I start to focus on the things I do — charts and lists and organizational tools, menus and special desserts and delicious after-school snacks, homework help and notes to teachers and volunteer time at the schools, bedtime routines and laundry done and fun family activities on the weekends. All while never raising my voice or losing control.
And then I start to focus on what my children do — obey the first time, do chores without reminders, do homework cheerfully, say please and thank you and yes, ma’am and no, sir.
And I sort of lose sight – even if only for a little while – of my purpose, my goal. I get caught up in all the doing and behaving. And I get sort of a temporary amnesia about what I really want — a real relationship with my children.
The charts and lists are good. The bedtime prayers and hugs are good. Obedience is good; polite manners are good; completing homework is also good. But those things aren’t the root of my parenting. At my very core, I want to be in relationship with my children.
But sometimes I realize that for an entire evening, I have spoken AT my children rather than WITH them. I have calmly and politely given instructions — Finish these spelling sentences. . . .Don’t dump your backpack on the floor. . . . Please unload the dishwasher. . . . Speak kindly to each other. . . . Wash up for dinner. . . . Turn down your volume; you’re all screaming. . . .Please, one person speak at a time. . . . Clean up your place. . . .Get your book so we can read for 20 minutes. . . . Go put your pajamas on now. . . . Stop picking on your brother. . . . Pick up your dirty laundry and put it in the hamper. . . .Let’s say these prayers and don’t get out of bed any more tonight.
And sometimes I’ll mistakenly believe that if we get through all the evening’s activities without any major blow-ups or accidents or fights, if I don’t raise my voice and lose my temper, then we have had a successful evening. You know? Like if we all speak calmly and politely and nobody makes waves and we go through the motions of completing all the tasks, then we’re good.
But that’s not a real relationship. We may have a peaceful evening, but I’m not truly interacting with my children and enjoying them and engaging in a genuine relationship with them.
So gradually my mindset has been shifting. I’m changing my definition of a successful evening. I’m looking for moments to truly engage my children in conversation. I’m capturing opportunities to really get to know my kids. I’m trying to enjoy them and their full personalities.
Let’s say one son spends an entire evening looking for ways to annoy his siblings – grabbing a brother’s toy and running off with it, going into the sisters’ room, banging on the bathroom door, whistling incessantly, scraping his fork on his plate. And let’s say the same kid talks back to me with a smirk on his face — No, I don’t wanna do my chore. or No, YOU put YOUR pajamas on!
And let’s say I yell at him to knock it off, send him to his room, tell him he can’t be around us if he can’t be nice.
Some days, I would chalk the whole evening up to a big FAIL.
But what if, at bedtime, I crawl up into the top bunk and lie down beside this little guy whose behavior has been rotten all day. And I say, Hey, it seems you haven’t been yourself today. You’ve annoyed people and talked back to me. And I know your heart; that’s now how you really are. So what’s up? And then the dam breaks, and his tears fall and he tells me how he can’t concentrate during reading class because some girl beside him reads aloud to herself and some boys at recess won’t let him play kickball. And BINGO! that’s real relationship! And even though the evening hasn’t been peaceful and the behavior sure hasn’t been perfect and I’m missing The Voice because bedtime is taking four times longer than usual, my evening is a success!
So I’m trying to listen more, to validate their emotions and opinions, to respect them. I’m trying to enjoy them. To laugh more. I’m catching myself when I’m just spewing out orders or instructions, and inside my head I say, Jenn, knock it off! You’re not training dogs; you’re raising people!
And real relationships with people are messy and complicated and rarely completely peaceful and never robotic.