Monthly Archives: May 2016

Parenting for the Short Term and Long Term Goals

Sometimes I parent for the short-term goal. I have a doctors appointment. We are running late. We have to go. Now.

Other times I parent for the long term goal. I am taking the kids to the playground. There’s no rush to get out of the house. We can spend two hours learning about all the different steps along the way. About cooperation. About getting our clothes ready. About what happens when we leave later in the day vs leaving earlier in the day.

I’m not parenting for short term compliance. I don’t want to be able to say “SIT!” and have my children sit.

I am parenting for cooperation, not compliance. For compassion, not for dominance. For a natural understanding of the laws and rules, not a fear of the punishments or penalties.

Often what a child learns from an experience is more important than them doing EXACTLY AS I SAY RIGHT NOW.

I find it painful to parent in tandem with people who follow an authoritarian approach because inevitably they interrupt with a punishment or a command.

The WHY is usually more important to me than the HOW.

Why do we get ready? So we can leave. Why do we leave? So we can go someplace. Why do we need to cooperate when we are getting ready to go? Because when we cooperate we are able to leave more quickly. Why do we want to leave more quickly? So that we have more fun doing the fun thing and less time lingering between places looking for our socks. Where are our socks? In our rooms. Can we find our socks? Why can’t we find our socks. Oh. Right. Why do we pair our socks and put them away? So we can find them when we want to leave so we can get ready quickly so we spend more time doing something fun and less time looking for our socks.

When we snap commands we keep all that stuff in our own adult heads and just command our kids to jump.

Honestly it’s really freaking hard for me to slow down and explain everything. It takes a lot of thinking and a lot of practice to remember why we do something. “Because I said so” is a really terrible reason when you’re speaking to a young child who sees everything as completely arbitrary.

But I slow down.

I remember the reasons.

I take the time to teach when I have the time to teach.

So that my children will understand that I always ask them things based on reasons.

So that when I say “I do not have time to explain right now, can you please do it and I promise I will explain later?” they trust me and listen to me and jump a lot faster than they do when a command is used.

What happens when a child is used to being commanded all the time? Honestly they understand nothing. They make a ton of mistakes. They have to guess how to do the things that the adult expects them to JUST DO. They learn to play guessing games where they guess, are wrong, are snapped at, guess again, are wrong, are snapped at, etc.

How do I know this?

Because adults ask my kids to do things ALL THE TIME.

Things that they then turn around and ask me how to do.

And I teach them.

Repeatedly.

While they strive to master things that an adult already decided was “common sense”.

Look. Common sense is LEARNED. It’s not innate. Kids learn common sense by learning the reasons behind things. By guessing at them. By having them discussed and confirmed.

So if you want a child to know something? Teach it. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. Patiently. Step by step. And if they don’t understand a step, figure out how to teach them that step.

If you have a hard time remembering how to do this, teach them to ASK YOU. Teach them to say “Mommy, I do not know how to do that yet. Can you please show me how?” and when they say that, even if you’ve shown them a million times, show them again.

Life takes a lot of practice. Think about the things you learn as an adult. How many times you have to practice something to get it right. Think about the first time you learned how to operate a combination lock or drive a car.

None of that was “I will tell you once and then punish you every time you make a mistake”.

Behavior is learning. Not a series of personality flaws you have to punish a child out of, and not a series of commands that a child should just jump to follow.

They are people.

They deserve the chance to understand and agree with the why.

If you disagree, that’s fine. You can do what you want with your children.

But.

Do. Not. Interrupt. Me. When. I. Am. Explaining. Things. To. Try. To. Get. My. Kids. To. Listen. To. My. Request. Faster. Than. They. Are.

Please. Just let me do what I am doing. Don’t jump in. I don’t need backup.

I am more than capable of demanding immediate compliance if I need to. If I haven’t, it is INTENTIONAL. For a reason. Don’t interrupt me without asking me first if it is okay.

See? I explain first. Then I ask. Then once I’ve explained I expect you to remember that I have explained it. But if you forget I will repeat myself. Unfortunately if you interrupt me in front of the children I will repeat myself in front of the children. Please don’t create a situation where we are both undermining each others authority.

I won’t punish you for forgetting, though. Even if you do sometimes insist that punishments are necessary.

Natural Consequences Made Punitive vs Natural Consequences and Repair

“Isaac, can you come down for breakfast?”

He ignores me. I let him.

I go make breakfast. I put it on his plate.

I trudge back up the stairs.

“Isaac, your food is on the table. It is time to eat.”

He ignores me. I let him.

One of the things we often hear is that kids become accustomed to nagging and repetition followed by force and demands.

Whenever Isaac spends time with people who follow that pattern, whenever I am “backed up” by a well meaning adult, or whenever life follows a curve that puts me in the position of nagging.. we come back to this place.

Everything talks about how we should not let ourselves get to this point.

But what about when we do? Or when others bring our children to that point for us?

I back off.

I made breakfast.
I put it on the table.
He can eat when he is hungry.

Eventually he wanders downstairs. 

He finds that someone else has eaten most of his berries.

Taken bites out of his toast.

By that point the baby is awake and nursing again.

He comes and finds me. Furious and upset. And tells me that someone took a single bite out of each of the squares of toast on his plate.

I can’t help it. I burst into laughter. Not at his upset. I am not laughing at him. I was listening very respectfully until that point. Not trying to dismiss his anger. Not being upset by it.

But the toast has me rolling with the uncontrollable giggles.

He snaps out of his anger and upset. Stares at me speechlessly.

It’s a sunny spring morning.
The ceiling fan is spinning.
The baby has popped off my boob and is smiling at me.
And my poor sweet nine year old is indignant about some unknown gremlin who has been nibbling at his toast.

I can say “sucks to be you” and say that is the consequence of leaving his food at the table. It is the consequence. Yes.

But the truth is, we have been getting along poorly lately and it’s time for us all to do some repair. It won’t help the kids get along better if I stomp my foot and try to drive home this natural consequence as a hard firm line.

Truth is, as parents we sometimes try and make natural consequences more punitive than they are to teach a lesson.

When I finish laughing I apologize for my speechlessness. And I say “Isaac, when you leave food on the table it’s risky. We live in a house with four little gremlins and a dog who loves table food.”

He’s laughing too, and says it isn’t just the kids that are gremlins, that the grownups are too.

And it’s true. We clean off the table and eat the leftovers. 

“Look. Isaac, we’ve been getting along poorly lately. I want us all to start being nicer to each other again. I’m going to start by making you more food. Can you try to be nicer across the day, too?”

He says he will.

“There are still consequences. I am not sure what berries we have left. And we are out of peanut butter. And you’ll need to wait until the baby is done nursing. And if she starts crying I’ll have to pick her up. So it will take longer. I have a lot to do today, but I want to help you deal with the consequences, okay?”

He is happy. And he starts rattling off what he can do to help. He’ll hold the baby.

I agree that would be helpful.

“And Isaac, tomorrow can you come down when I ask you to, so I won’t have to make two breakfasts?”

He nods sheepishly.

When he and I have a good strong relationship he doesn’t want to make more work for me. He doesn’t want to ignore me when I ask him something.  He seeks me out, helps out, is engaged in the things that I am doing.

It’s softer. But it gives more results.

Relationships aren’t rigid. They are compassionate. Going in both directions.

Time’s a River

Dear Wren,

It is 10PM on a random Wednesday in May. You will be five weeks old tomorrow. I am holding you wrapped up in a grey blanket that a good friend made for you. Your head is tucked up against my shoulder. Your little hands are balled up in fists up near your face. Your shoulders line up with mine. You’re tucked up in a ball with my hand under your rump. You are so small that your entire body is right there. From my breast to my shoulder with a heavy little head covered in fluff.

I sniff your head and almost inhale your hair. You smell amazing. I close my eyes and try to memorize this.

I know I won’t be able to. I’ve already lost the earliest moments and how you felt when you were just born. Every moment is overwritten by the intensity of the next. Every moment you are a new person, and so am I. We are growing together.

Your little hands. The way it looks like your fingers shouldn’t quite all fit onto them. The funny shaped newborn fingernails. Yours have a bit of dirt under them. I’m not sure how. I know that it refuses to wash off, and that I’m waiting until they’re long enough to snip them off with baby nail cutters.

Mundane details.

Your arms move and your body twists in a very particular way. You stare at me with an expression that is completely and uniquely your own. I have taken some videos, but I know from experience that those videos won’t show me what I see right now.

You see. When you were born I didn’t know you yet. But love came roaring in full force. Intense and crazy. Giddy. Glorious. Gleeful.

I look at you and I laugh with joy.

I look at your siblings that way, too. The way they are now. Today. The way they have grown to be.

And I try to memorize the details of them, too.

Life is so full. So full of moments to remember. Details to try to hold onto. Many of them will slip away, replaced by the newer things. The new giddiness. The new joy. The new shape of the love that you were born into.

I snug you close. I forget about trying to memorize things.

I can’t.

I’ll let them shape us instead. You and me. Our relationship. Who each of us will become tomorrow, and in the days and years to come.

Time’s a river. Each moment is a drop of water.

We’ll be floating along together for good long while.

<3 Mama