It’s another mothering blog, so I apologize, but it seems to occupy my mind and my life quite a bit. Read this and I promise a juicy blog post by next week.
Confession: I have entitled kids. Now, not all the way entitled, sometimes I’ve stuck to my guns. I don’t picture my kids so entitled with stuff. I’ve had an easy time saying no to lots of material goods, and the only time I fall into that trap is when it’s a birthday or Christmas and I sometimes can’t help myself, but even then, it’s pretty minor compared to most Americans. They don’t get to sign up for a million different activities and we don’t pack their days with fun (most of the time). We don’t spend hundreds of dollars on Christmases, and their birthdays are low-key. They haven’t thought yet to object to hand-me-downs or thrift store purchases. Outside the home, I doubt many people would see our kids and call them brats. So we have that going for us.
My wife and I have fought about this and I have many excuses and hate when she points this out, and hate even more admitting she’s right but she’s right. I guess seeing it hasn’t been the problem so much as figuring out how to fix the problem. Which is the hard part. I get a bit paralyzed with this part and can’t see a way out, so life continues with entitled kids. This is painful. Now, my wife is gone for the next 5 weeks and it’s a struggle for me. Not that I need the help with the kids but that I miss her so much! I would like to just crawl in bed and sleep for 5 weeks, but that probably is neither healthy nor feasible, so I’ve decided to focus on addressing some of these problems. And, 5 weeks seems like a really good chunk of time to actually get somewhere real, not just starting a great idea and having it fizzle. It’s also a great time to start because this could get a little messy and since it’s my mess I should probably do it on my own time. I never pictured myself as being a mom that had entitled kids, in fact, I have always felt that I would be one of those moms with selfless kids. Our life is set up to have selfless kids but somewhere along the way I couldn’t figure out how to get there. I hate that.
I guess it’s hard for me to see it as entitlement at first because that sounds like material goods and I have always been good at saying no when they want something. But, it’s more than that. It’s expecting me to tell them when to go to bed, when to brush their teeth, reminding them of their chores, picking up after them if they forget, doing their chores because I get sick of reminding them, not giving gifts to each other at Christmas, relying on me to feed them and get them to hockey, plopping down in front of the TV and hoping I don’t notice that they haven’t done their chores, complaining when they are asked to help, complaining when we don’t do enough fun, complaining when we go to X and they wanted to go to Y. I do have to say, there are areas where we have made progress. They are starting to thank us when we go out to eat. #2 and #3 write Thank You notes with little prompting. #1 writes them with lots of prompting. They know when we go shopping they need to bring their own money if they want to buy something.
I think it’s hard to see entitlement sometimes because it’s so ingrained in our culture. Just last week our daughter had an awards ceremony. I felt bad that I dropped the ball and wasn’t there to see it, so spent a good bit of time feeling guilty or feeling like I had to justify not being there. Which I had legitimate reasons to not be there. But it dawned on me last night that it wasn’t as though I missed her Induction into the Honor’s Society or her State Championship. I missed an 8 year old getting an award for “a good attitude in music class”. Wha? We are rewarding this now? And I didn’t even notice that that was the weird thing? I just felt like I was a bad mom? The worst part is that maybe my daughter is now feeling bad that her mom wasn’t there and everyone else’s mom was. Who knows. I’m hoping not, as, after the day was done she couldn’t even remember nor really understand what she even got recognized for. Given this, it does feel like an uphill battle to undo this since they are getting this message from everywhere and there’s a possibility they don’t learn to be non-entitled, they just resent that we didn’t treat them as special as they’ve been taught to demand.
Before I go on, I do want to say that if you’ve read my blog on Changing My Stripes and my work on housekeeping, I want you all to know that I AM A CHANGED WOMAN! While I could technically find things to clean better, our house has reached a level of “pretty damn good” and is that way every day. I no longer have to spend hours cleaning it and I’m actually kind of bored in that area of my life. I get to find other things to do with that time. I just don’t have that much to pick up or turn around anymore. So, I did change, it can be done, and our house looks PDG for having 5 young children. BUT, it was so much work getting there all I could do was do it myself since as most of you with children know, it’s twice as hard to get them to do it, and for a while that was beyond my abilities to work on both getting the house to an acceptable level and involving the kids at one time. But now that the house is in a manageable state, I need to shift some of the work to the kids without losing ground on how things work or look. And, of course, it’s more than just a clean house. It’s getting them to help with cooking, watching the little boys, or raking the yard because we are a family and families help each other. Thinking of others. Or more accurately, the attitude of complaining and not wanting to help out. Selfishness. So far I only manage to get them to think about how to behave so they don’t get punished. And that is where the mind-shift happens. If we focus on getting them to do X,Y, or Z, it works a little bit because they are motivated by rewards and/or consequences. And then you have to address every single little thing you want to change. They only meet that one little step, instead of seeing the big picture. I have been looking at it like that too. Like first they need to start doing this. Then this. Then this. Instead of finding a way to teach them to think about what they need to be doing to be helpful and selfless. I’m sure this is not an easy thing to teach.
Tonight is usually my least favorite night. Tuesdays involve 3 children going to 3 different places and a lot of logistics. I was prepared to do so. Let me back up. Last night I gave a fantastic speech to our 3 oldest. It was good. It was motivating. It was probably very inspiring. It was very moving. I’m sure every word sank in. I inspired our children to start thinking on a family level, how to be more giving, more helpful, and even had them choose a chore they were willing to do without being reminded! Step one of the BIG CHANGE complete! I’m quite good at these monologues! I inspire myself.
This afternoon all the children came home and plopped down in front of the TV. This has been a fairly recent occurrence that I have allowed for an hour after school but always need to tell them to turn it off. In the past I’ve been pretty strict about screen time and up until this move had never owned a TV. They are expected to have their rooms clean, a chore done, and their shit (I mean personal belongings) picked up before it goes on. I sometimes forget to check if they have done what’s expected of them before they do, so sometimes they do it afterward. (Note how it’s our job to check, remind, and discipline if they don’t. Which is more work for us.) Anyway, tonight, being still 70 degrees in the middle of November, I asked them to turn it off and play outside before it snows in 2 days. They ignored me. So, I guess it triggered me to invoke STEP 2. If they don’t need to have responsibilities around the house, then neither do I! Now, while I am in my room blogging about this, they are still watching TV, 4 hrs in. Surprisingly, no one has thought to do their chores, and no one has noticed I haven’t made dinner. I’m kind of bored right now, which is why I am blogging. Who knew being responsible was taking up so much of my time!???! I also decided that I’ve been taking on the responsibility of reminding them when their hockey practice times are, what time they should get ready, and what time we need to leave. Not tonight. Guess we missed practice. I’m now making myself a little drink. I’m a little scared about when they find out, but sometimes they need to learn the hard way. I would normally let my 4 year old off the hook by reminding him (and I wouldn’t let him skip a practice), but through a stroke of luck, his practice got cancelled (but no one needs to know that)!
It’s not like I haven’t tried every method in the universe. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works for a short time before I forget, or they forget and I get too frustrated to deal with it anymore.
So I just got everyone to bed. Kiddo #2, about an hr ago, voluntarily started cleaning the house (although not the job he signed up to do, but oh well). He swept the whole house! We had a good dinner together. However, this isn’t too surprising as #2 usually does take my speeches to heart, at least for a few days before he forgets. I finally turned the TV off for the last time at 7:30 (No more TV for a long time-they will learn this tomorrow when they go to watch). So anyway, I put everyone to bed. I asked the boys what day it was today. Tuesday. Did you have any place you were supposed to be tonight? Ahhhhh… I gently told them I would no longer be in charge of their time and schedules. We shall see. I talked to #3. At some point this evening she got up off the couch, marched into the kitchen and asked (in a nice way, so that’s something???) when and what was for dinner! I replied that I decided since no one else wants to pitch in, I won’t be helping anymore either. She took it well. However, my hope was that she start helping or ask what she could do to change the course of events, but she just turned around and went to her room to read. Guess they’ve at least learned not to complain out loud.
Update #2: Wednesday. Kid #2 and #3 asked what they could do to help this morning and unloaded and loaded the dishwasher, cleaned their rooms, and asked again before playing before school. We sat down to breakfast together and we learned lesson #3: No more refusing or complaining about the hot breakfast mom took 30 minutes making and why we need to start acknowledging other people’s love efforts. I’m not sure I’m doing any of this right but I have to do something. Lecturing doesn’t do a thing for #1 however, and I’ve always been most lost with him. He clearly feels badly and ashamed but it doesn’t motivate him to start helping, it only pushes him away. I hope we can figure him out sooner than later. He’s a good kid, but stubborn as hell. I don’t know where he gets it!!!!
Step #4 will be more work on my part: Remembering to be selfless and grateful out loud. Of course I spend my day serving my family so I am modeling that, but I am not modeling gratefulness as much as I should be. Remembering to thank the kids when they do help out, or being better at thanking my wife out loud, even for the little things I think will go a long way. I’ve done that when we go out, just thanking her out loud for the treat, even though it’s from both of us. But the kids instantly jump in and say thank you as well. It’s simple but we often forget to be thankful for the little things that the kids could start mirroring.
So, I know this isn’t the first time we are doing this kind of thing, but it’s another start. I have a timeline and a goal. I may not remember everything I want to teach. I hope the dishes in the sink I’ve left for the first time in 2 years don’t get too piled high before a child notices and does something. I hope the puppy gets fed sometime. (Oops! Slip! I’ll blog about the puppy soon!) I hope practices don’t get skipped. But what I really hope is that I can figure out something that actually works and becomes a turning point. I think that’s the most frustrating part of parenting. Not behavior or not knowing what to do, but doing something right long enough to be effective. It’s hard to stay positive when it seems to take forever for lessons to be learned. I tend to lose hope and patience quickly. I may need to blog about this weekly to keep myself on task about how it’s all going. Wish me luck!