Parenting, 21st Century Style. I hope.

>> Monday, 4 March 2013

Sometimes, being a parent is just. plain. exhausting.

Before I even start this post properly, I want to say that most of the time my Boys are a delight.  I look around me, at the issues and problems some other parents face with their kids and think; we haven't done so badly.  No, actually, forget the British understatement; we've done bloody well.  We won the lottery when we were gifted with two such wonderful sons, and I will never - NEVER - forget that.

But.  They are still children.  They are still boys.  They are still extremely normal - along with all that goes with it.  

Recently I've been solo-parenting for most of the working week.  I take my hat off to those who do it full-time and permanently; I've been doing it most Monday-Fridays since August (holidays excepted), and it's hard work.  The smallest fly in the ointment at 7.30 am can alter the tone of an entire day, and to avoid that, I have to admit to have fallen back on trying to be super-organised.  A place for everything, everything in it's place.  Snow boots by the back door, library books always on the same table, school bags packed with homework the night before, school clothes set out the previous evening's bathtime, etc etc.  We're like a well-oiled machine, the Boys and I.

Except, of course, we aren't.  I am.  In my quest for a simpler life, I have to admit to having picked up 90% of the slack on tasks that probably should be responsibilities of my sons.

It makes life smoother, I chose to tell myself.  Sure, I probably shouldn't be the one to pack Boy #1's lunch box into his school bag in the morning - he is 9, after all - but what if he forgets it?  I'm only going to end up having to go back into school with it, an extra journey I can do without.  No, I'll just do whilst he's lying on the sofa snatching a last few minutes with Harry Potter before school;  at least then I know it's done.  And as for Boy #2, what of it if I'm the one to pull his snow pants off the hook for him, lay them out on the floor for him to meander up to when he's finished messing about with lego and slowly pull on whilst the rest of us are waiting at the front door?  Does it really matter who gets them out as long he has them on?  It's minus 10degC out there, after all - he can't go out without them...

But deep down I knew that I wasn't really doing the Boys any favours.  Sure, I was doing myself a favour in the short term - putting my mind at rest that Boy #1 had his lunch, getting Boy #2 to school on time in spite of himself -  but in the longer term, will I still be doing these things for them when they are 11 and 9?  15 and 13?  18 and 16?  It doesn't bear thinking about.  

I can't help thinking that it's time to let go a little.

Last week I went to a seminar that used 'Parenting with Love and Logic' as a tool to help us do that.  It's an interesting book that has as one of it's central tenets the fact that unless we give children the opportunities to make choices - including, occasionally, the wrong ones - and to try, succeed and sometimes fail all on their own merits, we are not allowing them to 'own' their choices, to develop confidence in themselves, and are not giving them the best start in life.  

The writers of the book argue that those of us who are helicopter parents (not me), or drill sergeants (regrettably, sometimes me) are not helping our children become healthy successfully functioning adults in the way that we would be able to do if we adopted more of a consultation approach.  If we would stand back, and let our children do the thinking.  Yes, we should give them firm rules and guidelines, guidance when required or when they ask for it, and a safe and always loving structure from within which to do that, but we should let our children make their own informed decisions and deal with the consequences (excepting, of course, when they put themselves in life-threatening situations).  Essentially, the book suggests that if we can help children learn to rely on and trust their own inner voice from a relatively young age - by not deafening them with our instructions and commands from outside - then they will be better equipped to rely on and trust their own sense of self-worth when they get older.  When we won't be there to give advice or to suggest that perhaps climbing into the car driven by their friend who's sunk 5 pints of lager at a party might not be such a good idea.

For example...  So, Boy #1 might forget his lunch.  He'll probably only do it once.  And Boy #2 might get cold when he sets foot outside.  You can be damn sure he'll rush into his snow pants the next time I ask.  Right?

It's an interesting theory.  Today was the day that I started to put it into practice.  

Boy #1 was ill and had to stay home (the best laid plans, and all that), but other than that we had a good start without quite as much moaning and complaining I usually get from Boy #2 ('Love & Logic approach to getting into the snow pants; 'Oh look, it's -9.5degC this morning.  Do you want to put your snow pants on inside, Boy #2, or in the car?  If you're going to take your time that's fine but then you will need to put them on the car...' Unsurprisingly inside - and putting them on quickly - was chosen).  

But then we crashed and burned spectacularly after school.  

Boy #2 has piano lessons almost immediately after school on Mondays.  He loves them - once I can get him into the room.  Unfortunately, that part - the getting him into the room - is the tricky bit.  Today was no exception as he raced upstairs the moment we got home and started working on a complicated lego creation.  I wasn't too concerned; we'd discussed the fact it was piano today both in school and on the way home, he knew his teacher was coming.  Everything - I thought - would be fine.

Ha.  Ha ha ha.

There was no piano lesson.  I had to send the teacher away without having actually taught a single note.    On the plus side, Boy #2 has now learned that in that situation I WILL take the cost the of the wasted lesson out of his savings and that the lego he wanted to play with WILL stay on the top shelf until next week. He has also learned that not showing age-appropriate behaviour will result in no tv for the rest of the day.  This is the one that REALLY hit home, of course.  

I also managed to stay calm, collected, and sympathetic through the subsequent 'You're not being fair's', the 'I don't like you very much today's' and so on - and most importantly, not to give in and to hold my nerve despite repeated pleading.

But I feel terrible for the poor teacher who came all the way over to us despite the fact that her car was in the garage for repairs; using the tram, bus and minibus to get here.  I feel a hot wave of shame when I think about it, to be honest.  That a child of mine would be so spoilt as to do that to a highly qualified teacher who, quite frankly, did not have to add him to her already over-crowded schedule when I begged her to do so last September.  I have to admit that stings. I think she understood.  She certainly told me she did - but that's not the point.

However, as I wrote to my husband earlier when I wanted to fill him in and be sure we were singing from the same hymn book when he called to speak to the children this evening, this is not about me.  I wrote;

'Am trying a new approach - out of that book I'm reading - where we make these issues their problems rather than ours.  For example, the cancellation of the lesson is his problem. The apology he will need to give her is his problem.  The cost of the wasted lesson is his problem.  Not being allowed to play with the lego that prompted this - f0r a week - is his problem.  We can genuinely sympathise with how that makes him feel - that's a shame - but we don't give in. These are his problems and he must deal with the consequences.'

Watch this space to see how it pans out...


Expat mum 4 March 2013 at 19:15  

Well, just like any change, there is going to be some resistance before you see any differences, so patience is key.
Oh and, when you let kids (ie. 17 year olds) take more of the responsibility and the consequences, they quickly grow used to wet towels picked up off the bathroom floor. In fact, it really doesn't seem to bother them. Sigh.....

Iota 4 March 2013 at 20:40  

That love and logic book was very popular in the circles I moved in in the US. I think it's good, though I don't think the authors allow for how much real life gets in the way. eg when children are ill, tired, over-wrought, you can't make them take responsibility for everything, and actually, they are quite often one of those three things!

The tip I use a lot, though, is the no negotiating approach. I've negotiated with my kids far too much over the years. Now, I try to say what needs to be said, and then when they try to discuss it, I reply "conversation over" or some such phrase, and just keep repeating it.

Iota 4 March 2013 at 20:48  

I also found it didn't always work for parents of more than one child, eg I couldn't say "if you don't hurry up, you'll be late for school", and then follow through, by letting the child be late for school, because it would mean the other child, who WAS on time and sitting waiting in the car, would be late too.

MsCaroline 4 March 2013 at 21:06  

Stick to your guns, Mum. I've spent many years coping with helicopter parents from my side of the teacher's desk, and it's very sad when they're nearly ready to head off to Uni and still have their parents micromanaging most of what they do. Son#1 has a number of friends who got to Uni and crashed and burned because they suddenly had no one to tell them what to do, where to go, and when. I agree with Iota, though: no negotiating, no discussions. Standard phrase when hearing, 'that's not fair' or somesuch is: "I'm sorry you feel that way." Good luck to you: I think you made exactly the right decision about the piano lesson: yes, it was too bad for the teacher, but I suspect that the lesson learned there was priceless, and it won't happen again.

Tattie Weasle 4 March 2013 at 22:28  

Help!!!! I'm looking after my two Monday to Friday and am trying to persuade them to take some responsibility by removing privileges if they dont get a move on etc. Now proud owner of iPod, 2 nintendos, an action man several teddies and a large box of Lego which will stay with me until the weekend - have feeling they will runout of toys for me to confiscate before they get the picture! Love em to bits but they seem quite slow learners!!

jeanie 5 March 2013 at 10:51  

It is hard - we have just reverted to the military mother here, because the teenager has her head firmly in the clouds...

Muddling Along 5 March 2013 at 11:40  

This sound very similar to how we try and parent our girls - that we let them have choices (usually of a couple of things, not really bothered about what they wear at weekends) but if they don't do things they have to like tidy up (and especially when we have pointed out that the mess they made should be cleared up along the way) then there are consequences and there are BIG consequences if they promise to do something and don't (that'll be Littler in bed in disgrace early on Sunday whilst her sister got TV...)

Good luck - just wish it wasn't so hard at times but do truely believe this is better in the long run

eggdipdip 5 March 2013 at 19:54  

Oh, this struck a chord with me. I've had to get strict with my 2 this week. I've left them get away with too much for too long, just for a quiet life. I had an hour stand-off with the nearly 3 year old on Friday over dinner. He wanted milk, not food. I refused. Eventually he ate his dinner and the stand-offs are slowly decreasing in length. I'm so guilty of being inconsistent with them, so I'm really trying to stick with what I say and follow through if I threaten consequences. Here's hoping I can stay the course!

Good luck with your boys, fingers crossed it gets easier.

Mtff 6 March 2013 at 06:56  

Good for you! I'd love to say I've been hugely successful with this approach but I find I'm not entirely consistent due to anxiety over wanting to make things right for me as well as them. I must get that book ..

Michelloui | The American Resident 6 March 2013 at 07:34  

Well done both in educating yourself on other methods and in attempting them!! I must admit I swing through all of the above--helicopter, drill sgt, and somewhere in the middle. As a single mum for 8 years I had to let my daughter learn her own lessons because I had too many other respinsibilities. So if she forgot her homework or gym kit then I couldn't rush into school to bring it. I would talk to her about it afterwards and let her know this is why it's important to remember it. But at other times I have been accused by my more relaxed friends of being overly protective. I may or may not have been, that may be up for debate! And then there's time when I know my daughter and step kids think I'm being a drill sgt and I dont care.

Ugh. You know what?! You're right--parenting is really really exhausting.

DD's Diary 6 March 2013 at 13:21  

Oooh, this sounds very interesting, I shall indeed stay tuned to see how it goes! I think it definitely pays to get children into shape before the teen hormones hit, otherwise ... well, arghh! sums it up. Oh, and by the way, a teenager can forget their lunch every day for a week quite easily .....

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