Tough Decisions and “Ultimatums”


The song, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” came out in 1973, performed by the rock

‘n roll “shock” artist named, Alice Cooper. I happen to enjoy many of his songs,

especially, “Only Women Bleed.” This is a post about setting limits, deciding

where to draw your line in the sand and ‘ultimatums.’

Do ultimatums ever work?

Think back to when you may have been in charge of children, as a parent,

aunt, uncle or presently, you may be living this nightmare. Oh, “Welcome

to My Nightmare” is another favorite of Alice Cooper’s song play list.

Here are some examples when I took a casual poll of my coworkers. They

were ‘all about it,’ when I introduced the subject matter.

I told my tablemates about some examples of poor discipline, which come

back to ‘haunt’ me when my kids get together and start talking about their

own children’s ‘behavior problems.’ Then, they will launch into the time my

son, Jamie, had been up on the roof hanging out, his window opened on to

a level of roof. I had told him sternly, “You better get in here!” when a couple

of the babysitting kids had ‘told on him.’ He had taken his ‘good, ole’ sweet

time coming in.’ I had been rounding up the kids, sending groups into the

bedrooms, preparing for our Tuesday at the Pool time. Jamie got ready after

everyone else was. I just loaded everyone up, making sure they each had

their ‘book bags’ which stored their flip flops, towels, snacks and snack money.

While we were driving, I used a very casual voice,

“I forgot to pay a traffic ticket so we will need to stop at the police station.”

When we arrived, I told them,

‘”This will only take about 10 minutes, everyone hold hands and follow

me into the station.”

When I saw a big wooden bench along the wall, I pointed to this and had

them all sit down. They were excited about the pool, so good manners were

being used, directions were being followed. I explained to my coworkers that

if there was ‘bad’ behavior on the way to the pool, they would have to sit out

the rest of the time period until the next break was over. Everyone always had

their library books in their book bag, so they were supposed to read, parents

knew this and the kids abide by these rules.

I walked over to a wall with a plate glass (looked like it was bullet-proof) window,

where there was a woman sitting looking at a computer screen. There was a

circle at about my forehead level, with a metal grate covering it. There was a

button on the circle.

I leaned into this metal-grated circle, pushing a button, asking if an officer may

talk to me about something. The woman looked at me, saw my determined look

on my face and went to get someone. When a young man came out, he politely


“Is there a problem, m’am? May I help you?”

I leaned in close and whispered,

“I am a single mother of three children and babysit these other

children to support my family. My son over there in the red t-shirt,

decided after lunch to go out on a ledge by his window, a level of

our roof. The house we live in is old and this is unsafe, besides

being a bad example for the other children I watch.”

He nodded and gave me a pressed lip smile,

“I gotcha covered, m’am. What’s his name again?”


The police officer took my son into the basement where there are apparently

only a couple of holding cells. The Delaware County Jail is not located ‘in town,’

but is out on Rte. 42 North.

The officer must have given him ‘some talking to,’ because Jamie came back

with a teary eyed face. He did not even wipe them off in front of the other kids,

even though he always felt he was ‘cool’ and they looked up to him.

Everyone at the table felt this was a great example of discipline. I am not sure

it was, but it certainly worked.

The times I ran around the house with a big hair brush make my three kids

laugh out loud, since this was never with babysitting kids as ‘witnesses,’ nor did

it ever end up with a spanking. We usually ended up on the sofa or the ‘guilty

party’s’ bed, talking about the way my Dad would say these words:

“This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you.”

I have a friend who has been telling her boyfriend, for some time now, they

need to “Get more serious or break up.” She has an inner voice telling her

that he is in a ‘comfort zone,’ where he may never live in the same house.

I have posted about ‘Peggy and Tim’s Love Story,” before, but this happened

to touch a nerve with her today. Peggy told all of us this ‘threat to take action,’

just happened a week ago on a Saturday night:

“Tim, you and I need to decide where we are going to live in the future. I

would like to live in your house and sell my house. I think we would enjoy

living out in the country together. Do you think we could place a time limit

of by the end of summer?”

When I had written about them, I had mentioned they had lived apart for

fifteen years. Tim has never married, Peggy has been divorced for 20


Peggy look worried, “Do you think Tim will break up with me?”

This was my serious answer,since everyone else was chewing their food and

looking down at the table or up at the “Price is Right,” television show.

“Peggy, if this is what you want and he decides against living together, will you

be able to go through with not being a couple?”

I took a breath and continued,

“Think about this carefully, Peggy. Every time you both take off on a trip on

his motorcycle, to Lake Erie, every time you have had a week of vacation, you

have decided together where you will travel to. He makes good money, is very

generous, you share so much together. I will always remember when you were

at Micheli’s Tavern for St. Patrick’s Day, 2012 or 2011, where you were trying

to figure out which song you would sing together for karaoke. Your heads were

leaning together and you had the big playlist book on the table. Bill, (my guy

friend) and I pointed to you both and said, ‘That is love.’ I still envy your easy-

going way you work things out. Are you certain that you want to give up 15

years because you feel as you are growing older, you want him in the same


Here are some other important decisions and ‘ultimatums:’

One of my coworkers wants her husband to stop smoking in both their

vehicles. She said,

“When he can wait through a two hour movie, why can’t he wait until we

arrive at the grocery store, 1/2 hour car rides and other short trips?”

When we looked at her and asked,

“Have you given him an ultimatum?”

Stephanie answered, “Well, no. . .”

Another person offered up a situation with her daughter and son-in-law.

She mentioned that they are planning on moving to a place where no

pets are allowed. They are at odds with each other, since the man doesn’t

want to give up the dog, but he has nipped at their younger kids’ feet

and toes before.

We felt the dog might be best placed at another family member’s house,

since this will be hard on the father to give up his dog.

We then had a discussion about this lawyer who advertises on Channel 10,

who is part of a law firm, where he talks about using ‘clout,’ and ‘giving results.’

This made us come up with the solution that is one all parents have to come

to, eventually. We made a list of general steps or guidelines:

“What is the root of the problem?”

“Do you mean business?”

What will be your follow through?”

“What will make the most impact?”

“What will get results?”

“What will be the most effective tool to wield?”

“What will be your last straw?”

We talked also about intermittent rewards which can be effective, letting

someone know you appreciate what they have done and rewarding ‘baby

steps,’ too.

I mentioned ‘grounding’ and ‘time out’ for punishment, which some people

agreed they were good ideas, but one person said,

“Grounding my teenager” was more of a punishment to Me!”

Then, I had to laugh, as I was again thinking of my punishment for Jamie’s being

up on the roof. The table asked me what was making me chuckle? I told the


“It was never the same situation, each one had to be met with an action,

sometimes the punishment went with the crime and others did not. Jamie was

the one who liked to ‘test my limits,’ but sometimes the episodes were funny.”

They all wanted to know another story, so I will tell you when I was a teacher

I was tickled to have ‘snow days,’ but as a babysitter, I was not. So, when it

would start snowing, I would watch the weather. I sometimes would put my

kids to bed, with the television on quietly. Jamie one time came down and

asked, “Mom, is it a snow day?” I didn’t want him to know, since that might

mean he would want to stay up. I treasured my ‘peace and quiet time.’

Later, when I went up to bed, I looked in each room, I liked to kiss them one

more time. (Although we had extended book reading, songs and prayers

every night, this was a special kiss meaning I knew they were tucked into

bed, safe and sound.)

Well, this particular night there was no Jamie in bed.

I told them, “That little dickens!”

I went downstairs and examined the coat rack, Jamie’s coat was not there.

I put my coat, boots, hat and scarf on, walked out onto the porch. There

were his footprints, evidence of a boy on the loose!

I tried to follow them but they went down a gravel alley and were not as

distinctive as when he was walking down the sidewalk. I turned around

and went home. I put the kettle on and made some “Sleepy Time herbal

tea,” to quiet my nerves. (Celestial Seasonings brand of tea.)

One half hour later, there was a knock on the front door.

I had put on a bathrobe over my flannel pajamas and opened the door.

There was a policeman with Jamie. This was nearly six months after the roof

incident. It was not the same young man, this was even scared me with his

grim look on his face.

“Did you know your son was not home, m’am?”

“Yes,” I said in a trembling voice.

“Well, he broke curfew and here is his ‘ticket.’ ”

I did not say a word, but in my head I was praying it was not a ‘real’ ticket.

“I appreciate your bringing him home, officer. He certainly won’t do this again!

Right, Jamie?”

Jamie looked nervous, but I was a little concerned that there was no evidence

of any tears. He shook his head, “No, sir.”

I did not bother to tell the officer about his summer episode, nor did I tell him

I was trying my best as a single mother to control his curiosity without killing

his enthusiasm.

When I closed the door firmly, locking it and bolting it, I turned to see his tears

start pouring out.

“Mom, I just knew it would be so quiet, the stars would be so bright and the

snow was so beautiful.”

I just hugged him.

The group all said I was a ‘marshmallow.’

Have you ever had to set limits or give an ultimatum to anyone?

Don’t you love the idea of being, “No More Mr. Nice Guy (or girl)?


About reocochran

I am experiencing crazy and hapless adventures in dating that may interest people over fifty. I am now approaching 62 later this year and enjoy taking photographs, incorporating stories or poetry on my blog. I have many old posts which are informative and written like essays. I have several love stories collected from family and friends. Even strangers spill their stories, since I am a grown version of the girl next door. I have been trying to live a healthy lifestyle with better food selections and active hiking and walking. I have written four children's books and illustrated them. They are not published but a battered women's shelter used one about neglect and abuse for their children's program and a 4H group used my "Kissing a Bunny is like saying a Prayer" as a coloring book. Please comment or respond so I may get a chance to know you. Sincerely, Robin

11 responses »

  1. Great stories Robin – I can see you start interesting discussions with your co-workers. I think the thoughts you shared with your friend Peggy are relevant and honest. Life isn’t perfect, relationships take many forms and we can’t make someone do what we want them to do without there being some fallout. Personally I’d love a relationship with someone who lived in another house in a different part of town and was happy to let me stay in mine – I really value my independence! 🙂

    • I know exactly what you mean, Pauline. I am really looking for what my good girlfriend, Nancy’s Mom had: She had an ‘everyday’ guy who would take her bowling and sit with her while watching movies and television, from time to time. Then, she was so lucky to have made friends with a busy man who would take her every 3-4 months to an opera, theater or orchestra performance. She could get all ‘gussied up’ and enjoy a formal evening out.

      Wrapped into one man may be great but Nancy’s Mom also valued her freedom. I have my grandies who take up one evening every week. She liked to go out with women to shop, eat and movies. The men in her life enjoyed parts of their lives being involved in business (the latter) and the former liked his retirement life of golfing, bowling league and poker, too. Sigh!

  2. I think ultimatums can be given to adults who may or may not choose to respect them. Not much we can do about that and thus we must be judicious when issuing them to our peers.

    With children, however, adults are always in charge. Parents first, others to whom we entrust them secondarily. That is not to say a child should have no say in what is transpiring but once an adult who has rightful authority over a minor gives them a direction, it must be followed and there must be consequences for not following.

    I think we should explain our actions and rationale when we give any kind of ‘command’. But if it is important, we need to be clear about what the consequences of non-compliance will be and then follow through.

    My guideline with children is: ‘firm, fair, and friendly’ for non-parents/grandparents and ‘firm, fair and affectionate’ for parents and close family members.

    I don’t think it is a great idea to have an outside figure mete out discipline to our own children.

    And I think it all has to be from the beginning. If the rules are fungible when they are very young, children will rebel when they are adolescents.

    But that is just my initial take on this interesting post (if I understood it properly, that is, lol)! 🙂

    • I really liked how you thought these processes which have elements of discipline and to me, display ‘good parenting strategies,’ Beth! I especially like being friendly but firm. We also agree in many ways about adults and ultimatums. I am not sure if possibly another ‘better’ word would be to explain to Tim (in this case) how Peggy’s expectations have evolved and changed. After all, they were only in their 40’s when they started out, Peggy was still busy being involved with her children’s lives. Tim has never had kids, so he may think she is still busy but instead is open to spending days and nights with him, working together in the same household. If she doesn’t tell him, whether or not it comes out like a “Do this or we break up” scenario, she has to be open to discuss this. She feels like he has had plenty of time to figure this out, but I feel he may not know what she thinks!
      Hope you have a special weekend with fun and thank you very much, Beth for your thoughts on this subject.

  3. I think people can use ultimatums judiciously with children. They get extra privileges when they exceed expectations, and I see nothing wrong with limiting those extras (TV time, computer time, story time, play time, etc.) when expectations are not met. This is just as true with teenagers who want to stay out late and/or want to have driving privileges.

    As with your guidelines, the key with any ultimatum is that one must be prepared to enact it if someone calls your bluff. I have most often found that an ultimatum works best when the stakes are quite low. For example, I told my first wife I found it disrespectful when she raised her voice at me, and that I would not speak with her unless she apologized. Only once did that carry over to a second day, but it was never such a big deal.

    As to your musical references to Alice Cooper, I would add, ‘I know it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.’ – Rolling Stones

    • I love the Rolling Stones and this is a good one which kind of goes with Alice C. and also, with who may not know how to set any limits on behaviors. Ha ha!
      Mike, your thoughts mean a lot to me, they make sense and give a masculine feel for the subject matter. Thanks and I think we are in agreement! Yeah!

  4. I think Jamie needed to feel like he was in control, Robin, but wanted to know you had his back at the same time. That’s the delicate balance between parent and child. Letting them go to learn but still being there to make sure they don’t fall too hard! I think you did right with the police both times.

    And you gave good advice to your work friend, too. Be careful what you wish for. She should not deliver that ultimatum unless she’s prepared for him to choose his independent household over moviing in together. That would be very sad, to see them split because of this, according to the way you descibe them here and before, Robin. On the flip side, maybe this is not enough for Peggy, and she should move on if Tim cannot commit to moving in. I wonder how she will decide!

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