Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why I stopped feeling sorry for my kids.

 "Listen little Pippi," said the Teacher. "You want to be a real fine lady when you grow up, don't you?"

"You mean the kind with a vail on her nose and thee double chins under it?" Said Pippi

"I mean a lady who always knows how to behave and is always polite and well bred. You want to be that kind of lady don't you?'

"It's worth thinking about," said Pippi, "but you see, Teacher, I had just about decided to be a pirate when I grow up." She thought a while. "But don't you think, Teacher, one could be a pirate and a real fine lady too?

The teacher didn't think one could.                        ~ Pipi Goes Aboard (Astrid Lindgren)


I want to be a pirate when I grow up.

I have decided that I am very much like Pippi. The girl's and I have been reading her stories lately and I find myself utterly delighted with every chapter. There is a part of her that truly wants to have good manners and be a lady, but there is a much larger part of her that is far more concerned with adventure and courage and fighting for the underdog. Her massive strength is never explained through-out the books, it is just there. She rides horses, buys 37lbs of candy (just because she can) and gives it all away, she plays pretend, secretly hides chocolates for her beloved friends just to make them smile, she laughs in the face of fire and wonders at the sadness of a dead bird. She always thinks of others before herself and is forever the optimist, except when it comes to her own social insecurities (she truly has no idea how to behave properly at a coffee party).

But one of the things I think that I like the most about Pippi is her logic. She can accept that her mother is an angel, but her Papa can not have drowned, he simply couldn't. He must instead have become a Cannibal king when he got tossed over board. That is the only reasonable explanation.  And WHY would the pharmacist have put all the different medicines into different bottles when there was clearly space for all of it in one? And if she has ridden her horse for an hour now, it is only fair that she carry the horse the rest of the way down the path. After all, he must be tired by now.

Or this - and girl passes by Pippi on the road and asks if she has seen her Papa pass this way:

 "M-m-m," said Pippi. "How did he look? Did he have blue eyes?"
"Yes," said the girl.
"Medium large, not too tall and not too short?"
"Yes," said the girl.
"Black hat and black shoes?"
"Yes, exactly," said the girl eagerly.
"No, that one we haven't seen," said Pippi decidedly.

The girl hurried away, but then Pippi shouted,
"Did your Papa have big ears that reached way down to his shoulders?"
"No," said the girl and turned and came running back in amazement. "You don't mean to say that you have seen a man walk by with such big ears?"
"I have never seen anyone who walks with his ears," said Pippi. "All the people I know walk with their feet.”

Very logical!

I get stuck in my own brand of logic sometimes, and it makes me stodgy and grumpy. Most of it has to do with things such as: "I cooked dinner, therefore the dishes must be washed." Or "No, kids cannot play in with the garden hose because then they will get muddy, and track mud all over my house, and then I shall have to bath the children and wash the floor and I am tired. So NO PLAYING WITH THE GARDEN HOSE RIGHT NOW!" And that is no fun....

Of course there is a time and a place for playing in the hose, for instance, I do not think that right after a bath is a good time to get covered in mud. But then, I could be wrong. It could in fact be the exact right time to play in the hose and I have been thinking of it all wrong all this time. But because of my own personal brand of logic that expressly forbids it, we may never know.

I have been teaching my own children to pay attention to logic as well - and I think Pippi has been very good for this. You see, in order to truly understand logic I think we need to joyfully experiment our way through life, but sometimes we can read books and let the characters experiment for us. So instead of jumping into a mud puddle right after we have had our evening bath, we can let Pippi do it for us. We can read and laugh and talk together about what happened and whether that actually would happen and why. My kids always know the answer, they understand far more then I give them credit sometimes, they constantly amaze me.

There has been a new cutting-edge parenting theory out lately. It is a revolutionary idea, one that has truly taken today's modern parents completely by surprise. Want to hear it?

If you let kids do things for themselves, they are more secure, have higher self esteem, lose the sense of entitlement that is so rampant in today's kids and they become better adjusted adults. Who knew!

Our kids need to fail in order to learn how to be successful.

Truly revolutionary! The answer has been right at our fingertips all this time, and only just now are today's experts discovering this secret to success (note the sarcasm).

I always laugh when old ideas suddenly become new again. Like how cloth diapering has become such a fad. Oh how our previous generations must be shaking their heads at us - Looking at all these "young" moms that think they invented cloth diapering and are preaching on their soapbox to that affect. Little do they know their own bottoms were swaddled in cloth!

I feel it must be the same when we come up with ideas such as "let kids do things themselves." We are being scoffed at my friends, but they are too polite to put us down.  Politeness and common courtesy...perhaps that will be next? It is due for a comeback...

We "help" our kids too much. I am the first to admit that I am 100% guilty of this myself. The "helicopter parent" movement is hurting our kids, preventing them from becoming healthy adults.

I have an on-going battle with my children that is based in logic, my own logic. And I have recently decided we need to re-organize our thinking.

My battle centers around a clean play-room. I know I am not alone in this. I have heard other moms sigh the same sigh. I am shocked with the speed that my kids can take a decently organized room and create utter shambles. And then when it is time to put away? Tears, stomach aches, exhaustion, hunger, everything under the sun prevents it. And so I dictate the cleaning process, getting more and more frustrated as the hours go by - and yes, in it's most disastrous state it takes me about 45 minutes to get it clean. It can easily take 3-4 hours for these kids to get it clean on their own. I get angry when I clean the room for my kids. Dirty socks thrown into the toy-box makes me angry. Papers stuffed between the cracks, shortcuts taken at every opportunity. I throw things away like crazy when I clean that room: Doll clothes, polly-pocket shoes, coloring books and crayons, you name it.

Recently I was helping the kids clean, and felt the anger welling up and knew it was not ok. I was going to get angry, I was going to yell when I didn't need too. So I told the kids that I was going to clean their room this time, and they were going to go watch a show. Because I knew I was going to get frustrated, and I didn't want to be frustrated. So THIS time I was going to do it. I was going to show grace and they were going to work very hard to keep it that way - well, as much as a 5 and 7 year old are able.

But that didn't feel ok either - it was just a cop-out on my part. And while my kids know it would never become the norm, even doing it for them once felt like a band-aid for what I knew was a much bigger problem.

As history often does, it repeated itself rather quickly, and within a week or two the room was a complete and utter mess again. I truly don't know how they do it. But this time I was not willing to do the work for them.  So I started my tyrannical brigade, got myself ramped up for the battle to come...
And suddenly it occurred to me, why do I get angry? Is it because of my kids, or is it something in me?

I get angry because I take it personally when they do not respect the work I have done to make their room an inviting place to play. They have way to many toys, and as kids - they do not appreciate that fact and never will. But you see, I am also not giving my kids enough credit. I do the work for them because I do not think they can do it themselves, as they have shown me in their past attempts at cleaning. And because I do the work for them, they don't think they can do it for themselves. And that is perhaps the biggest tragedy of them all.

We needed a new logic. A new 1+1=2 brand of thinking. Both of our thinking was hurting our attempts at getting the room clean.

So I decided all at once that I was going to stop short-changing my kids and their abilities. If I knew that they could do the work, why was I letting them get away with the short-cuts? Because I felt sorry for them. The tears, the tummy-aches, the cries of "Ayla is not helping!" had moved me. I wasn't trusting my kids to do their best work, and as a result, they didn't think they could do it themselves and so they had invented short-cuts in hopes of appeasing their beast of a mom - and because they are human, and we humans like to find short-cuts so we can get out of doing what is hard, and focus instead on what is fun.

So, smile on my face I changed my own personal brand of logic. "I am so sorry for cleaning your room for you so many times. When I did that it was almost like I thought you guys could not do it yourself, and I was REALLY wrong huh. You guys know how to clean this room, you know where everything goes. You also know that if you do not put something away once you are done playing with it that messes get made. You know that leaving crayons on the floor makes for broken crayons, that cutting paper into little bits makes paper messes, you guys know that if you play with puzzles or beads and the pieces get left out that they get ruined. You are smart girls, you are big girls. And I am so sorry I have not been treating you like that. That was not ok of me, I promise I will not do it again, from now on, when it is time for you to get this room clean I trust you guys to do your best work every time.

This room is your responsibility and I know you can do it. I'll come in and check on you every so often, if you have any questions you can let me know and I will help you find an answer. You may listen to music while you work, you may play pretend games with one another while you work. But you will work until this room is 100% clean.  I want to see your BEST work. If you put things where they do not belong then mom will take them out and you will have to do it again. So know that it will be MORE work if you try to stuff things into corners. But that is your choice, if you want to make more work for yourself you can do that, that is your choice. But Mom is done feeling sorry for you. Once it is all done then we can read books before bed, and the faster the room is clean the more time we will have for books. How much time we have will be up to you."

It is amazing how the anger entirely went away when I stopped feeling sorry for them. If it takes hours, it takes hours - and it does take hours; every single time right now. But I am confident it wont take hours forever. They are getting better and better.

We started something else new too - when it is done there is one very important step. We go into the clean room, we spin around for joy (Taylor loves to make pretend snow angels on the clean floor) And we appreciate our clean room. We talk about how wonderful a job we did, how we worked hard and FINISHED it and how amazing it is to be in our own clean room. I don't say "I told you so" I don't make threats about keeping it this way. They can keep it that way or not if they like, but if they don't they will be cleaning again tomorrow - and they will get no pity from mom. If I am working on something else I will ask "Did you go in and appreciate your clean room?" Once they tell me it is done. That step is not to be forgotten!

Of course there are also days that I tell them we are taking a break. No cleaning today. Some days we need time off, some days we need adventure. We need to go on walks to see how many different kind of bugs we can find, we need play in the garden hose, we need to fight dragons and rescue princesses. Some days we watch movies all day and nobody cleans, not Mama, not kids. Some days I help them clean, but I am not allowed to be angry if I do that. Because this is their space, if I find myself getting angry I have to stop cleaning. Every day they help me clean the rest of the house too - and they cannot get angry. Because this is my space, but it is theirs too. So we work together.

It has not worked perfectly, I am still learning and so are they. But I feel it is a step in the right direction. You see, I make messes a lot too - I make messes with what I say to people. I make messes with how I act sometimes. I make messes because of the choices I make or do not make. But my Daddy-God is patient, he lets me clean at my own pace. And my pace is slow, it can takes hours, days, months or even years to clean up my messes. Yes, He is patient - but He doesn't let me get away with anything while I clean. I don't get to cut corners, I don't get to make short-cuts. When I make messes, I have to be the one to clean them, no matter how uncomfortable I get.  I get tired, I get tummy-aches, I get hungry and I get frustrated because it feels like other people are not doing their fair share. But He is there to help if I get stuck, he helps me find the answer. And when we are done for the day? Oh we turn somersaults together for the joy of a clean room - it may not stay that way for long, but for this moment, it is clean - it is done! And we celebrate that together.

And some days we take time off from the logic of it all, and we rest. Because days of rest are just as important as days of work.

I have decided that I want to be just like Pippi when I grow up. She took time off too. Too much plutification is not good for anyone!

“No Fridolf, bother all this learning. I can't study anymore because I must climb the mast to see what kind of weather we're going to have tomorrow.”
                                                                             ― Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking

1 comment:

  1. Another adventure in mothering. Thanks for always taking me into your journey.


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