Friday, April 21, 2017

In Defense of the Mom Speech

I have this bad habit of trying to talk sense into my kids.  Normally it's preceded by yelling and that sort of thing, which is no better, but once I chill out a bit, I try to help the kids understand why they're supposed to do what I ask them to do.  I realized some time ago that kids won't be motivated to do something if they simply don't understand why they're doing it.  In a perfect parenting world, the simple fact that I ask them to do it should be motivating enough, but let's face it...that is not how kids work.  I sat through this speech a while back for work that talked about intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.  The key to life is transforming extrinsic motivation into intrinsic, so you're doing something because you want to, not because anyone or anything else is convincing you to.  And while a lot of that speech amounted to exhausting psychobabble, there is certainly food for thought there.  With kids I think we're just trying to help them see those motivating factors so that down the road they understand the importance and it just becomes part of their normal life without question.  Whether it's cleaning up their room, eating healthy, or going to school (and later work), we know they need to do those things to be functional adults, so we put an immense amount of parenting energy into teaching them the discipline they'll need to tackle those tasks (and more) later in life.

Well, when you have kids like mine, the task seems insurmountable.  First you have Jacob, who has thrown up daunting barriers to pretty much every sort of parenting discipline since he was approximately 18 months old.  He certainly has his own set of challenges, and sometimes for that reason it's even harder to feel okay about pushing these things on him, because you just don't know what he's truly capable of.  His brain works differently than most people's, so it's not as simple as saying he's lazy or defiant.  It simply does not occur to him sometimes because his brain is so full of other stuff.  He can come across as thoughtless, messy, obnoxious, or awkward without even realizing it, and even as his parent it's hard to know what he's truly capable of vs. what's a battle that's not worth fighting.

Then you have Carter, who for all of his incredibly sweet moments, is now almost as much of a handful as Jacob.  He's sneaky and busy and has a hair-trigger temper.  He is the epitome of an impulsive four-year-old.  He'll walk up to Jacob and punch him (which I think is just him being proactive for whatever battle is sure to ensue, but still...).  He will throw a toy the second it starts to frustrate him.  He runs at full speed most of the the time, whether he's inside or out.  Getting him to stop long enough to consider rules or other general good behavior is extremely difficult.

When you add the two together it is a recipe for disaster.  Both of them are completely fixated on each other, and when that happens, they will listen to nothing.  It's pointless to talk any sense into them until they're separated and starting to calm down themselves.  We've pretty much stopped even "punishing" them, per se, but when it gets bad between them, they're both just directed to go their separate ways.  Sending both to their rooms usually doesn't work unless one of us is there to police them, since their doors are right next to each other.  But as long as they're apart, we can start chilling everyone out. 

Once that happens, sometimes I will try to talk sense into one or the other of them.  It's usually pointless and yet I feel compelled.  How are they ever going to understand the problem if it's not explained to them?  Or how to fix it, for that matter?  So I try.  And 98% of the time it falls on deaf ears.  Well, they might hear it, but being able to bring it to mind in the moment when they're facing the same situation doesn't always pan out. 

But every once in a while...after many, many repeat attempts...something gets through.  Months ago, it was the constant reminder to Jacob to put his cereal bowl in the sink and rinse it out.  It took months, literally, but he finally does it regularly now.  Next step is for him to clean up the mess he leaves behind on the table, but one thing at a time.  The most recent thing that sunk in was how he asked for breakfast.  Every morning I'd get this rude, "I want breakfast!" yelled through the house.  It sounded so demanding, like I was his servant and was expected to drop everything and feed him.  I mentioned it a bunch of times, told him what I would prefer to hear, and lo and behold, he now says, "May I please have some breakfast?"  Small stuff, perhaps, but it's proof that at some point, two mom speeches actually worked!

I've had a couple successes with Carter, as well.  We've had a hard time getting him to stay in bed in bed at night--both around bedtime and in the middle of the night.  We still have issues with bedtime, but he's gotten much better about staying in bed at night.  After I talked to him a few times about growing up and making me proud by being a big boy, he started sleeping through and asking me in the morning, "Mommy, are you proud of me?"  Then, we had this other issue where every time I would get to daycare, he would hide.  Usually I'd find him quickly and he'd get upset by that, or he wouldn't get enough time to hide and that would frustrate him, too.  It all came to a head the day I was reviewing and ordering his pictures a few weeks ago, when the photographer noticed something out of the corner of her eye behind me, and it turned out to be Carter, who had hidden behind the bookshelf he often hid behind, but since things had been shifted for the photo shoot, he got himself stuck trying to get out.  He was crying and looked desperate to squeeze his head back out.  We moved the bookcase and got him out without injury, but he seemed pretty scared.  I reminded him after that that I had previously asked him to stop hiding and this was one of the reasons why--I didn't want to see him get hurt trying to sneak into tiny spaces.  I told him that I would much rather have him run to me and give me a big hug like his friends do with their parents.  And you know what, he almost always does now, unless he's totally absorbed into something else.  So, again, proof that my lectures sometimes sink in.

I wish it worked more often than it does, but odds are that sometime before they're 18, most of the speeches will eventually sink in, as we don't send our kids out into the world as complete jerks.  They still have a lot to learn even at that point, but in general they're at least decent human beings by then.  So, presumably, most of the large scale life lessons must sink in somehow.  So perhaps the mom speeches aren't as pointless as they seem.  It may take a lot of attempts, and it may take years, but eventually, finally, they mostly work.  So on any given day, I guess I'll take my chances...

Daycare pickup

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