By: Shannon Ralph
I am in the midst of a grand scheme. A plot I devised with complete confidence that it could not fail. It would not fail. Ruanita signed onto my plan, no doubt impressed by my innovative thinking and sexy bravado. Life was about to change on Columbus Avenue. My children were going to sleep in their own beds. After weeks of not one…not two…but all three children sleeping in my bedroom every night, I was completely confident that I could turn the tides. Our bedroom would once again belong to Ruanita and me. We would be able to sleep through the night without getting up and stumbling blindly to the bathroom to hand Sophie the toilet paper that was just out of her reach. We would be able to sleep through the night without getting up three times to tuck three separate children —who, by the way, spaced their arrivals just far enough apart to prevent their mothers from entering REM sleep at all on any given night— into sleeping bags strewn around our chair, loveseat, and bedroom floor. No longer would Ruanita, in a state of forgivable exhaustion, forget our agreement that the children were not allowed in our bed and lift Sophie’s lanky body over the edge of the bed and plop it right in the middle of us where she could toss and turn and kick and otherwise bruise me all night long. Once again, we would have a sex life. That elusive marital perk that has managed to evade us for so very long. Things were changing. Life was on the mend. I would not fail in my pursuits.
Confidence is an odd thing. It fills you with a sense of power. A sense that you are infallible. That your ideas are nothing short of golden. Confidence is a strong force. Unfortunately, the will of my children is a stronger force. And confidence can be shaken when it comes up against a wall as sturdy as that of my children’s resolve.
So what is this grand scheme that seemed so foolproof a few short days ago? It’s simple really. I decided to employ that most basic of parental tactics: Bribery. We sat our children down and offered them a deal. For one week, we would pay them to stay in their own beds at night. Cold, hard cash. For one week, we would offer them each one dollar for every night they slept in their own beds. At the end of the week, they had the possibility of earning $7.00 and on Friday evening, we would take them to Target to spend their money. One week would not solve all of our woes, but my belief was that once my children slept in their own beds for a week, they would gain the confidence necessary to stay there for good. I was simply using cash to reinforce a behavior that we desired. Classical Pavlovian conditioning.
Lucas received a Skylanders video game for the Wii for his birthday. It’s a weird little video game that requires kids to buy small figurines of dragons and trolls and gnomes and other odd little creatures that are placed on a “Portal of Power,” thereby allowing the kids to play those particular characters in the game. Basically, a gimmick to make parents not only fork over $60 for the game, but also buy all of the additional characters their child is sure to want to collect. And, conveniently, the characters cost about $7.00 apiece. Did my children’s newfound obsession with this game figure into my fail-proof plot? Absolutely!
We began our trial run on Thursday evening last week. The first night, all three children slept in their own beds. My plot had worked! They awoke the next morning chattering excitedly about their hard-earned cash. I was a success! Success was short-lived, however. Friday night, Sophie cried hysterically at bedtime that she could not sleep in her own bed. Then she wailed that she would not earn a dollar and it “was not fair!” I explained that coming to Mommy’s room or staying in her own bed was a choice. A choice only she could make. She was welcome in our room, but she would not earn a dollar. Needless to say, this was not a choice she was happy with and our struggle continued night after night with bedtime becoming nothing short of a hellish experience where Sophie was concerned. To date, she has earned $2 total. And the second one was a total fluke.
Lucas did quite well the first three nights. Amazingly, his late-night claims of anxiety disappeared when cash was involved. No longer was he coming out of his room multiple times to tell us that he was scared to go to sleep. He put on his headphones, rolled over, and was snoring in no time. Who needs weeks and weeks of therapy when cold, hard cash is much more effective? That is, until Sunday evening. He had his birthday party on Sunday and, in addition to a bunch of great presents, he also received $20 in cash. Apparently, he did the math in his head and quickly discovered that he could buy three new Skylanders with his $20 plus the additional $3 he had earned sleeping in his own bed. Three Skylanders were enough for him. He was done with our grand experiment. He did not need more money. Once again, he was coming to bed with us.
Nicholas is currently our last man standing. With Christmas past and no birthday in sight, Nicholas’ only shot at earning money is to sleep in his own bed. As a future con man and master manipulator, money talks where Nicholas is concerned. Not once has he questioned the deal. Not once has he argued about going to bed. Not once has he tiptoed to our bedroom in the middle of the night. I even found him asleep on the living room couch one morning, no doubt awakened during the middle of the night but coherent enough to choose cash over his parents’ warm embraces. I have no doubt he will endure until the bitter end. Come Friday night, he will most certainly have $7 to spend at Target. And come next week, I am equally confident that he will return to my bedroom.
So…what to think of my grand scheme? A failure? A partial success? What lesson did I teach my children? That there are rewards for good behavior? Not a bad lesson, really. That there is value in earning money on your own merit? Again, a decent lesson for young children. That you have choices when it comes to your behavior and you must weigh the pros and cons and choose wisely? Perhaps a bit much for five-year-olds. Or perhaps the only lesson learned through this experience was that Mommy could be bought and bad behavior, if continued long enough, will result in financial gain.
Okay…maybe it wasn’t such a “grand” scheme after all.