Expressway: Daughters, Dad and the art of the deal

Seth Skolnik with his daughters, Sophie, left, and Seth Skolnik with his daughters, Sophie, left, and Emma Photo Credit: Skolnik family photo

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My son and his two daughters, ages 2 and 5, came from California recently to visit us in Rockville Centre. Work obligations kept their mother from joining them.

Although outnumbered, my son, a corporate executive, believed he was up to the challenge -- and I don't mean just their normal care and feeding.

So often, I was struck by the persistent adversarial stances taken by both my son and his kids. Successful unilateral decisions by my son about a host of routine activities were rare. Resistance ranged from inattention to inaction to outright verbal protest. My wife intervened at times and her mediation efforts did ease tensions. Negotiations, however, were the order of the day. I recall that although I never won outright with the grandchildren, I could usually outmaneuver them. Getting concessions from the kids required all the skill and patience their father could muster.

As an observer, I first lamented the decline of uncontested parental authority and then realized that I never really possessed such power with my own four spirited children.

When resistance surfaced during the visit, only some form of triangulation seemed able to resolve differences.

With breakfast on the table, the kids insisted the meal be delayed until a cartoon they were watching ended. When placed on seats, the girls decided these were not the ones they wanted, so transfer negotiations were required. Offered apple juice, they wanted orange juice. But they would not drink the juice until given a straw, which had to be purple or blue.

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And so it continued each day. Getting dressed was another challenge. The younger one insisted she'd only wear a diaper with a bear design. She'd accept no other animal.

Unfortunately, my son had only one of these left, so he pretended to use the "bear," only to substitute another pattern at the last second.

He would then suggest a particular shirt. She wasn't buying it. What followed was a thorough review of all available shirts until she finally settled on one. Getting socks on didn't go smoothly, either. The older one was fully capable of putting them on, but preferred that her father do it. He thought otherwise. Negotiations followed. Each did one sock.

Going out usually involved a battle over stroller occupancy. Which one would get to sit in it? Diplomacy generally prevailed here, though at times, both crammed in together. At the Creative Child toy store on Sunrise Highway, the struggles continued until items were finally acceptable to all.

In sum, peace and progress came only after a process of deliberation. Each side understood the "rules" of the game and how to pursue their objectives. Most outcomes were generally accepted, as all were confident that they had not surrendered, but merely compromised.

As I watched my grandchildren and son, I realized they had found ways to reach agreements, as each side eventually retreated from original intransigent positions.

It occurred to me that our polarized national political leaders should examine such family dynamics. They should take a lesson from how American parents and their children learn to deal with one another and get things done.

Reader Richard Skolnik lives in Rockville Centre.

Look for the Expressway reader essay Saturdays in Newsday. Send your personal story about life on Long Island to expressway@newsday.com, or write to Expressway, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, N.Y. 11747. Please limit essays to 540 words. Some essays are published in the newspaper and newsday.com, some are used online only; publication is not guaranteed. Readers are not paid for essays. Essays will be edited and may be used in all media.

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