When I was a kid, nothing burned me up as much as when my mother answered my question of “Why?” with, “Because I’m your mother, and I said so!”
When I was a mother, I vowed, I was never going to say that to my children. I was going to give them reasons! And if I couldn’t come up with a reason, well then I shouldn’t be saying what I was saying, should I?
It sounded good. But here’s the problem with always giving kids reasons: They come up with counter-reasons! For example, the other day I had two piles of papers on my bed (yes, that’s a stupid place for piles of papers). In comes my five-year-old and starts to jump on my bed (yes, I allow him to jump on my bed; let’s move on):
Me: Please don’t jump on my bed. I don’t want these piles of papers to get mixed up.
Frankie: I’ll jump lightly. (He demonstrates.)
Me: No, I still don’t want you to.
Frankie: I promise I won’t ruin the piles.
Me: I’m afraid they’ll get mixed up by accident.
Frankie: Then I’ll just bounce a little. (Demonstrates).
Me: I’d prefer you didn’t.
Frankie: But I won’t mess up the piles, so why not?
Me: Because I’m your mother and I said so!
I suppose I should’ve felt bad about saying something I swore I’d never say. But I didn’t. In fact, I felt great. What a wonderful feeling to just decree something and not have to explain myself to death.
But to find out whether I’d just scarred my child for life or given him a good life lesson, I checked in with An Expert, Lynda Ackerman, PsyD, a Lakewood native and mother of one who’s spent over 20 years working with children and families as a teacher, therapist and school psychologist. Read on for her take on which things your mother used to say are a-ok and which ones need a new twist.
Who's in charge here? —>
- “Because I’m your mother and I said so!”
Expert says: Ding, Ding, Ding… Number-one answer!
You (and your mom) will be happy to know that Ackerman not only thinks that this is okay to say, but also that it imparts an important life lesson: that sometimes you have to listen to the person in charge, even when his or her rules seem random.
I still like to give my kids my reason first, but when the counterarguments start, that’s when I resort to this line.
Another thing I’ve found useful is saying, “Asked and answered” if they continue to argue after I’ve given my decree. (Who says a decade of watching Law & Order reruns doesn’t pay off?)
Oh, and in case your kids forget that you’re the mother and you said so, get these handy-dandy magnetic pads to remind them.
What's fair is sometimes… not fair —>
- “Life’s not fair.”
Expert says: Try again.
You punish both your kids for something that one of them swears wasn’t her fault; your son wanted a blue pencil from the prize box at school, and all his friends got one but him; your daughter says she got cut from the team even though she was a better player than those who survived the cut. These are all situations that might prompt your child to say, “That’s not fair!” and cause you to want to respond with the old axiom.
But, according to Ackerman, you shouldn’t. Why not?
First, says Ackerman, “’Life’ is confusing to a little kid. What does that mean? There’s life and death… it’s too general. Kids don’t understand it. And who wants to grow up thinking that?”
The thing you really want to get across is that “you don’t get what you want all the time,” Ackerman says. “It’s not ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’—there’s a reason” things happened a certain way, even if you don’t agree with that reason.
Saying so is probably enough in cases like the “unfair” punishment or prize box issue. In the case of the team cut, Ackerman advises saying something like, “You’re right, that wasn’t a fair decision, but we have to live with it. This person is the rules maker, and we have to accept her authority.”
Of course, if you think something is grossly unfair and should be rectified, you can speak up (and encourage your child to do so), but in most cases, Ackerman asserts, kids “need to accept the reality that sometimes things happen in a random way, and you have to accept authority; that’s part of growing up.”
"I walked to school, uphill, both ways…" —>
- “When I was your age….”
Expert says: Don't go there.
I was surprised to hear this come out of my mouth recently. My daughter was complaining about setting the table for dinner, and I exploded with, “When I was your age, I did twice as many chores as you do! And I never complained about them!” (I’m sure my mother would have been equally surprised to hear that last part).
But making such comparisons, Ackerman says, is not helpful. It would be like your mom comparing your childhood to Abraham Lincoln’s. It also makes them feel angry and not good enough—and it makes you seem even more of an alien being than they thought you were.
Again, Ackerman says the key is to remember what you want to get across. In this case, you want to convey that you have certain expectations that they need to meet.
So the next time your child complains about doing a chore (and you know there will be a next time), Ackerman suggests saying something like, “In our house, we have chores. This is what I’m asking you to do, and what I’m expecting of you.”
Keep it to yourself? —>
- “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Expert says: Ding, ding, ding…. Another number-one answer!
Ackerman thinks this is a great line and important life lesson. In this age of email and texting, kids don’t have enough of a filter, Ackerman says. This line is one way to encourage them to use a filter before they speak, sifting out anything unkind.
Mom really knew what she was talking about with this one. Thanks, Mom!