I first heard the phrase "you get what you get and you don't get upset" a few years ago. A family I know said it to their daughter, and it seemed to end any and all discussions and arguments. Since I had never heard it before, I wasn't sure if they made it up or not, but it seemed almost comical to my wife and I (Lilian was a teeny tiny, maybe two years old or less), and so we started saying it to each other in jest for the past few years in ridiculous situations. I ran over a giant nail in my mother-in-law's driveway and my tire deflated at cartoon-like speed. "Oh man [i probably used some curse word other than "man" here], I can NOT believe I got a flat tire today." And she would reply, "You get what you get and you don't get upset," which would send us both into hysterics for a minute or two, before I had to face the reality of "we're not going anywhere with this flat tire, and we have stuff to do." Disappointed with a Christmas bonus or raise at work? "You get what you get and you don't get upset" always made the situation feel a little more ridiculous and hilarious, and took the sting away for a second. It was an inside joke for us that always made a crappy situation laughable for a minute.
So when my 4-year-old daughter came home from pre-school one day and quoted at us "you get what you get and you don't get upset", well, I got a little upset. I asked her where she heard that, since we joked about it privately, and certainly never said it to her. She said that one of the teachers (not her MAIN teacher that she's had for two years and we love) said it to her. She said they all got a piece of construction paper for a project, and she always does her projects in her favorite colors (yellow and orange, yuck!) and the teacher didn't give her the yellow paper, and when she asked for it, the teacher told her "you get what you get and you don't get upset" and walked away. (Note: Lilian is both very sensitive and very verbal for her age. When she tells us about something that happens, 99% of the time it's true if we look into it. She's not the type to make things up or get them wrong. And when something upsets her, it stays with her for a while, and she usually tells us all about it.) Because she had attended this school for a whole school year, and then two months into the second year and never heard this before, I was a little shocked and horrified that she was told that, and then was repeating it.
See, to me, the phrase "you get what you get and you don't get upset" translates to "take what I gave you, shut the hell up, I can't be bothered." And that's not the attitude I take with children (either my own, or the ones I work for as a nanny or babysitter) and it's not the attitude I expect others to take with my kids, especially ones being paid (a lot of money) to work with her! To me, the appropriate response is "Sorry, Lily, we're all out of yellow paper, you'll have to use pink." Or "Today Abigail is getting the yellow, you can have pink or green, and it'll be your turn to get yellow another day." Or "this is all we have today, we don't have any yellow." I believe an explanation of WHY she can't have the yellow paper is appropriate and it hardly takes more effort or words. I'm not saying that she should be given everything she asks for when she wants it (though if there WAS more yellow paper in the closet, that could have been a solution too), but I would appreciate her being the same courtesy and respect that an adult would be given with an explanation as to why she can't have her request. My child is not a brat, she won't have a meltdown if she's told it's someone else's turn (she's good at sharing), so why the immediate dismissal of her question?
My mom has been a teacher for my whole life at various grade levels (first grade before I came around, nursery/pre-school when my brother and I were school age, and now at the elementary school level again) and so I asked her about this phrase. She told me that she personally doesn't use it, but she wasn't surprised to hear it. She said she's heard teachers, school employees, parents, etc use it. Because we don't have many friends with children and this is Lily's first school experience, I wasn't sure about how commonly used the phrase is. I certainly don't remember ever hearing as a child at my own home, school, or my friends homes. I was a little concerned to hear that this is a message being given to the current generation of children.
I think if you were to sum up our parenting style in one sentence, it would be: "We try to teach our child, help her develop relationships, share our values and morals, all with a sense of respect and individuality." For me, the offending phrase goes against everything I believe in. Parenting/teaching shouldn't be a dictatorship, it should be a partnership. I don't want to teach my child to obey, but rather to understand. It's my job as a parent to help her develop and grow relationships with us (her parents), her peers, her teachers, and society. But I see it as my job to guide her, not to direct her. She's not a little puppet, but a tiny human with individual thoughts and feelings.
I can definitely understand the frustration of having a child that is feeling picky, or moody, or especially stubborn. All children have those moments. But I think that lashing out with "you get what you get and you don't get upset" is never the answer. You may have worked hard cooking a meal, and your kid may not want to touch it. But a more gentle & respectful "well, this is what is for dinner, I worked hard on it and it's healthy" is more appropriate in my opinion, even if you don't want to offer a compromise or alternative. (From what I can gather asking people about it, I think that this phrase is often used regarding food or meal choices.) Children deserve explanations and logic and are more likely to respond positively if they can understand WHY their parents are insisting on something. Maybe, dinner becomes less of a punishment then, and the child can understand why it might hurt mom's feelings for rejecting it.
And, for what it's worth, sometimes in life you do "get what you get", but it doesn't mean you shouldn't get upset. Maybe sometimes, it's OK to be upset about something. Who are we to invalidate our children's feelings? I don't remember being four, but it may truly be upsetting to a four year old to have to make a pink art project, when her "vision" is in yellow. And though it may not be the end of the world, validating the disappointment should be important to us too. "I'm sorry you can't have the yellow today, I know you wanted it." Because invalidating our children's feelings is not a good way to build trusting and respectful relationships between us, and it doesn't teach them to respect others either.
I'm not sure how this phrase translates to a four year old, but I can tell you that it stuck with Lily enough to tell me about it at home. And I know that it didn't make her feel good. But I can only imagine that it's a matter of time, or maybe a matter of usage (how many times will she be told this) before she realizes that it translates to "i don't care what you want or how you feel about it"?
I know life isn't always sunshine and roses, sometimes we get handed a lemon. And sometimes there isn't an explanation for it. We can't always get what we want (or what we need for that matter, either). But it's our right to have feelings about it. Let's teach our children to recognize and handle those feelings, then move on. Let's try to give our children the explanations we'd expect from one adult to another, instead of just dismissing them. And let's try to spread respect instead of a "tough shit" attitude.
The phrase rhymes and is catchy. It may be an easy thing to toss out to children. And it may seem to stop arguments before they even begin. But I beg of parents and teachers - please THINK about this phrase and the message it sends before using it again. Is this truly the message we want to be sending our future generations?