Parental Failure #46

(Part 2 of a 3-part series)

So now that I’ve talked about the not-so-clear link between money and happiness, let me show you how badly I’ve blown it as a parent.  Especially in terms of teaching any lessons of value to my kids.

Because what’s really gotten me all worked up around here is the major post-birthday withdrawal Nico’s been going through now that his 5th birthday has passed and there’s no more gifts a-coming his way.  I mean, the kid’s been going through DTs for a good couple of weeks, which, as you can imagine, has made everything a little more complicated around here.

Now, here’s a picture from before:

This was taken one morning we met some friends at the local park.  Instead of attacking the slides and swings, Nico and his buddies went crazy picking weeds.  For hours.  There we were, in the middle of a kick-ass park (with all the scooters and bikes we’d brought with us, mind you) and the only thing the kids wanted to do was pick dandelions.  When we left, they were happy as clams.

Now fast-forward to last week and Nico’s incessant whining for more presents. Not only does the kid keep asking for more things, he’s decided he needs to own more things.  And not just now, but when he’s an adult.

Here’s a current list of everything Nico would like to own as an adult:

  • 3 mobile homes
  • 3 camper vans
  • 3 15-people vans
  • 3 giant houses and
  • 15 acres of land.

Wait, it gets worse.  This week, he’s decided he’d like to own 178 acres of land.  In Australia.

And what exactly, I asked him, are you going to do with that much land?

“I’m going to have a town,” he said.  “Called Radar Gun.  Where the speed limit is 178 mph and no one ever gets a ticket.  Because they’re going so fast, not even the police can catch them.”

“Hmm,” I said.  “Daddy’s going to like your town.”

He beamed.  “And I won’t even charge you any money to live in one of my houses.”

“Well, that’s nice of you,” I said, as graciously as I could.

This most recent comment, combined with the absolutely over-the-top thing Gabriel said to me the other day (see below), helped me realize it was Time for a Family Meeting.  Yes, that’s right—A Meeting About Values.  Which seems rather timely, considering everything that’s been going on with the Democrats and Republicans lately.  But I digress.

What I wanted to talk to a) Ken and b) my kids about were what kinds of things were important to us as a family.  And as much as I hate the phrase “family values,” that’s pretty much where we were at.  As in: none of us seemed to have any.  Ken and I had been so busy putting out the zillion fires that popped up on any given day that we weren’t being very proactive in teaching the kids what kinds of things we cared about.  Things like community, responsibility, and kindness.  (I’d include patience, but I’m obviously still trying to master that one myself.)

Now, I don’t want to get into any debates over what’s moral or right here.  My take on the whole topic is this: whatever’s right for you and your family is where it’s at, my friend.

But here’s the question this all raises for me: how many of us are actually (or actively) teaching our kids what’s important to us on a daily basis?  I mean, seriously.  If compassion is important to you, are you treating your kids with compassion? Or are you just trying to survive the day (like the rest of us) when you tell your kid “No!” or “You can’t possibly be hungry—you just ate!”  or “Oh, come on, I know you’re not scared!”

Uh-huh.  Between the 800 things on our daily to-do lists, it’s not very surprising that the big picture (read: important stuff) often gets left for another day.

Ken and I are constantly battling this one.  Or should I say, we’re constantly talking about how we really need to change things, and then we’re constantly forgetting.  Ah, life.

But this past week, I hit the wall.  Especially after my hotheaded little munchkin Gabriel rather calmly told me to “Help me right now or I’ll punch you in the face.”

Excuse me? I was so shocked by what he’d said that I burst out laughing.  About two minutes later, he let me know that he was serious.  “Help me now,” he screeched, “or I’m going to take that [your coffee cup] away from you!”

Talk about hitting me where it hurts!  The kid already knows how much I value my coffee!

All joking aside, that one yucky moment instantly taught me that I was, shall we say, reaping what I’d sowed.  After this busy, vacation-packed month, I’d fallen behind in work and had become way too stressed out and impatient with the kids.  And I’d begun using way too many threats on my kids, just so that I could get them to do what I wanted them to do.

But were those threats working? Of course not. They were just getting everybody all riled up and creating a yucky feeling around our house.

But here’s the bright side of this story: as soon as I realized how far off the path we’d fallen, I got my act together.  And no joke, the next day was possibly one of the best around our house in recent history.  I tried my very best to be calm, connected and patient, and the kids ate it up.  By bedtime, I’d morphed into some kind of super-hero, and Ken was asking me what I’d done with his wife.

So let me share my dirty little secret with you.  Did I accomplish my great day with bribery and sweets?  Nope.  Tried that, done that and it doesn’t work, my friend.  I accomplished it with clear goals of what I was trying to achieve and some pretty clear boundaries on what would happen if I didn’t.

Let me explain.  We’ve been expending an insane amount of energy around mealtime lately, with one or both of trying to cajole Gabriel into eating. (Not that any of you have ever encountered this one before.  Ahem.)  Well, it was no surprise that dinnertime had become a battle itself, with one or both of us pissed off when Gabriel refused to eat.  So why weren’t we doing anything about it?  Exactly.  Because neither one of us wanted to be the bad guy by setting limits.  But the downside was that we were both being ruled by a tiny, 2.5 year-old dictator, and dinner had become a real pain-in-the-ass.

So I finally got my shit together, sat Gabriel down and told him that, from now on, he’d have 20 minutes to eat.  It was up to him whether or not he was hungry and wanted to eat.  But when the buzzer went off, I’d take his plate away and he’d be done.  Which meant nothing else to eat until the next meal (or snack time, if that happened to come before).

I can almost hear what you’re thinking over there: pretty simple, right? Nothing you haven’t already read about in all those fun, little parenting books we’ve all got stacked up next to our beds.  And while I’m sure zillions of people already do this, it never occurred to us.  OK, maybe it occurred to us once or twice, but we were two chicken to do anything about it.

But here’s the neat little thing I learned from this experiment: once I’d set the boundary with Gabriel, we both knew what the rules were and where we stood.  Which meant we were no longer spending 30 or 40 minutes waffling over whether or not he was going to eat, what he was going to eat, etc.

And here’s the super-cool trick I learned from all of this: getting this thrice-daily argument out of the way instantly freed up a bunch of energy I could now put toward something else.  Like playing with my kids or being present with them or actually enjoying my time with them instead of yelling at them.

You’d think this was rocket science, right? That whole following-through bit certainly feels that hard, sometimes, doesn’t it?  But as Ken and I keep talking about our values and what it is we want to teach our kids (and what kinds of adults we want to raise), it’s become increasingly clear that I can’t teach any value to my kid if I’m not adhering to that value in my own life.

Now, I don’t mean to be a pain-in-the-ass about this and stand here on my pulpit screeching that You! Too! Must! Try! This!  I share it only because it’s been one hell of a hard-earned realization and it doesn’t have to be.  Sure, we all make mistakes, and sure, Ken and I have already fallen off the wagon plenty of times since we’ve started trying to change our lifestyle to better fit our values.  But we keep getting back up and trying again.  And so far, it’s working.

Case in point: Gabriel and the whole meal debacle.  By stepping up and setting some clear boundaries (thereby acting like a responsible parent), my actions indirectly taught my child something about taking responsibility in his own life.  As in: it was my responsibility to prepare dinner and set it down in front of Gabriel, but it was Gabriel’s responsibility to decide whether or not his body was hungry and needed the food.

Talk about a win-win situation.  Why in the world it’s taken us so long to get here is another topic entirely….

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5 Responses to Parental Failure #46

  1. dana August 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    Hey T-
    I LOVE this post. Boundaries. we’ve been working on those as well. It’s nice to get clear and I think the kids love it too.

  2. Eileen August 14, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    I’ve been thinking about exactly these same things lately, wondering how I can model for them the virtues and values that are important to me (at least in theory) when I am so busy just trying to hang on and get through the day. How do we create something larger and more meaningful in our family when we are just drowning in laundry? I have this idea that it’ll get easier as they get older, but part of me thinks that is naive, since one set of preoccupations will no doubt be replaced by another. I started reading Unconditional Parenting last night, and I think there are some gems in there about how to live what we are trying to teach the kids in terms of how we approach our interactions with them, but I think implementation will be ever so much harder than intent. As always. 🙂 It really helps me to know you are on the similar terrain in the crazy journey.

    • tpajevic September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am #

      I’ve got to pick up that book again–it really does have some great tips. But I hear you on the whole balance thing–it can be so tough just to get through the day sometimes, and then I’m supposed to be doing all the big picture stuff on top of it? Man, alive. Lately, I’m just looking forward to crashing at 8pm, once the kids are down. Talk about goals 🙂

      Anyway, keep me posted on your reading–I’d love to hear anything you’re willing to share!

  3. becca August 18, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    hey tanja,
    this made me laugh out loud. little samuel at 8 months has just morphed into a REAL KID from his sweet babyhood. now he whines, wants YOUR cup, and is so frustrated by not being able to crawl. i can see my future 3 year old in yours! thanks for all your charming, funny writin’!

    • tpajevic September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am #

      Becca! How’s life after your world tour?
      Yeah, it’s funny how quickly they morph into little people, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s just funny how long it takes us to really see their little personalities, which are there from the start. Looking forward to hearing all your crazy stories as he gets older! xxoo, T

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