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And my profit on’t is, I know how to ask earnest questions

July 7, 2012

I am a feminist. Freud pisses me off. But as a parent, I know that my children aren’t my clones, and what I imagine for them may not be what happens to them or what they make happen.

Still, I was pretty bummed when, at an early meeting, Honey Badger’s therapist, He of the Soothing Voice, told my peerless spouse and me that Honey Badger is desperate for connection and that he is so afraid of rejection that he pushes people away rather than risk being the one who’s pushed. Which is to say, “fort da.” Honey Badger is playing fort da. If he announces that he knows all women really want a penis, I may lose it. But I let the “fort da” thing slide because HSV’s explanation did seem to make sense and also because I have learned that disagreeing with HSV results in a very long discourse on how what HSV said is right and what I said shows how misguided I am. I care less about the explications of my wrongness than I do about the fact that the meter is running and he is spending $75 of my money to deliver a long-winded rebuke. (I wish there were a short rebuke option, but we’ve never been offered that.)

During the most-recent parent and therapist catch-up session, we talked about homework. I said that I asked Honey Badger as we walked home from the bus if he was going to do his homework. HSV told me that asking that way was failing to show my expectations, that asking if he was going to do it gave him the option of not doing it, and that if his not doing homework was not OK with us, I should ask him something else: Did he want a snack first, was he going to do his homework before or after dinner, or any of a dozen things that I had already tried and that did not work.

I suspected they wouldn’t work when I asked them, but I live in hope. My lack of faith, however, was based on long experience.

When Biff was younger, I discovered that if I gave him two choices, he would usually pick the latter one. So if I wanted a particular response, I would phrase my question accordingly, and he would fall for it, and I felt like I had invented the world’s most brilliant approach to dealing with two-year-olds. Eventually I read Ames & Ilg, who burst my bubble, but even if I hadn’t invented it, I had something that worked, and I was happy.

But when Honey Badger was two, if I wanted him to agree to X,  I found that there was no way to make it happen unless he already wanted to do X. If I asked, “Do you want to do Q or X?” he didn’t miss a beat before replying, “I want to do 6.” The boy sees a world of possibilities, is what I’m saying, and it seems pointless to attempt to promote what I want by pretending that what he wants doesn’t exist. Not doing homework is, in fact, an option, and it’s one he often chooses. It’s also one with negative consequences, and I would just like to get to reminding him about them as efficiently as possible rather than pretending that this is the first I’ve ever heard of a child not doing homework.

Similarly, everything I’d ever heard about the value of pure declarations of empathy as a bonding technique was useful with Biff and seemingly pointless with Honey Badger. When Honey Badger announced in first grade that he didn’t want to do homework, he wanted to play outside, it didn’t help to tell him that yes, I know he likes playing outside more than word study, playing is really fun, it’s such a nice day. And he would say that if I really knew that, if I really felt his pain, then why was I telling him he needed to do his homework? But guess what HSV suggested we do, years after we’d learned it was not going to fly?

I am perplexed by the improvement in Honey Badger’s behavior, honestly. Why does does it help to spend 45 minutes a week with someone who does not seem to be wise to his ways? And why are we occasionally brought in to talk to HSV so that he can tell us things we already know and ignore us when we try to tell him that we read the standard books about how to relate to children and if they worked, we wouldn’t be in his office?

At least the books let me figure out what to say when HSV was informing us how important it is that we not accept Honey Badger’s refusal to do homework. “‘Not accepting it,'” I repeated, nodding my head slightly. “What would that look like?”

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