Monday, February 23, 2009

Spilled Milk

My youngest daughter is a high-energy, needy, attention-hound. It's not her fault - it's just part of her personality. She cannot entertain herself and will deliberately do something to garner my attention if I don't happen to be giving enough of it to her.

Often she will walk into the room, sigh dramatically, and ask "what can I do???" To which I am often likely to respond, "I don't know, what do I look like - Julie McCoy???" I mean really, I don't get paid to be the cruise director here, kid. Unfortunately, parenting guides advise against the use of sarcasm with young kids. Apparently it can come off sounding mean. So I try to limit such comments to once a day at the most.

The problem is, I really love my kids, but I really don't enjoy playing Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. If they catch me in the morning, somewhere after I've had my first two cups of coffee and read the paper, but before lunchtime rolls around, I just might be in the mood to get down on the floor with them and play.

But by mid afternoon, the mom weariness begins to kick in. I've only gotten half-way through my to-do list, I have the energy of a sloth, and I'm a mere two hours away from having to think about dinner. I still have to attempt some writing, find the bottle of laundry detergent that I sat down somewhere in this house, and, oh, clean up the milk that she just spilled all over the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in an attempt to get my attention. Mission accompished - four-year-old, one point, mom, zero.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Teaching Respect and Drawing the Line Between Kids and Adults

I was reminded recently that my job as a parent is not to be my child's friend, but rather to teach them the rules of life so they can be good people as adults.

There are, in my opinion, too many young adults today who jump out of college and into the world expecting that they are owed something, not realizing that there is a place for respect and a time to earn their own. Watch any reality show on tv, deal with young clerks at the local mall, or just walk into a restaurant or bar that twenty-somethings frequent and I think this statement rings true. There is a big contingency of self-important, delusional people who have been taught through their lives that they are all-important and screw everyone else.

I want my kids to be better, for I feel that the young adults who were taught respect, who were taught that the community around them is more important than the individual, are the ones who will ultimately be the most successful in this world.

It is hard, though, when you are around your kids 24/7, to not fall into some sort of complacency once in a while, to the point that you occasionally get snapped back to reality and realize that somewhere along the line, you lost control.

My oldest, M, has periodically been having attention span issues in school. Every so often, she has been sent home with a note indicating that she has failed to follow directions, or is not listening to the teacher.

Pre-children, had I heard of such behavior, I would have adamantly insisted that the kid in question needed to be reminded who was the boss in the situation (the teacher), and deserved a stern reprimand and lecture on respect.

Post-children, I found myself inexplicably trying to figure out all of the reasons M might have been acting up. Was she tired? Bored? Too young to be in kindergarten just yet? Were other kids creating the problem? Was the teacher the problem?

I even had a talk with the teacher to try to determine exactly what was going on (a move I still consider to be a valid one- there is not a lot of communication that goes on between schools and parents and sometimes, this is the only way to get a handle on what really goes on in class).

Well, the bottom line is, perhaps none or all of these things were going on. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that M was not showing respect to the teacher. She was not listening to her. She was not following directions. She had placed herself above an adult, a person in position of authority, and once we woke the hell up and realized this simple fact, we made sure we corrected it. M was sent to her room, had tv privileges removed, and was reminded in no uncertain terms of what was expected of her. She has not come home with a note since.

Still, I hate doing these things, hate being the bad guy. I question myself all the time about whether I overreacted, whether my punishment was knee-jerk and cruel, and how my actions will affect my children down the road. But as my mother (and husband) reminded me recently, her generation did not obsess over these things. They did what they felt was right, they corrected the situation, they moved on. My sister and I are not in therapy these days, she correctly pointed out. It was the splash in the face that I need every once in a while to keep me from becoming an overindulgent, not-my-child kind of mother.

The Hard Headed Child

My four-year-old has been confined to her bedroom for an all-morning time out. She is might ticked about it. Over the course of the last three hours, she has screamed, cried, kicked the door, and asked to come down more than once. I am standing my ground because I am mighty ticked, too!

G has, for at least the past two years, interfered with her older sister's sleep in one capacity or another, to the point of driving me insane. G is not a kid who needs a lot of sleep. M is just the opposite - 12 hours might be enough for her. But given the opportunity to play with her little sister, M will forgo sleep until she falls face forward on the floor.

They used to share a bedroom. But night after night, my husband and I found ourselves irritably stomping up and down the stairs, telling them to get back into bed and go to sleep. A 7:30 bedtime is all fine and good, but when your youngest is keeping your oldest riled up, and at 10:30 they are still not asleep, it's a problem. No amount of threatening, punishing, or wringing of the hands seemed to matter. So when M was about to start kindergarten, we decided the only reasonable solution was to separate them.

So a month later, M was in her new room, the walls painted a cheery pink, with her own space and an opportunity to get more sleep. G was alone in her room. Bedtime playtime was over and they were both asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed. Problem solved!

Until G, the ever-resourceful hard-headed child that she is, decided that the morning hours worked just as well for play. Being deprived of her sister at night was something she had to deal with, but by morning, she could generally wait no longer. So now, at 6 a.m., she was there, knocking on her sister's door to see if she wanted to play. M, who would not otherwise be awake, would then drag herself out of bed, get her wits about her, and then proceed to play full force with her sister.

And we, now downstairs, were also awakened early by what sounded like a heard of elephants about to come through the ceiling.

This new situation has been going on since last summer. Again, no amount of punishment, warnings, or outright threats have dissuaded G from waking her sister.

I suppose I should be grateful I don't have the problem many parents do - that of my kids coming into my bed at varying times of the night to sleep. My children, thankfully, have never been interested in spending time in our bedroom. But this waking the sister up issue has become my Everest. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I mind the two of them playing together. I don't. In fact, I'm very grateful they get along so well. I want them to be close. And I'm not trying to exercise heavy-handed total control over my kids. But M goes to school at 8:15 and doesn't get home 'til 4:15 - a really long day for a five-year-old kid who is on the young-side of the students in her class.

And so, this is why G is in her room. Previous punishments that included removal of privileges haven't worked. I simply don't know what else to do to get through to her. She certainly doesn't like being confined there, so I would check it off as a yes in terms of effectiveness. I know I will probably have to repeat numerous times until she gets the message. Hopefully she will, eventually, get that message and the fun involved will not be worth the punishment involved.

Given her personality, though, I know this is only one of many such battles I will fight with her. G is simply the type of kid for whom the reward is usually going to be well worth the risk and some day, she will be tasked with making her own decisions about what is worth it, and what is not. I know this will serve her well in life. But I hope my actions now will at least teach her later that her choices, all choices, involve the possibility of both a favorable and an unfavorable outcome and I hope she always considers both.