I know we can’t ascribe reason to our children’s reactions to the world. I know that their brains aren’t fully formed and they don’t have the experiences yet to lead them to good decision-making. I know all that, but still, I’m human, so I ask, “What were you thinking? Why did you do that?” I mostly ask silently, without hope of response, because I really do try to apply humankind’s growing understanding of child development and psychology to my parenting. My kids are too young to know what they’re thinking much of the time.
What’s nice, though, is that my children, at 7, are old enough to be capable of attempting to answer.
We’ve been having a serious issue with 7 year old disobedience of late. (Okay, it’s not that serious. I don’t need an intervention yet. I’ve only yelled once. But it feels like a backslide to age 3. All the great progress of years 4, 5 and 6 has vanished.) As I told my daughters, M and J, on leaving church this morning, their behaviour there having been way out of bounds, I’m not used to being the mommy of kids who don’t listen. I’m used to being the mommy of role models.
We had a family meeting after lunch. I was honest with my J and M. I told them that I felt like perhaps I hadn’t been a very good mommy recently. I had been trying to help them make good decisions, because that is my main job as their mother after making sure they have their needs fulfilled. (A lot of our decision-making comes down to a discussion of needs vs. wants.) I wasn’t seeing good decisions being made consistently.
J was the first to respond. She told me that she thought that I was a very good mommy. She had tears in her voice when she said that the problem was her listening and M’s. I asked if they wanted help going back to being excellent listeners and role models. They said yes.
I asked them how I could help. They didn’t know. They both thought that the consequences we employ are reasonable.
- I dock their allowance varying amounts for different transgressions. They get $3 a week, and I reduce it in $0.25 increments for things like leaving their dirty clothes on the floor, chasing the cats or leaving their shoes on the dining table. (What was she thinking?)
- I supplement their allowance for good behaviour. If J puts her clean laundry away without my having to hound her, she gets an extra $0.50. If J leaves her dinner plate on the table and M picks it up for her without taunting J about it, she gets $0.25. There’s no set fee schedule.
I’ve instituted a politeness jar, where we deposit a nickel each whenever we interrupt someone, forget to say “Please,” “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome,” make an inappropriate face, or are intentionally hurtful. I contribute to the jar too, although I haven’t had to put in more than a dime a day so far. I mostly struggle with appending “please” to my commands/requests. We contributed our collection to the local YMCA recently, and our next collection is intended for the food pantry.
- Toys that aren’t cleaned up lose their place in the girls’ open access toy collection. They become toys that the children must ask permission to play with. So far, they’ve lost Monopoly, Scrabble, paper dolls and markers.
- I wash, dry and fold clothes that are in the laundry basket. I need a 2 day warning if a particular item of clothing is needed and is dirty. If the girls still can’t find what they’re looking for, tough. This meant that J couldn’t fully participate in water play day at summer camp last week. She couldn’t locate a swimsuit. (As it turned out, there were 3 clean ones at the bottom of a very large bin of clean clothes they’d been avoiding dealing with. Natural consequences.)
I suggested that perhaps we start our efforts of behaviour improvement with sleep. It’s very difficult to make good decisions without enough sleep. Especially with school starting in a few weeks, we need to get serious about bedtime. Perhaps a focus on bedtime would be a good step in the right direction.
M and J agreed to try it out. We wrote “Get to bed on time!” in large letters on the mirror in the girls’ bathroom, where we would all see it constantly. We would convene another family meeting after lunch next Sunday and review the effectiveness of our focus on sleep.
The rest of the afternoon went pretty well. J called her grandmother to get her tuna sandwich recipe, insisting that there was no way Grammy’s yummy tuna had mayonnaise in it. “Eww, mommy!” Of course, Grammy’s recipe turned out to the same as mine. We had tuna sandwiches for dinner. With mayonnaise and relish.
Then came bath time. The girls were surprisingly non-combative when I told them to put up their things and get ready for bed. If they could be completely ready for bed by 8:00, we could watch 15 minutes of Star Wars before bed.
Things were going fine in the bathtub until I drained the excessively bubbly water to replace it with some clean water for rinsing. I asked both girls to scoot up the tub because the water would start coming out cold and …
J immediately scooted her body down, her legs taking the full force of the water coming out of the faucet.
I looked at her for a full second in disbelief, then lifted her out the tub, still covered in bubbles. I began to dry her as she began to scream. The bubbles were bad, mommy. They would give her eczema. I wasn’t listening, mommy.
I asked her to blow her nose. She screamed. I told her that, on the count of 3, I would take a nasal syringe to her nose. It was either that or blowing her nose. She chose the latter. She was now calm enough to talk.
Me: “Do you know that you did exactly the opposite of what I asked?”
Me: What were you thinking?
J: You were wrong. The water doesn’t come out hot right away.
Me: If you’d have let me finish, you would have heard me saying that the water would come out really cold and then really hot. I didn’t want you to be exposed to either extreme!
Me: You have to trust me. When I’m telling you to do something, I need you to obey first and argue second. You do know that you did the opposite of what I asked?
J: Yes. I didn’t know you knew it was cold.
Me: Because you didn’t listen. Because you didn’t let me finish.
J: I guess I scooted down because you told me to scoot up.
Me: Seems that way. Can we just talk if we disagree?
J: You didn’t listen when there were bubbles on me.
Me: That’s a fair statement. However, I did listen to what you were saying. I just didn’t think you were capable of hearing my response while you were screaming.
So that’s what she was thinking. Great. I still don’t know how to deal with it. There’s no magic bullet here. Maybe I can work with the understanding that the girls’ disobedience is part of them realizing that the adults around them are fallible. It’s their way of questioning the status quo. It’s their way of getting closer to being independent adults.
Yeah, I know. Just wait until they’re teenagers.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012 and is usually better able to keep her love of puns out of her writing. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and was delighted to have the opportunity to keep a foot in the blogosphere through HDYDI. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.