Once upon a time, I invented a chart to make the morning routine easier. Really, how hard is it to get dressed, make your bed and hang up your pajamas? I tried saying Eddie has to feed the dog in the morning before I feed him. No food for the pooch? No food for you! But these things require me to actually remember
my little edicts. I can be passive-aggressive (my strong suit) or I can nag (my second-strongest suit). Either way, it’s annoying for everyone in the house and is guaranteed to make Mommy suddenly remember some early meeting for which she should have left 10 minutes ago.
Once upon a time, I opined on getting my kids to make their beds each day. People’s comments told me that like my children, they missed the point, too. It’s not about making the bed. It’s about doing what Daddy says so he doesn’t have to nag nag nag. And it continues to absolutely baffle me how to motivate my almost 8-year-old son to do almost anything, except play Wii, eat sausage or sass his sister.
Some folks told me they never had to make the bed, and that’s fine. Me, I’m a bed-maker. It makes the room look tidier and says that you’re ready for your day. Eddie tells me it’s a waste of time because he’ll just unmake it at the end of the day when he gets in it again. (Future career: lawyer.) But my mom is a bed-maker, so I’m a bed-maker. And the point is not whether you are or aren’t, but that Mom or Dad said to do it. So you did.
If my mom said to wash your hands and come for supper when I was a kid, you washed your hands and came to supper. If dad said to collect up the trash to take to the dump, you collected the trash. No confusion or backtalk. I’ve checked with my folks occasionally on this, and they said I was a pretty obedient kid. Although my mom still recalls my selective deafness. She would holler for me from all over the house, but I wouldn’t hear her because I was so engrossed in whatever I was doing. But sneak up behind me and whisper, “Will, would you like a cookie?” and I’d turn around so fast I ought to get whiplash.
Eddie is just like that.
My Lovely Bride once revealed that in our early days, because of my missteps and screwups, she called me Captain Clueless. I admit, it was well deserved, especially after I forgot her birthday and bought some lame useless-tiny vase and a Vonda Shepard CD as a makeup present. (And she married me anyway!) I don’t want my son to grow into a similar doom.
I figure that because his personality is so like mine that I’d know how to deal with it. After all, it takes one to know one. But in fact, it’s the opposite. Our similarities only make it worse because it heightens my resolve to stamp my own negative traits out of him.
One week at my men’s Bible study, a verse seemed as if it were written exclusively for me: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). I know all I do every day is exasperate my son. I nag, I peck, I nag some more. If he wanted it to stop, wouldn’t he just do whatever I ask before I tell him for the 637th time? His pediatrician once told me that after you say their name twice, kids don’t really hear you. But rather than stop fixing supper and go get Eddie’s attention first, I prefer to shout loud enough for people to hear me three counties away.
A woman at church who taught first through third grades asked if I had tried a rewards chart. Stickers lead to prizes and so on. We did that with potty training and later in other incarnations. But these things take more management and attention to detail than Daddy’s willing to put in, and they usually fall by the wayside.
The same church woman said sometimes we make our biggest parenting mistakes when we try to correct our own faults in our children (tell me about it), and we’ve got to figure out what works for the child, not for the parent. I took that not to mean to kowtow and mollycoddle, but to actually expend the brainpower to figure out what motivates your child.
When it comes to punishment, that’s a snap. I can find my kids’ Vulcan Death Grip spot in an instant. For Eddie, we take away the Wii. For 5-year-old Carla, takes more creativity. After she behaved badly for the babysitter one night, I took away a grocery bag’s worth of her dolls. Big deal – she has 400 others to play with. Then when she used marker on her rug (and made a really cute smiley face) and wrote on the toilet, we took away all markers, crayons and pens. She knew we meant business.
Actually motivating the kids is much harder. But I realized that Eddie loves dessert, again like me. (Don’t leave cookies alone with me and hope there will be any left when you come back.) I told him that each morning he gets his jobs done by 8 a.m., I will put dessert in his lunch. And if he does it five days in a row, we’ll go for ice cream after school. No nagging allowed. Victory was guaranteed.
But the first day was a scratch. He said he brushed his teeth, but the breath-sniff test was inconclusive. The second day he made it. The third day, after I admonished Lovely Bride for reminding him the day before, he flamed out and sobbed. Today, he got his things done once again.
My mother reminds me that this too shall pass. And that he’ll be able to do things on his own by the time he leaves for college.