The psychological term is splitting, more commonly known playing one parent against the other. All kids do it, my husband reminds me. Even Sophia.
Sophia and I are at the supermarket. I’m comparing prices of little boxes of organic milk. (Though expensive, it’s cheaper than buying a new fresh half-gallon each week we go up to my mother’s and stay overnight. And, I’m suspicious of the “Skim Plus!” she buys. Just the thought of drinking milk with a thickening agent to make it taste more like whole milk makes me ill. But I digress.) Sophie spies the milk in the red boxes…vanilla-flavored organic milk. The one that has a whopping 29 grams of sugar per serving. A treat she once had while we were out to dinner with friends. "I want THAT ONE!" she demands, pointing to the box. I say something to the effect of, “over my dead body,” (not a verbatim quote, but similar in sentiment).
Had she not been in the grocery cart, she would have most definitely thrown herself on the ground sobbing and cursing my name. Confined to her seat, she merely wailed and lamented her vanilla milk-less fate. Only two strategies work in a situation like this: ignoring and distraction. Ignoring is hard in a grocery store at 5:30 pm when you and every other mother within a 10-mile radius is shopping for dinner. I can’t just leave her there and continue to peruse the isle…and it IS a little embarrassing to have her go on in this way. So I go for distraction. I pull a bottle of lemonade off the shelf and say, “I’m getting daddy lemonade. Perhaps I will let you have some as a treat, sometime [watered down, of course].” The tantrum comes to a screeching halt and Sophie grins, “Daddy lets me have LOTS and LOTS of lemonade.”
This comment comes on the heels of an early morning confession. When Kevin and I went to pull her out of her crib today, the first thing she announced was that she ate dinner at the neighbor’s house and had lemonade to drink with her daddy. I glanced at Kevin, who admitted, it was true. She did.
Perhaps this requires a little backstory: A less rigid parent than I might be wondering, “What’s wrong with lemonade?” I have a couple issues with juice. First of all, there is the sugar content (the particular variety I pulled off the shelf has 32 grams per serving). It is near impossible to brush Sophia’s teeth. Only recently have I stopped sitting on top of her, prying her mouth open and doing the best job I can while Kevin reads Curious George Takes a Job (or another ultra-sexy book). So, I fear the day we go to the dentist and he has to sedate her while he drills every pearly little tooth in her mouth. Then there are the empty calories. Back in the day, when Sophia ate very poorly, I was loathe to have her fill up on any kind of drink and then refuse a more nutritious meal…so it was water, milk or nothing. Since she’s been eating a variety of healthy foods and is solidly in the 10th-25th percentile for weight, I’ve relaxed…but I still prefer her to drink bone-building milk or plain-old hydrating water. And then there is cultivation of taste. I know that kids who don’t drink milk, don’t develop a taste or appreciation for it. They are less likely to select it as a drink option on their own later in life, and therefore tend to be more deficient in the nutrients it provides. So it goes beyond the here and now for me. It has to do with laying a foundation for healthy life choices.
That evening, at home, I told Kevin what Sophia said. I related the story with a knowing grin that communicated, “I know you’ve been giving her juice behind my back.”
Kevin was offended. “She’s splitting us.” He told me. “She’s telling you what she thinks will manipulate you into giving her more juice.”
I still didn’t believe him. I believed her. After all, her impulse to report her experience these days was so great she’d save up a detail…like having juice at the neighbors…all night long and blurt it out with pure joy at the first sight of me.
Kevin read my skepticism and explained why it was so offensive. “It’s true that left to my own devices, I wouldn’t be as restrictive as you are with the juice. But I think your rationale is sound, and I’ve bought into it wholesale. I fully support you on this. When we’re in our own house, I do exactly as you wish. But occasionally, when we’re somewhere else and if everyone is having juice…and another parent gives it to her, I don’t force the issue. We’re guests in their home. I’m not going to push back.”
I listened to him. And it’s true. Kevin does support me on this. And not just on the juice issue but the unprocessed, organic food issue. And the tv issue. And countless other issues/ preferences I have when it comes to raising Sophia.
I consider myself to be lucky on this. Because what it comes down to it’s not the individual issues that are important, but the united front that we present on these individual issues. The power resides with us, the parents. Sophia is not a wedge between Kevin and I, but a shared joy. Sophia feels secure in knowing that there are rules consistently enforced.
So the next time Sophia pulls out the divide and conquer strategy and tells me that daddy gives her lots and lots of juice (or ice cream, or lollypops) with the very high hope that I will “follow suit,” the knowing grin will be directed at her, not Kevin. And I’ll probably say something like, “Daddy and I talked about this and we agree….”