Why Does My Child “Conveniently” Get Hurt When I’m Asking Them to Do Something?

My child is playing downstairs.
I need them to put pants on so that we can go to a doctor’s appointment.
I ask them.
I ask again.
They ignore me.
Finally I get their attention.

And they immediately stub a toe.
Or fall down.
Or bump their head.
Or suffer some other catastrophe.

And it feels like a delay tactic.

I’m driving.
Another adult is in the passenger seat.
They try to tell me to make a turn that I’m not prepared to make.
I miss the turn because it is not safe for me to make it by the time they tell me to.
What would happen?
I might crash.

My child is not conveniently injuring themselves to avoid listening.
My child is involved in a task.
Maybe not the task that I want them to be involved in.
Maybe not a task that I assigned to them.
But they are involved in a task.
It has their attention.

I am asking them to make a turn that they are not prepared to make.
And sometimes I am demanding that they make it RIGHT NOW.

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

Jealousy, Favorite Color, Favorite Food, Favorite Child

Sometimes I start a conversation expecting it to go one way, and it goes in a totally different direction.

There is a game I play, where I tell each of my kids “You are my favorite Keenie, my favorite Isaac, my favorite Alexander.”

After not playing that game for a while I asked my children randomly at the breakfast table one morning:”So which one of you is my favorite?” I was expecting to fall into that litte game, where I talk about the things that make each child my favorite type-of-them.

Keenie giggled.

Alexander gave me that look that he gives me when I have said something totally ridiculous.

And Isaac… Isaac raised his eyebrow. “Mommy, you can’t even pick a favorite color because they are too different and you like them all. You couldn’t pick a favorite kid. That would be IMPOSSIBLE.”

And he is right. When the issue of favorite anything pops up, I give lists of the things that I like, reasons why I like those things. I say that I am in a particular mood where I want a specific food, and I list other foods that I also like to eat.

My kids have apparently generalized this over to themselves as well. They don’t jockey for the position of favorite child. They let me know if they feel that something is unfair or uneven among them, and they trust that I will have a solution or an explanation that takes their feelings into account.

I’m asked a lot about sibling jealousy. How do I deal with it? I don’t see a lot of it. I mix things up so that different kids come first at different points. I explain when something is related to age differences, and I talk about how things were when my other kids were that age, or how things will be when they are older and the steps they can take to get to a skill or a place faster.

We do group hugs where my arms are big enough to hold them all. We devolve into wrestling tickling matches where I breathlessly proclaim love for each of the squirming kids. I proclaim each as my favorite and they chime in other names as well. Yes. Our dog is my favorite dog. And each of our cats are my favorites too.

We talk about sometimes needing one on one time. Needing for me to read a book to just Alexander, to hug just Keenie, to play a game with just Isaac. And about how we can help each other take turns with that one on one time.

Isaac will tell me when Keenie or Alexander need me, and when he can do things for himself.

Keenie will laugh when I tell her that when Wren is born, she will be my baby. “I’m not a baby!” She says. “I am a big girl!” I assure her that she is, but that I will still hold her like a baby if she wants. I chase her down and bounce her while shh-ing as she giggles and pushes me away.

And Alexander-in-the-middle, he wants mostly to catch up to the things that his big brother can do, and comes running to me for help in figuring out how.

This family of mine? This family is my favorite. Hands down.

Favorite kid, though? Can’t pick. Instead I think of each of them in turn and feel that deep infinite love.

Love multiplies. It doesn’t divide. I love each of them with all my heart, and I spend my days trying to make sure that is tangible for them.

I guess that is how I deal with jealousy. I don’t confront it head on.

My relationship is with each child, so I focus on my relationship with each child and making sure that their needs are met and that they feel loved without comparison to each other.

If one needs a hug because they got hurt, I hug them. If another needs a bug because their sibling got a hug, I hug them too and add a kiss.

A lot of approaches to jealousy seem to focus on discouraging it, or the idea that jealousy is selfish.

Nah. We all need a little reassurance every now and then.

So what am I trying to say? I guess I am saying that you shouldn’t deal with jealousy. Jealousy is the comparison of things. Focus on each individual relationship with each individual child. Strengthen those. They are all side by side.

If it means hauling an 8 year old onto your lap to bounce him while he giggles and protests, do it. Then have a talk about what he really needs right now.

If it means everyone pig-piling onto your lap for storytime, take everyone to the couch or to your bed, and let everyone pile in.

Pull everyone close. You have enough love for each of them. Let it show.

7 Weeks, The Size of a Blueberry

Seven weeks. My little poppy seed is now more the size of a bean or a blueberry.

I’m amused by all of the pregnancy sites that use food to try to convey the size of a baby as it grows. I ate a fistful of blueberries yesterday at the creek, grabbing a quick snack to keep the morning sickness at bay before wading back out to help my three year old swim. I can’t manage to make the connection between the small growing life that will become my child and a plump round purplish berry.

I can imagine the tip of my pinky finger, I can picture a quarter of an inch and how tiny it is even compared to that tiny bit of me. I’m told that even at this tiny size, the human embryo has become 10,000 times bigger than it was at conception.

None of these details manage to give me what I’m looking for.

I remember reading over descriptions like these during my first pregnancy, trying to piece together what it meant. Trying to understand how it all worked. Trying to use it to connect to the idea of motherhood.

My oldest is eight years old now. I’d say he’s about the size of an eight year old, which is rapidly approaching the size of me. My five year old has lost his toddler chub and can be measured by the strength of his full body hugs that feel like being tackled by a small quarterback. My three year old stretches from under my chin to down below my knees when she lays herself down on top of me to listen to my heartbeat while trying to fall asleep on a restless night.

This time around the way that growth is happening is more of a scientific curiosity than a way to connect.

My fourth child is curled up like a tiny question mark in my womb, rapidly growing to a size where he or she can be born. I probably won’t hold this child in my arms until they’re larger than a sack of rice. Until they can curl up on my chest instead of on the tip of a finger. I understand with all my heart that this child will be loved no more and no less than the children that wrestle and play around me now.

That is where the wonder comes from, this time around. Feeling the growth of hope and love and connection form.

I’m as pragmatic as I am unapologetically emotional. I understand that until eight weeks I still have a 30% miscarriage risk. I understand that until 14 weeks the risk is still high.

Honestly, none of that matters. When I first saw the two lines on that pregnancy test in the bathroom at my friend’s house in Vermont… I made a choice in that split second. I chose to feel love and hope from the very beginning.

There’s no newsletter, no baby growth ticker, no set of medical illustrations that can describe that for me. The growth of love and hope. I can’t say it’s the size of a bean or a blueberry. I can’t say that it’s managed to grow to 10,000 times the size that it was before I even knew.

I can say that it’s there. I can say that it’s growing. I am seven weeks pregnant. I feel hope. I feel love.

It Isn’t Hypocrisy if Breastfeeding Makes You More Uncomfortable Than a Bikini

If seeing a woman in a low cut top or a bikini barely registers anymore, but seeing a mother breastfeeding her child makes you uncomfortable…

You haven’t seen it often enough.

I no longer believe that it is hypocrisy. It is the simple math of frequency. What we do not see often… stands out.

People who have strong feelings about other people covering up or finding private places are innocent of the details that go into breastfeeding an infant or a toddler. They hold simplified ideas, often ones that they have heard elsewhere that seem to make sense.

They are not aware that not every mother responds to a pump.

They are not aware that not every baby takes a bottle.

They are not aware of the devastation that isolation can create in the mind and heart of a new mother struggling to adjust after her baby has been born.

They are not aware that breastfeeding is a learned skill that both baby and mom need to work at and practice. It is natural but it does not come easily, even when a mama has been through it before.

They are not aware of how some children respond to being covered up.

They are not aware of the impact that adding another step can have on a mama who is struggling with just getting her baby to latch on.

They are unaware of the drastic changes that would take place if every mother began to breastfeed openly without covering.

It would be normal.

It would make it easier for new mothers, because they would have seen it before.

It would increase breastfeeding success rates and that would bring along all of the benefits that breastfeeding carries.

It would have an amazing impact on the postpartum mental health of new mothers.

It would also stop being noticeable. It would be no different than seeing a bathing suit on a beach.

There For You

I notice that your face is cloudy when you come off the bus. You snap at your little brother when he runs up to you to play. You go to your room. The door slams. I knock. You don’t answer. I pause and knock again. Not the “you need to open the door now” knock. A slow knock. Two knocks. Nothing more. Then I sit by the door and I wait.

A few minutes later the door opens. You sit down next to me. “Rough day?” I ask.

The floodgates open.

“I’m there for you” means just that.

I’m there.
For you.
When you are ready.

Never “I Told You So”

I’m thirty five years old. I have a history of thirty five years of experiences, thirty five years of mistakes, thirty five years of learning.

You are five. You have a history of five years, much of which you might not remember. You haven’t grown to the place that I was at when I made the mistakes that I made at ten. You haven’t grown into the types of mistakes that I made at thirteen. Or seventeen. You are no where near the mistakes that I made at twenty five. You are not yet at the mistakes that I will make at 37 or 40. I’m not yet in that place, myself.

I watch you make the mistakes that you will make. Sometimes I ask you to think about what a consequence might be if you continue to do something. But then when you come to me hurting when that thing happens, I hug you near and whisper “I know. It hurts. It hurts a lot. I’m here for you.”

Never “I told you so. “

It’s Time To Just Slow Down.

Keenie is putting sand on her legs. It’s time to go. I ask her to come with me. She piles more sand on her legs. I ask her again. She doesn’t acknowledge what I am saying.

I stay squatting next to her. I go silent. I wait. She starts to talk about the sand on her legs. About the thing that she sees in the eye of her imagination. I listen for a few short moments. I ask questions.

It’s not time to go, it’s time to slowly hatch from the chrysalis that she has made for herself. To fly like a butterfly to showers where we wash off the sand and the salt from the ocean.

It’s time to just slow down. Because this is my child’s childhood. It’s important lovely stuff.

I forget this often when I am in a rush. I should remember it more.