Jenny Mollen: 'I Stopped Making Empty Threats to My Kids and It Paid Off'
It’s easy to threaten our kids with consequences. It’s a lot harder to follow through. In an exclusive for Parents magazine, Jenny Mollen, actress, author, and wife to Jason Biggs, explains the day that all changed for her.
Plenty of times I’ve threatened to take away dessert, leave a restaurant, or even land a commercial airplane in an attempt to cajole my kids into doing what I wanted. Sometimes my threats have worked. Other times I’ve counted to three only to start over again at one.
Following through on consequences is hard not only because we don’t want to see our children upset but also because we don’t want to be punished too. It’s annoying to leave brunch with friends because your naked toddler is swinging from a chandelier. It’s painful to forgo your child’s half hour of evening TV because that means more time for him to sit and stare at you.
But when we take the path of least resistance—letting kids get away with bad behavior so we don’t have to break our stride—we lose control and credibility.
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Recently, my kids and I were invited to a party at one of their favorite toy stores. Sid, 5, talked about the event for days, thrilled that he would be up past his bedtime, eating cake, and ogling toys for sale.
On the big day, Sid was in rare form. He was overly tired and had been bullying his little brother, Lazlo, 2. I made all kinds of threats, starting with the vow to throw out the rest of his Halloween candy and ending with the promise to leave him home and take only Laz to the event. Nothing seemed to work.
“One, two, two and a half…,” I started in again.
At this point, neither Sid nor my husband, Jason, was listening. But after Sid started maniacally wielding a pair of scissors and running in my direction, I’d had enough. As much as I wanted to take him to the party, I knew I had to set boundaries if I ever expected things to change.
Taking one last breath, I announced to the room that Sid was out of chances and that due to his behavior, he was going nowhere except straight to bed.
Jason’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?” he asked, almost more shocked than Sid.
“Yes,” I replied, trying to remain stoic.
Sid waited for a follow-up. When one didn’t come, he burst into hysterics, flailing around the room, practically hyperventilating. “I’m going to faint! I feel weak!” he said.
Riddled with guilt but also trying hard not to laugh at my overly theatrical son, I made my way out the front door with Lazlo.
Sid chased us down the apartment-building hallway, shoeless, in a last-ditch attempt to guilt me into submission.
“You are breaking my heart!” he cried, beating his chest as the elevator door closed in his face.
Once we were alone, I looked down at Lazlo, who blinked up at me, nonplussed. A triumphant smile crept across my face as my guilt turned to pride.
Not having Sid was bittersweet. I missed him and wished things could have been different. But I had to prioritize his needs over my wants, and telling him no was what he needed to hear.
Later that night, I asked Jason how Sid behaved once we were gone and was both surprised and delighted to learn he was an absolute angel the moment we left. Sure, he was sad, but he understood what had happened and why.
Since the incident, Sid takes a pause before going rogue and ignoring my threats. Insisting on limits was a powerful reminder that while it feels amazing to be the good cop, being a strong parent requires you to be the bad guy too.
Jenny Mollen has two sons, is married to the actor Jason Biggs, and has an avid Instagram following on @jennymollen.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's March 2020 issue as “The Path of Most Resistance.”