What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 22
Power Whining in the 1990s 

[p.65]When it comes to communicating their desires, kids are much more effective than adults. I came to this conclusion last night after Ken and I had the following discussion for a couple of hours.

KEN: What movie do you want to see tonight?
ME: I don’t care. What movie do you want to see?
KEN: I don’t care. Whatever movie you want to see—


Actually, Ken and I frequently have trouble making decisions about things like movies and restaurants. We’re such considerate people, don’t you know, that we desire the other person’s happiness above all. Also, if the movie is a bust, we feel entitled to blame the spouse who made the decision and MAKE HIS LIFE A LIVING HELL UNTIL THE END OF TIME!

Our kids, on the other hand, are never shy about what they want. They tell us fifty times a day, and then, in case we forget, they fax us memos during recess.

Other parents tell me their children do this, too. Unfortunately, most kids get what they want more often than they probably should because they employ a very effective technique—i.e., whining.

(WHINING—a force of nature, not unlike tidal waves, which mere mortals such as parents are ultimately powerless to resist.)

Like most children, my kids are not above whining to get what they want. When Dylan was two, for example, he went through a stage where he wanted to take extremely weird stuff like videocassettes and cereal boxes to bed with him. When I told him no, it simply isn’t done, Dylan let loose with a few hurricane-force whines and I fi-[p.66]nally relented. Of course, I forgot to mention all this to my mother, who was very confused one night after tucking Dylan in bed.

“Ann,” she said emerging from the bedroom, “Dylan is sleeping with his snow boots tonight. He isn’t wearing them. They’re just there on the pillow next to his head.”

I didn’t say anything.

Mom fixed me with a stare. “He told me you said he could. Is that true?”

Miserable, I nodded.

She didn’t say anything, but I could tell she didn’t approve. That’s when I went mad. I clapped my hands over my ears, just like Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and started to mumble, “I WAS HELPLESS I TELL YOU! HELPLESS!” At that point I ran out of the house and through the streets of Salt Lake City, shrieking. People who saw me shook their heads sadly and said, “Now there goes a noble ruin of a woman.”

So, as you can readily see, whining is a very powerful form of communication that gets you everything you ever wanted, which is why I have developed the following new theory:


The way I see it, kids nowadays have a lot of adult privileges. For instance, all of them get to stay up and watch the Tonight Show, whereas our own mothers made us go to bed by 5:30 in the afternoon, even during Daylight Savings Time. That’s why I truly believe we grown-ups should band together and take over one of their privileges, specifically whining.

Besides, we have more to whine about anyway.

Take buying a new swimming suit, for instance. Now there’s an experience I can whine about all day long. First of all, there is the utter shame of having to ask the well-moussed sales girl who is definitely (a) younger and (b) more nubile than you for permission to try on a suit. Of course, she’s always polite to your face, but you know as soon as she shows you to the dressing room, she tells the other sales girls (who also have advanced degrees in Mousse Engineering) to get a load of the dumpy old broad in 3C.

“Can you believe those legs?” they all squeal. “How does she even dare walk in public on those things?”

And the fluorescent/neon/strobe lights in the dressing rooms!

[p.67]Dressing room lights have been scientifically proven to make any woman in a bathing suit look fifty years older and fifty pounds heavier, especially if said bathing suit is cut up to a woman’s nose. Which all of them are.

“Whatever happened to the swimsuits our mothers used to wear—the ones cut to your knees with tin bras?” I asked a friend of mine. “They weren’t pretty, but at least everything you own, whether you want it or not, isn’t on display in a suit like that.”

She shook her head sadly and said, “I don’t know. Let’s whine about it, shall we?”

So we did. “Oh, we want a suit, just like the suit that was worn by dear old Mom. Can we, huh, can we, can we huh? Please? Please oh please oh please—”

You watch. Any moment now and the swimming suit will be ours!