Conditional Love

motivationAs any synagogue-reared thirteen year old knows, becoming a bar or bat mitzvah comes with a set of expectations and rewards. In exchange for applying ourselves, studying Hebrew for several years, and chanting atonally for three hours in front of family and friends, we would be rewarded with a party and an increase in cash flow.

Some bat mitzvah gifts were exciting: checks in multiples of eighteen dollars, bonds in multiples of eighteen dollars, cash in multiples of eighteen dollars. Some gifts were not: the large number of attendees who had a tree planted in Israel in my name. That was the gift. My tweenage mind was blown. What would be next: adopting a stretch of highway in my honor? This was worth writing a thank-you card for? I was under the distinct impression that my efforts would be rewarded with enough money to buy that hair crimper I had my eye on. Instead, I was the reluctant recipient of an arboretum in a country I couldn’t find on a map. My friend Sara got a Sega Genesis for her bat mitzvah (and didn’t even need to write thank-you cards). My reward completely did not match my achievement.

I vowed never to have a bat mitzvah again.

Flash-forward a bunch of years, and I am now the mother of a toddler and a newborn. Like any good parents, my husband and I want our children to be on their best behavior, meet milestones, and avoid dangerous situations, for their own good (and not just because we’re tired of getting kicked out of Friendly’s). But how, how, how do we make them stay? And listen to all we say

We find ourselves in a constant state of bargaining with our toddler, and yes, even our newborn.  These are five types of negotiations that make up our daily life:


1.)   The Crock Exchange: Offering your toddler something unrelated to the task you are asking of them.

Examples: “If you stop eating chewing gum from the subway floor, I’ll let you wear your Minnie Mouse costume to school.”

“If you eat one more bite of dinner, I’ll recite every verse of ‘Chicken Soup With Rice’ instead of omitting the boring ones.”


2.)   The Idol Threat: Using your toddler’s role models as a means of manipulating their behavior.

Examples: “Peppa Pig always says ‘thank you.’”

“If you draw on the wall, Winnie the Pooh will stop loving you.”


3.)   The Success of Excess: Desperately promising your child unlimited bounty in exchange for one simple behavioral modification.

Examples: “Tell Mommy where you hid her cell phone, and she will take off the security code to the iPad.”

“If you stop screaming during the wedding ceremony, I will let you eat every dessert on the Venetian table.”


4.)   The Empty Promise: Getting your child to do something in exchange for something you were going to do anyway.

Examples: “If you stop dropping my hairbrush in the toilet, I will let you wear your jacket, hat, AND your gloves outside!”

“Please put all the books you threw on the floor back on the shelf, and then we can go to nursery school!”


5.)   Penalty Shots: Taking an ordinary daily activity that your child hates and using it as a threat, regardless of whether the punishment fits the crime.

Examples: “Stop pouring bubbles on my computer keyboard, or I’m going to make you brush your teeth three times a day.”

“Put your diaper back on, or you’ll have to take a nice looooooong bath. That’s right- with water!


And if all else fails: Tell your child that if their behavior doesn’t improve, Santa, Hanukkah Harry, Grandma, the Tooth Fairy, and everyone attending their birthday party will, in lieu of presents, plant a tree in Israel in their name.

One thought on “Conditional Love

  1. Another great post, Ali! I should be “sleeping when the baby sleeps,” but laughing while catching up on your blog is a lot more fun! 😉

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