One Saturday night, after having spent all day at a local street fair with a friend, my daughter sent me a text asking for a sleepover. I groaned and showed it to my husband. I LOVE a good sleepover (no I don’t), but I could not bear to see my daughter drooling comatose on the couch the next day yet again, and neither could my husband. He immediately assumed his role as coach.
“Just say no, just do it. Don’t even think about it.”
I looked at him like he was the most brilliant man on earth, because he was.
“You are so right! I need to be swift and decisive, with no waffling.”
It was a Pivotal Moment. Goosebumps appeared on my arms. I texted back a firm, “No, you have soccer tomorrow,” thinking the whole time, “This is what it must feel like to be one of those parents who actually know what they are doing. Maybe I’m not as bad at this as I thought! Go me!”
I put my phone away and moved on with my night, which included dinner with the boys, a birthday party, and Halloween costume shopping at Target. At dinner, my purse appeared to be alive with all of the vibrations and the beeps and the rings coming from within. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I took out my phone and looked at all of her texts. Taken together, they could have been used by a psychologist authoring a book on how to recognize emotional manipulation and what to do about it.
One of my favorite movies is Summer of Sam by Spike Lee, and one of my favorite scenes is towards the end when Mira Sorvino learns her husband John Leguizamo has been regularly cheating on her with his clients from the hair salon. While she is packing her bags, he throws every psychological tool he knows at her to try and get her to stay.
Sympathy: “I am sorry, but baby, I’m not me, OK? I’m f**king going through a lot of shit right now, all right?”
Guilt: “You’re everything in my life and I ain’t got shit. I ain’t got friends. Nothin’. I suck at everything I do. You’re the only f**king thing I have.”
Intimidation: “If you f**king leave here now, don’t expect to come back. You can’t leave me and come back.”
Fortunately, none of these techniques work and Mira throws all of his vinyl disco records out the window of their Bed-Stuy apartment and gives him a surprisingly tender kiss goodbye.
In exactly the same way, my daughter was doing her best to get me to say yes to the sleepover:
Sympathy: “Please Mom? Please? I feel like if we do have a sleepover, we will have an awesome and fun time. I want to become reallllllllllly good friends.”
Guilt: “You want me to be with my friends, don’t you? I love you, come on!”
Intimidation: “Mommy, please, if I don’t sleep over she will leave me! Do if for the sake of the friendship!”
Most Moms and Dads I know are immune to these psychological weapons, but I am not. And my daughter knows it. She knows I am a serial waffler, how I second guess even the simplest of decisions. We recently renovated our bathroom and she watched as I nearly had a stroke selecting a paint color for the walls. She has learned that I can be talked out of anything because I am never sure of anything.
This time, though, I am proud to say that I held my ground. I felt the doubt creeping into my brain during our text exchange, but I kept hearing my husband’s voice, “Just say no, just do it. No waffling.” She returned home that night and the first thing she said to me was, “I’m sorry.” I was amazed. It was like she knew she was taking advantage of my historic waffling, a personality flaw, and was admitting it was wrong! Hooray! I won! I gave her a surprisingly tender kiss goodnight, and was glad I didn’t have to throw anything out the window.