Everything I Know About Being a Mom

It's enough already with the trinkets, toys, and trips to the souvenir shop.

Gifts follow first children like fairy dust. In Conrad's case, he'd open his hands for a gift when I'd come home from work, even back when he was 1. Getting a present wasn't just for special occasions, it was a way to spend the afternoon. On one trip to the Bronx Zoo, we tried to skip the gift shop, and Conrad had such a terrible temper tantrum that he vomited in the parking lot. I was pregnant with Dash and swore not to repeat this pattern with my second child. Dash was born into a world where "No" never meant sometimes and shopping wasn't part of our mommy-and-me time.

It was a happy coincidence that when Dash turned 1 and was catching on to the concept of presents and ownership, Conrad started coming home from school repeating, "You get what you get, and you don't get upset." I fed this line to Dash with every lopsided ice-cream cone, less-than-awesome Care Bear doctor's-office sticker, and oddball gift from his grandmother. The difference is that Conrad sees YGWYGAYDGU as a stance. He knows it's how he should be, but it's not what comes naturally. Dash understands that YGWYGAYDGU is a way of life. I blame myself for Conrad's attitude. It's a consequence of having been a toy tease: Some days he got a gift just because, but not always, and he was too young to know why. The randomness was confusing. When I did say "No," it made him campaign even harder. I became frustrated with Conrad's toy tenacity and saw a family therapist who explained that by sometimes giving in, I was unwittingly doing what's known as "intermittent reinforcement," which is even more effective at teaching a child how to behave than consistent reinforcement. Every time I allowed Conrad's pleading to turn a "No" into a "Yes," I made him believe there was a loophole to get what he wanted. Now, I have a bigger challenge with Conrad: I'm readjusting his expectations. My history with Dash is less messy. I shut down his requests and don't even hear the crying. He doesn't waste time on false hope, and I know that he'll be happy with whatever he is given. And if he's not, he'll move on to something else.

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