AN ALL-TOO-TRUE ONE ACT PLAY IN THREE SCENES
Jenny, 38, is the mother of Jesse, 11 and Joshua, seven. She works part time as an advertising sales rep for a local newspaper. On the side, she writes a restaurant review column on small, little-known restaurants called Hole in the Wall and she also writes poetry for herself. She reads lots of books on parenting. Her husband, Jim, an account executive at an ad agency, usually gets home just before bed-time.
Wheedle, Cajole, Repeat and When in Doubt, Bribe
Jenny is cutting salad for dinner. She wants to get rid of the few dishes in the sink but sees that the dishwasher is full -- and clean. She asks Jesse to unload it.
Jesse: I'm hungry. I need a snack.
Jenny: But we're about to have dinner.
Jesse: Don't worry. I'll have something healthy. I'm really hungry.
Jesse takes out cheese, crackers and Honey Nut Cheerios and sits down at the table to have his snack.
Jenny: C'mon, Jess. It's been ten minutes. Unload the dishes, please.
Jesse: I'm still eating.
A few minutes later, Josh discovers the two cardboard boxes full of canned and packaged foods that Jenny bought in case the Y2K bug disrupted food supplies. He pulls them into the living room from the pantry.
Josh: Look! We still have all this stuff! What should we do with it? Can we take what we want?
Jenny: Your dad and I decided that we should give it away to charity. Just leave it alone.
Jesse: (rifling through the box) I really want this bag of almonds.
Jenny: Alright, why don't you each pick out one thing that you want. And we'll give the rest away.
Jesse opens his package of almonds and keeps eating.
Five minutes later:
Jenny: Jesse, I really need you to unload the dishwasher.
Jesse: I will, Mom, I promise.
Jenny: C'mon, I'm tired of waiting. (Completely exasperated) Okay. If you two can get that dishwasher unloaded by the time I count to 60, you can each pick out two things.
Both boys run to the dishwasher. By the time she gets to 55, they yell, "Done!"
Josh finds Jesse's juggling balls on the living room floor and puts them on the heater to see what will happen.
Jesse walks into the room, takes the juggling balls off of the heater and screams: "What are you doing?" He slams Josh's back.
Jenny: Jesse! Stop it. There's no hitting in this house! Go to your room. Take your juggling balls and get out of here. .
Jesse: You always side with him! You saw what he did.
Jenny: I don't care. We don't hit in this house. If you have a problem you discuss it.
Jesse: I hate you! You never stick up for me -- never. You say how you love me. You're a big liar!
Jenny: You are not allowed to call me a liar.
Jesse: I don't care what you say.
Jenny: You go to your room and stay there for an hour. You're grounded.
Jesse goes to his room. Jenny watches TV with Josh. The two of them snuggle under a blanket. She hears a noise and goes to Jesse's room. The window is open and he is gone.
A couple of hours later Jesse calls and tells her he's at his friend Steve's house and he'll be home in an hour.
Jenny says fine because she's so relieved that Jesse's okay.
Later that night after Jesse's return:
Jenny: I want to talk to you about what happened.
Jesse: I don't want to talk about it. Leave me alone.
He goes to his room and slams the door.
Jenny puts her hand over her eyes, shakes her head and walks away.
Josh needs help with his homework.
Jenny: If you want me to help you, it's time to do it now.
Josh: I'm not ready. I'm busy
Jenny: Well I'm going to go do the dishes and then I'm going to sleep.
Josh: Wait till after this show.
Jenny: Now. Otherwise I can't do it with you.
Josh: Don't be like that, Mommy. You know I love this show. It's my favorite.
Jenny: I want to go take a shower. Either now or forget it.
Josh: This show is almost over. Can't you wait? Can't you have some patience? Can't you care about me a little bit?
Jenny: Alright, I'll wait ten minutes until the end of the show.
Ten minutes later:
Jenny: Okay, let's do your homework.
Josh: I'm too tired.
Jenny: You're going to flunk school. You've got to do it.
Josh: Can't you do it for me?
Jenny: No. And if you'd stopped watching TV, you could have done it. Now I hope you get in trouble with your teacher.
I don't know what's wrong with me. I read all the parenting books. I read the magazines. I know that it's important to set limits and be consistent. I know what I'm supposed to do. I just don't seem to be able to do it.
To tell you the truth, I hate this part of being a mom. I hate having to always be telling them what to do -- to say please, to say thank you, to brush their teeth, do their homework, etc. etc. ad nauseum. It seems like nothing ever becomes a habit with them. I hate having to enforce rules. I'm just not good at discipline.
I guess it's partly because I didn't have models. My parents were totally lenient with me. I had no chores, no rules, no nothing. But I was a good kid. I did what I was supposed to do.
I know it's important to give my kids structure. They have chores because I think it's important for them. But they don't do them unless I nag -- and even then, not always. We have rules, but what good are they if I can't enforce them?
I'm just not much of an authority figure. I was a substitute teacher for a while and I gave it up because I couldn't control the kids.
My older sister tells me I'm raising a bunch of spoiled brats who have me wrapped around their little fingers. I resent her for saying that, but she's not that far from the truth.
I want to be firm. I want to be consistent. But something stops me from being that way. I just don't know what to do.
My mother is so annoying. She has no idea of how to take care of kids. She reads all these parenting books that don't even help her and thinks she knows everything. She has no patience whatsoever. She favors my younger brother. She gives me too many chores. And she's greedy. She won't let us eat food that she doesn't even need -- like the Y2K stuff. She makes me do everything. And she thinks she's doing such a big favor for us by staying home instead of working full time.
My mom thinks I can do everything and punishes me if I don't. She doesn't do anything to my younger brother if he bothers me, ruins my stuff or doesn't do what she says. He wrecked up my juggling balls and she didn't even care. So I had to beat him up to teach him a lesson.
She thinks by bribing, she trains us. She makes me do my homework but when my brother doesn't, she lets him finish watching his show and then gives him time and doesn't do anything to him.
I don't listen to her because she makes me do stuff that I don't want, has no patience, and is edgy and annoying. She doesn't care about me. She doesn't do any favors for me and doesn't like me sometimes.
She won't let me finish stuff that I start. If she would ask very nicely, be patient, look at me to make sure I don't have the urge to go on to another round on the computer, and if she would like me, then I would probably listen to her.
She has very unfair punishments that I have to get out of somehow before I have a nervous breakdown. Thank God she was worried about me for once so I wasn't punished that badly when I snuck out the window.
She would be a better mother if she would let me finish things I started, pay attention to me, showed me love and didn't favor my brother and didn't think she was the best parent ever. And started acting on her instincts, not a book.
I would clean my room if she would help me, encourage me, and try to make it fun. And I would do my homework if she would sit by me and help me with the stuff I don't know. Sometimes she doesn't even believe me that I don't have homework.
So Mom, in short, have more patience, be more encouraging, be more positive, make stuff fun, pay more attention to me, and don't favor Josh and all in all -- help me.
For a therapist's comments on Jenny's personality, see Deconstructing Jenny.
For a therapist's comments on What Jenny Can Do To Change Her Behavior.