She has the hat. She is wearing the wife's wide-brimmed straw gardening hat, and it is her mushroom cap. Her name is 'Mushy'. Mushroom Ninjas apparently stalk around the house and pounce on fuzzy things and eat them. Everywhere I go, the mushroom stalks me.
Yes, the wife is at work. I think she looks at it as a break. She plays her music CD's, and cleans, and comes home tired, yet curiously rested. And no, she's not getting laid there. I'm pretty sure, anyway.
No, she has no boundaries with the kids, and lets them devour her emotionally. Me, I keep them at arms length, and run them off when I get tired of them. Here's your choice, play quietly by yourself, or go to bed. They wouldn't dream of coming into my room without permission, let alone get into bed with me because they 'had a bad dream'. I got your bad dream right here, baby.
So, I send the wife away alone, a lot, so she can have some her time, and recharge. It can be as simple as going to the store alone, or out to a tea shop with a girlfriend, or she can go off into the woods or to a religious retreat for a few days.
I 'neglect' the kids a lot. By which I mean, I stay out of their faces, and let them be kids. I don't understand parents who smother their kids with attention, and turn them into little companion animals, and never give them the time to be alone with themselves, and figure out who they are.
I present them with options: toys, books, movies, controlled TV, computer games, and I let them fend for themselves. They will occasionally drop by, knock on the door, and give me a hug. Update me on what they are doing. Ask me for food. I don't feed them, in general, unless they ask for it. I'm against wasting food, and sometimes, if they are in a growth spurt, they'll eat all day, and sometimes they just aren't interested at all.
I keep cottage cheese, and mozzarella sticks, and trail mix, and graham crackers and such in the house, and I'll put a plate out on the table, and they can forage. Lots of dried fruit.
If you think parenting is hard, you're doing it wrong. By the time they become a teenager, they should already know all of your boundaries, have complete respect for you, and believe you when you say something because you always follow through, and that sometimes, you get a little bit...crazy.
Repeated hitting with a certain toy should result in said toy being consumed in a merry fire, while you dance around it whooping like a wild indian. Kids tend to remember stuff like that.
Short of mental illness on the part of the child, I hear parents tell me that their kids 'changed' when they became teenagers, just tells me that the kid finally noticed how fucked up their parents are.
This evening, Johnny and I will watch football together. We will cuddle on the couch, and Nat may join us. This'll give the wife her time to go to her room and play her piano, or read, or whatever.
Or, she may join us for a while. She may clean, but the point is, it's her time to do with what she will.
I am going to watch football anyway, and it is a perfect opportunity for me to give time to the kids without putting myself out. And I kinda enjoy it.
We have deliberately set up the kids to fail, in order to teach them not to. I noted a while ago that the wife was coming home frazzled from trips to the store with the kids. And I'd hear the kids acting like little assholes over the phone when she'd call home. So I sat her down one day, and laid out the new regime:
You tell the kids that if they act out in the car, you will turn around and bring them straight home.
And you do it.
You put two inexpensive treats that they get to pick themselves, in the basket when you first enter the store, and tell them that if they piss you off in any way, the item goes back on the shelf.
And you do it.
You tell them that if they pitch a fit over you putting the item back, you are leaving the cart right there and taking them straight home, where Daddy will rain painful vengeance down upon their heads.
And you do it.
The store has people they pay money to to reshelf those items, and you shouldn't have to do it more than a couple of times.
Have a designated sitter for restaurant trips. This is someone, the other parent or a friend, that you have worked out in advance who will be the one to take the child out to the car and sit with them while they watch the rest of the family eat through the window. I deliberately choose a booth in front of where I parked the car for just such an event.
This should not have to be used more than once. It is horrible for everybody, but remain stoic, be tough, and the other kids'll get the message, too.
Each one of my kids has pitched a fit exactly once in a store, sitting down and screaming and refusing to come to me.
So I leave. Bye. Have a nice day, enjoy your new family.
I run and hide, and watch as they slowly come to the realization that they're not in Kansas any more. As sympathetic giants who think I'm a nasty beast loom over them and make sympathetic noises at them. I catch the eye of store staff, and they grin, and play along. They hate screaming kids.
If your child pockets something, set things up with the manager, and then take them into the office and scare the shit out of them.
If you find it at home, call ahead, then take them back and make them give it back, pay for it anyway with their birthday money, and apologize to every employee in the place for stealing from them.
I make mine write an apology note, too.
So, there you go. Sally forth and parent.
Civilization will thank you for it one day.