So, recently, as I was driving my kids around town, I overheard them having a very interesting conversation in the back seat:
M (my 7 year old daughter): It's so funny when Mom acts all "crazy". She's like..."HURRY UP! GET YOUR SHOES ON! WHERE'S YOUR BAG? C'MON! WE HAVE TO GO! WHAT'S TAKING YOU SO LOOONNG?
D (my 6 year old son): Yeah...that is SO funny...haha...
At this point, they are both busting a gut, laughing at how ridiculous I sound when I'm yelling at them. It was a little humiliating to hear my daughter's imitation of me--imagine the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, only higher-pitched and more annoying--but I had to admit, it was pretty funny. I had to laugh too at how ridiculous I sound.
And then I went out and bought this book, ScreamFree Parenting, which promises to help you "raise your kids while keeping your cool".
I'm sure none of you know what I'm talking about because you are all probably really calm, cool, and collected at home and have somehow managed to raise well-behaved children who all listen to your every request the first time you make it, but unfortunately for me, that is not the case at my house. This is just an example of a typical morning in our house, for instance:
Me: D, can you please get your shoes on? We have to go.
A moment passes, in which D. looks like he didn't hear me at all, and continues playing.
Me: D, get your shoes on. We have to get to the bus stop.
Me: D, did you hear me? We have to be at the bus stop in 10 minutes. Can you PLEASE get your shoes on?
D: I'm just (insert name of activity that he should not be doing here)...
Me: D, you can't be playing (insert name of activity here) now. You have to go to school. Put that away right now. We need to go!
About now, I'm practicing counting to 10 in my mind and trying very hard to "keep it cool" so I don't flip my lid. I even try to put on my best June Cleaver-ish look that seems to say, exasperatingly, "ah, kids will be kids...")
D: in a minute, Mom.
(Are you freaking kidding me?!)
Me: NO, NOT IN A MINUTE! NOW! PUT YOUR SHOES AND YOUR JACKET ON NOW!
LET'S GO! WE'RE GOING TO BE LATE! YOU'RE GOING TO MISS THE BUS! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO ASK YOU TO PUT YOUR SHOES ON BEFORE YOU ACTUALLY PUT YOUR SHOES ON? GOD, NO ONE EVER LISTENS TO ME!
(So much for patience...)
Anyway, that always gets the desired response, but then I feel like a big jerk for flipping out. When I calm down, I apologize for yelling and then they say to me, with their puppy dog eyes and in their most innocent voices, "Mom, why don't you just ask nicely and we'd do it?"
Arghhhh! As if I didn't ask nicely the first time!
Needless to say, I am in need of some new techniques because this particular pattern is only driving me crazy. We pretty much repeat this pattern several times a day: when they have to get up and get ready, when they have to get out of the house, when they eat their meals, when they are arguing with each other, when they have to do their homework, and when they have to brush and go to bed...so pretty much all the time...
So, now you can see why I needed to get this book. I know it sounds gimmicky and it would seem like the contents are pretty obvious, but I have to say I think I learned a lot from this book that I hope will help me stay calm even when the little ones are wearing my last nerve.
It made me realize that I am taking on way too much stress. Not only am I worried about my own responsibilities, but I'm taking on their responsibilities like they are my own. I stress out that they're going to be late for school, that they're going to forget to do their homework, that they're going to starve to death, that they're going to be exhausted from sleep deprivation, for example, and I protect them way too much.
But that is all going to change now. When they don't want to get ready on time, I'm now going to let them miss the bus and be late. When they don't want to do their homework, I'm going to let them go empty-handed. When they don't eat their meals, I'm going to let them be hungry so they actually ask to eat. When they don't get to bed on time, I'm going to let them be a little tired. Why am I protecting them from this important life lesson--that THEY are responsible for themselves and I can only guide them to help them do the right thing? I want them to be independent, self-directed adults don't I? How can you get there if you keep coddling and hand-holding them?
Anyway, I tried out this new way of thinking this past week with INCREDIBLE success. The little guy was screaming and crying about not wanting to do homework and I just said, very calmly, "OK, don't do your homework if you don't want to. But remember, you're going to have to go to school with no homework." So then he starts screaming, "But I WANT to do it! It's just so HARD!" So I just said, "OK, well if you want to do it, just calm down and you can do it. I'll sit next to you." Seriously, it was like MAGIC! He finished it without me having to nag him repeatedly or help him at all. Why didn't I think of this before?
I also learned that I really need to mean what I say when I talk to the kids. If I say they're going to lose a toy or TV privileges if they don't finish their dinner, then I really need to take it away and not be weak and change my mind. I've definitely had a problem with throwing around threats like that that I can't back up because I feel too bad about it. But, since reading this, I think I'm already a little better. I've taken toys away when the kids haven't listened and I feel like they take me more seriously. No more wimpy mom with the empty threats!
I like the author's whole philosophy about focusing on yourself: you are the only person you can control. You can't force the kids to do anything, you can only inspire them to do the right thing and when they don't, you shouldn't protect them, you should let them suffer the consequences (obviously, within reason) and learn from their mistakes.
Another thing that stressed-out parents will love is that he encourages you to focus on yourself in other ways--get space for yourself, do things you enjoy, pamper yourself and take care of yourself. You can only properly take care of others when you have first cared properly for yourself!