me very angry.  When I drop her off at school she gets out of our minivan through the sliding door on the passenger side.  She usually can’t close the door herself so I always ask her to close it enough so I can reach it from the driver’s seat and slide it the rest of the way.

Yesterday am She got out of the car, stood and looked at me as I said “goodbye, have a nice day at school.”  It had been a tough morning – we were all a bit edgy.  “Please slide the door a little bit my way so I can reach it, honey.”  She slid the door a couple centimeters and walked off.  “Hey, please get back here and close the door.”  A couple more centimeters.  I shot her a dirty look, got out of my seat, closed the door.  She walked off.  Button.  Pushed.

I sat in the car and watched her walk away.  Usually when I do this I think about how much I love her, but this am all I could think about was retaliation.  But my hard-core negative feelings for her had nothing to do with what just went down, and everything to do with my buttons, which unfortunately, had just called the shots in a difficult situation.

This was one of those rare mornings however when I stopped to think about what really happened – what was underneath it all.  Sure, she was intentionally disrespectful, and we dealt with that later, but she’s a good kid.  She’s not my enemy, and there’s no misbehavior that we can’t work through.

Thinking about my buttons above her infraction brought me peace and forgiveness, for both of us, and a greater vision for how to make sure my kids are always beautiful to me.