Monday, January 4, 2010

Manipulation; it's Human Nature

I was reminded that even little kids can manipulate pretty effectively when I stayed with grandchildren on New Year's Eve. The manipulation isn't malicious; it's human nature. It can be endearing and also exhausting.
It can become just another power struggle. And a reminder that limits and boundaries are important for any relationship.

I have been told recently that I should "do whatever, to survive" in reference to changing the limits while staying with my grandchildren. This is a huge boundary issue since grandparents are supposed to do what their kids wish when watching their offspring. And it's hard and it is frought with mixed messages. So instead of "following the rules" of the household, being able to bend the rules means grandparents have some license. And that is often necessary to survive. So, thanks to my son and boy, do I bend the rules. Really cuts down on the power struggles on both ends and it is a lot less fatiguing for the babysitter. I don't have to set-up those ridiculous scenarios where anybody has to pretend that the rules are enforced and I can use my judgement and my own experience and wisdom and tolerance levels for how the encounter plays out.

It is interesting to see a three year old in manipulative-mode. First, there is the parting, such sorrow. "Don't leave me; why can't I go? " and the crying and the teeth-gnashing. The minute the offenders leave however, it's "party!! ", complete with the announcement and the dance and the requests for all those off-limit activities. Chips and cookies, juice ( not diluted ) and then there is the remote.
I can use my best judgement about what is appropriate to watch and I can even bend the proverbial rules about what time to turn it off. But the problem is often finding the saved video that is requested. Thankfully, the three year old knows just how to use the complicated technology. And we are installed in front of a fascinating and well- watched Disney story. So well- watched that the songs are memorized and so are the scenes, line by line. Boring but for watching the three year old revel in what she perceives as a major coup in the manipulation. She doesn't know that it's all okay with the adults, parents included. Movie over, the biggie is bedtime.

So the bedtime has been moved from 8:30 to 11:00pm and it's okay. "Grandma, you have to come to bed with me now." I have coaxed with lights out and plenty of blankets, in front of that T.V. " just shut your eyes and we can listen to the story and songs " to no avail. We move to the youth bed. It's a good thing that I am not a BIG grandma. We are down for the count, after exactly re-arranging every lovey and sleeping pal that will fit in there with us. Next comes the talking, pretty much non-sense because it IS after 11:00pm after all. I think I forgot to mention the last pee-pee and of course she didn't want to go but boy did she need to. And the last glass of warmed -up milk and then the teeth-brushing, again.

So I put on the CD player and the music is inviting me to sleep. But every time I move, there is a little hand that grips on tight. Finally, I hear baby number two crying for his next bottle and I have to go pee-pee too. I wait quietly for that heavenly steady breathing which is the signal that I can depart and as I gingerly move one leg over her, of course I have the wall- side ( the better to trap you in here, Grandma ), I hear in a very self-assured tone, " Grandma, I am not through with you yet. " "Okay, baby, I will be back after I go to the bathroom ( and feed your brother )".

So mission accomplished. No hysterics and the rules have been broken and I have not betrayed my kids because they gave me permission to bend the rules. Everyone is back in their own sleeping quarters and fed and peed and I get a great big thanks when Mom and Dad finally get home. I report on the splendid evening and hear, " But you have no idea how difficult it is with these two kids." I know just how difficult it is, because I did the same thing thirty years ago and it doesn't get any easier and the manipulation, on all ends, really doesn't change. Not a bit. The beat goes on.....