Parenting is a grand bargain.
As the title alludes, its along the lines of the one between Darth Vader and Lando Callrissan in Star Wars. Parents would like to think they play the Darth Vader role, but in reality, its the role of Lando.
I know I know: Vader means father and the entire series is a father-son drama. But think about the similarities between the parent-child and Vader-Lando relationship.
In the movie, Lando provides Vader a place to secretly house troops while laying his trap. In return, Lando receives, well, some semblance of freedom and power from the deal, I suppose.
The bargain between parents and kids offers little meaningful differences. In exchange for security and food, kids generally promise to follow the rules. The big secret here is that the law requires you to provide at least base amounts of security and food. Just like Lando, you have certain rules you already have to follow to varying degrees.
Vader suffers no such restriction. And your children? They entered into this bargain, just as Vader did with Lando, but there are no rules requiring them to listen to you, just as there was nothing requiring Vader to comply with Lando's request.
This leads to the second big secret: the kids follow along with this deal only on their own terms, really. Just as Vader could change his arrangements with Lando. Kids could at any time just stop listening to their parents at any time. This usually happens in the teen years, I imagine, but there is literally nothing to stop a four year old from simply not following commands other than them being really, really small and the way their brains are wired.
I've been thinking about this over the four months or so since my kids turned four and Vader'd our deal. At times they have been simply unmanageable. One simply isn't impressed with anything I do, regardless of its outcome for him. Another simply won't stop whining.
It wasn't just that they were no longer paying attention. The third told me he would cut me with a knife and later jumped out of a time-out seat to hit me. That rises to a Luke revealing his true powers to Jabba leve of attack.
Did I just compare myself to Jabba the Hut? Yeah, I guess I did.
The kids were definitely more fun during this time. They play actual games now. We do fun things both indoors and out. Heck, we have impromptu baseball games in the driveway. But the bargain had been broken.
I wish I could tell you I was leading you to some grand conclusion where I would reveal the secret to remaking the bargain.
The truth is I was as powerless as Lando to make any changes. The kids hold all the power. If they want to stop listening, there isn't much we parents can do about it. We simply kept at it; giving timeouts and taking away things they held dear. Destroying the death star, if you will.