I recently wrote a sort of poem to single parents over at Dad Revolution (with typos and no rhyme or meter). I do not want to renege on that declaration of love and as far as I am concerned my opinion stands despite what I am about to write.
I have a hypothesis and a very unscientific approach to proving it. I believe that with all variables staying the same, a child is more apt to behave in the presence of one parent than if both are present.
I know. This has Noble prize written all over it and who really cares if I am not the first to think of it.
My son has a gift, like most toddlers, to smell frustration. Just like dogs smell fear in their master and a class of teenagers can sense weakness in a teacher. He gets you at your most vulnerable. Early morning, when you are sick, after an irritating call and a really bad day at work – he knows and uses it to his full advantage.
When you are alone with him, though, there is really not much room for his skullduggery. He cannot run off calling the other parent’s name or throw a tantrum that breaks one of you first so that you help plead his case in a similar whiny voice to the other.
I had my son all to myself for four days and four nights (as I said my methodology was not scientific per se) and I noticed that there was a remarkable shift of power towards the parent once the little guy saw that he could not play his highly successful “prisoner’s dilemma”-like mind games on me and my wife.
He seemed rather helpless the last two days when his calls for “mommy” echoed through the empty apartment reverberating off the walls unanswered. I caught myself grinning a few times as I realized that I was gaining the upper hand despite the constant ringing in my ears and throbbing in my head. Who needs aspirin when you hold the key to breaking your kid?
My hypothesis was further verified upon my wife’s return. You could see my son’s mind racing behind his fake puppy dog eyes as he held on to my wife for dear life as soon as she walked in the door. The crocodile tears were a master stroke. She consoled him, hugging him tightly and whispering how much she missed him. He gently placed his head on her shoulder and as she turned away his face came into full view. Our eyes met for a brief moment and I felt the power drain from me as I saw that all too familiar twinkle in his eyes. It was good while it lasted, but the power balance had been reestablished in one fell swoop and I suddenly felt exhausted again.