Monday, March 26, 2012

Parental Cookies

I just bought Paul Reiser’s book, “Familyhood,” and I’ve been reading it on my Kindle. Boy, is he right on target. He is definitely the kind of parent that I can relate to. He does the best he can, sometimes he screws up, he tries to learn from his parents’ (and his own) mistakes, he’s not always 100% on the same page with his spouse, and despite everything he does, his kids seem to be growing up okay. I can identify with all of that.

One other thing he talks about that I can absolutely identify with is the “parental cookie.” You know how every now and then something happens or your kid says or does something that makes you feel like you’re doing pretty okay as a parent, something that gives you that burst of joy and satisfaction that gets you through the temper tantrums and the slammed doors and the “I hate you! I wish you weren’t my mom/dad!” moments? Yup, those little rewards are parental cookies.

Here are some examples of parental cookies I’ve experienced in the past few months:
·        My son had just said thank you for something, and I said to him, “I love it when you’re so polite,” and he responded, “I love you too, Mama.”

·        My daughter was in her playpen and started crying, and my son brought her one of his trucks and told her in a very sweet voice, “Don’t be sad, don’t cry. Here’s a toy for you.”

·        On several occasions, my son has presented my husband, me, or one of his grandparents with a picture he’s colored or painted, and announced proudly, “I made this for you!”

·        My daughter, in the middle of a crying jag, sometimes will spy my husband or I and suddenly stop crying and break into a huge grin of delight.

Those “cookies” may seem like small rewards, but they’re what make all the work and struggle and strife of parenting worthwhile. It’s what I learned about in psychology class in 11th grade called intermittent reinforcement. You never know when the reward will come or what it will be, but you know that if you keep working at it, eventually you’ll get one. You keep eating your broccoli and your Brussels sprouts and your lima beans in the hopes that this is the day mom decides to offer cookies for being in the clean plate club. Some days you down the Brussels sprouts for nothing, but other days you end up with a cookie. You never know which day it will be, so you keep eating those Brussels sprouts to be sure you never miss a cookie.

I love my parental cookies, and I don’t want to miss out on a single one of them, ever!

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