Children quickly recognize that a terrific strategy in getting what they want is to divide and conquer. As a child, I could have served as a master sergeant in the training of young cadets who only hoped at accomplishing their goals. I was a ninja, a jedi warrior in getting my way. I had scouting reports on each parent, knowing which requests should go to which parent first.
For example, when it came to questions of outdoor events with a hint of danger, I knew to go to my dad first. He was a softy and was easily influenced by my enthusiasm for whatever activity I was asking permission. He hated to say “no” and break my heart, especially when it involved the “boys will be boys” activities.
I remember one such occasion, running into the kitchen and asking with great excitement and energy, “Dad, my friends are going down the creek to catch crawdads, can I go?” Being such a “guy thing” to do, it was almost impossible for my dad to say “no.” There was no risk of the classic answer, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do that too?” That trap door lay with my mom. Soon I'd be running out the front door to hop on my bike and catch up with my buddies when my mom would yell out from behind, “Where are you going?”
“I am going to the creek,” I'd say, followed by the pre-emptive, “Dad said I could!” This would leave dad with the consequences of not checking with her first.
Another version of the divide and conquer strategy consists of the slight manipulation of parental phrases. An example of such a technique included the time I asked my dad about a detailed plan I had with my friends on one particular weekend. Being overwhelmed with information (a terrific strategy with my dad), he simply answered, “I don't care ... ask your mother.”
In my mind, “I don't care ... ask your mother” was nearly as good as “yes,” an open door to playsville. I immediately hunted down my mom, simplified the information (too much information with mom usually got me nabbed) with a focus on, “Dad said I could go if it's alright with you.” Classic genius.
However, it seems that the tide has turned and the shoe is now on the other foot as my son has figured out this same technique (the teacher is about to become the student). Fortunately for me, he hasn't yet fine-tuned it to perfection. Being a former master of this effort, my son will have to go a long way to successfully beat me at this game. But if he figures out that he doesn't have to beat me individually, that he only needs to split my wife and me, then he will be a formidable opponent.
At rest time today (always a time of negotiation and debate in our house), my son came out of his room early and said, “Daddy, it's time for me to get up from rest time.”
My response, “No, it's too early. You still have more rest time.”
His simple response, “Yes, it's time, momma said.”
And so it begins — game on.
(Editor’s Note: To read more about Matt and his family adventures, visit www.mattryerson.blogspot.com. Matt's column appears in the Cleveland Daily Banner every Wednesday).