Bargaining with an eight-year-old

I try not to say no to my kids unless there’s a good reason.  Unfortunately for them, a good reason can be anything from “We can’t afford it” to “You don’t need it” to “Leave me alone I’m taking a nap.”  But I try not to be capricious about these things.  If it makes sense, whenever possible I say yes.

Jake’s birthday is tomorrow (how the hell do I have an almost-nine-year-old?), and with about 20 kids and counselors in his camp group I told him yesterday that I’d bring in two-dozen yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  That’s his favorite combination.  Instead of my preferred reply, “You’re awesome Mommy!” he said “But what about all of the kids who like chocolate cupcakes?”  I told him OK, we’ll do chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  “No, some of them will want yellow cupcakes!”  Sigh.

I explained to him that one box of cake mix makes 24 cupcakes, so he had to choose: all yellow, or all chocolate.  And also that anybody who complains about the flavor of free birthday cupcakes should just shut up (I think I said it nicer than that).  He didn’t want to choose, and a very pleasant car ride turned ugly fast.  He got incredibly snotty, told me I didn’t love him, and said that if I didn’t want to make both kinds then he didn’t want to bring in cupcakes at all.  I calmly said fine, his choice.

I don’t reward my kids in any way when they act like that.  I waited for him to calm down, and asked if he had anything to say to me.  He teared up a little and gave me a huge hug and told me he was sorry, so I offered him a compromise: he wanted a yellow cake with chocolate frosting for his party.  I told him that if I could make one layer of that cake chocolate, he could have two kinds of cupcakes.  He said he wanted to think about it.  Such weighty decisions on his head!

A couple hours later my little Hamlet came to me and told me – rather sadly – that it was a deal.  And he thanked me for making the cupcakes and the cake.  The sadness and the un-prompted thank you made me pause for a sec.  It’s his birthday, should I just do it the way he wants, for that one day?

I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, but I do know that I don’t want my kids to take me for granted.  Would baking an extra box of cupcakes make that happen?  Maybe not.  But I’d rather they not grow up with the sense that they get whatever they ask for.  They get way more toys and video games than we would ever buy them because of my job, so saying no to material things just doesn’t come up as much as it used to.  But I want them to know how much time it takes me to do things for them, to keep them in clean clothes (most of the time anyway), and keep the house stocked with food, and take care of the logistics that come with two kids and a husband and a house.  I want them to value other people’s time.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn, Behind the Screen, and Momtourage.


  1. says

    I think you handled it absolutely, 100% correctly. Yes, it’s his birthday, but he was getting special treatment already because of that — the very presence of cupcakes at all! :) And even he figured out that his request was unreasonable. You offered a compromise, too, and that’s a great lesson to teach — that we can sometimes meet in the middle. All in all I think you get a gold star for this one.

  2. Cara Robinson says

    I agree with Toni….you took the extra time and aggrevation to try and teach him something rather than just giving in which despite the extra baking would probably have been the easy way out! Maybe you should write a book about parenting….I would read it.

  3. says

    And after all that, Jake just came downstairs – from bed – to tell me that he wanted all yellow cupcakes and cake and chocolate frosting. He takes this shit seriously.

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