Something more than a little odd happens almost every time we drop the kids off after their weekend with us. Before the tires of our car even hit the other household’s driveway, the bribes are being wheeled into the driveway, ready to flaunt beneath the kids’ noses like red flags: bikes, scooters, toys, water globes (that one was not exactly a hit), gifts and presents of all kinds that apparently simply cannot wait until the kids say good-bye and go into the house. Nope, the bribes must be bestowed immediately, right there in the driveway. (Soon these individuals will probably crawl into the car with us, maniacally shoving cash and prizes into the kids’ faces, but so far it hasn’t quite escalated to that level of insanity. Yet.)
At first I just thought it was terribly (but not surprisingly) rude, interfering with the kids’ time to say good-bye to their father and deal with their uneasy transition from one parent to another household. It struck me as downright obscene if one of the kids was crying, clinging to their father, while the incessant chants of “But look what we bought youuuuuu” never ceased from the sidelines.
Now, however, it makes me feel sorry for any parent who is forced to offer up bribes. It clearly says, “I am not secure in my role as a parent. Therefore I will spend copious amounts of money and meet you at the car with presents in hopes that at least until your father leaves, you seem excited to be here with me instead.”
It is a desperate, more than slightly pathetic ploy in a self-fabricated contest, where parenting skills, maturity, and sensitivity to the kids’ feelings are mindlessly sacrificed in a one-sided race to be the funnest parent. As Jessica Goldstein put it in her article, 7 Tips From a Child of Divorce: “Parents, do not bribe your kids. …You want them to come to your house because they want to see you; you don’t need to lure them there with fancy video games and lax house rules. It feels desperate, not strong.”
One of the most preposterous lies crapped out of certain people’s mouths during this ongoing circus was that the children cry when they “have to” go see their father. I laughed out loud at that imaginative piece of wishful thinking. Indeed! I have seen the kids risk life and limb to damn near dash into oncoming traffic to be next to their father NOW, and I have seen them literally and painfully cling to his shirt with all their might when they are not ready to let go at the end of their time with him. I have tried to comfort them during an entire hour-long car ride when they are not ready to leave their father yet. Cry because they are being forced to see him? Get real. Yet another example of the kids’ feelings being shoved aside as long as someone else can personally benefit from toying with them and manipulating them like weapons.
One thing I have never witnessed is Gary meeting the kids in the driveway with elaborate presents, shoving them beneath the kids’ noses and oohing and ahhing, urging them to come see what else he bought them.
He doesn’t have to.
Yesterday, I sat in the car and watched Gary’s five-year-old daughter grasp his arm the entire drive back to their other household, even when she briefly fell asleep, holding onto him and nearing tears the closer we got to what she already knew would be good-bye. It is natural for the kids to feel sad when they are going to be involuntarily deprived of a loved parent for two weeks, yet she isn’t permitted to share her feelings, isn’t allowed to cry openly and show how upset she is about leaving her father once she exits the car. Nah, there are gifts to be crammed into her face, and sweet sentiments like “Good lord, you’ll see him again” to be snapped at her impatiently in a disgusted tone.
Three years later, there are raw, unhealed wounds for the kids because their feelings have not been prioritized. What they need has been shoved beneath the thick, suffocating rug of ego, lies, and manipulation.
Each time we drop them off, I watch the parading of presents, gifts, ultimately bribes. Perhaps if children were not lied to, used, twisted, and mangled, it would not be necessary to buy pieces of them back.
*Photo courtesy of videogum.com*