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Two from Priority Level A

July 28, 2012

I know that a lot of how my kids turn out is out of my control. But because I know I can influence them, I arbitrarily decided that I could pick two values I could pass along, and I’ve chosen the traits I’d like them to have: I want my kids to be responsible and kind.

It seems like pretty basic stuff, and sometimes I think I see signs that it’s working.

Other times, I think about what parents I know have chosen, and it seems as though they’re having more luck than I am. Or did they just choose better? One family seems to be pursuing Public Recognition and Self-Esteem as the things they most want for their child, and the kid is everywhere. Photo here! Made the travel team! Admittedly, a lot of the recognition comes from one of the parents, whose Facebook page seems like something a grandparent would produce.  Still, his face is out there and he thinks a lot of himself.

Oooh, judgy, huh?

I know that there have been plenty of occasions when people have had a chance to see one or more of my kids misbehaving, and I assume some of them formed opinions based on insufficient data. I try, I really do, not to make the same mistake. I know bad behavior is not always — maybe not even not usually — the result of a bad kid or bad parenting. But at some point, I am going to be sending my kids off on their own, and I would like to think that I will be sending out people who are likely to make the world a better place.

Responsibility is something that kids learn through natural consequences, but the process is slow and painful. Responsibility takes so many forms, and the full consequences of irresponsibility can take a long time to make themselves felt. Waiting for my kids’ bad decisions to bite them in the butt and seeing the actual chomp, well . . . . I cringe. I flinch. I think of Monk saying, “You’ll thank me later.”

When I talk to people about what we do and don’t allow, or when I read posts about what battles other parents are fighting, I know that some people probably think I’m unbelievably lax.

“You have to make them do their homework!” No, actually, you don’t. You can provide incentives for kids to do their homework, but if the only reason they’re doing their homework is that you’re sitting on them, you’ve made the grades the priority. And that’s your call, but if my kids want to blow off their work, that is a choice I allow. And the sucky grades that result? Not my problem.

“I mean, what’s next, not making them brush their teeth?” Yeah, this one nearly killed me. In high school, I was good friends with a girl whose father was a dentist. When my life feels out of control, I become a hypervigilant flosser. But unless you tie a kid down, how do you force the tooth-brushing issue? Soothingvoiced Therapist told us to let it go and let him get cavities. I told Honey Badger that if he got cavities, we were no longer paying for nitrous, just Novocaine. “They shoot a needle right into your mouth, honey. So you need to decide whether it’s worth it to you not to brush.” And he didn’t brush, and at his next dental appointment . . . he didn’t have any cavities. Whatever. Sometimes you expect your child to experience natural consequences and instead find that you instead were just skipping a pointless battle.

Not willing to be quiet and go to sleep? Congratulations, you’ve just inspired the Last One/First One rule: The last kid asleep is the first one we get up in the morning. It doesn’t cut down on anyone’s sleep that much — they get up pretty close together — but if you’re going to be sleep-deprived and cranky, you aren’t going to be cooperative, and it’s going to take longer for you to be ready to head out the door. Feel free to pretend to be asleep when your parents go up to bed. If you would just put down the book long enough to fake sleep, you’d probably nod off anyway. We all win!

And then there’s kindness, because responsibility teaches you to take care of yourself, but I want them to look out for others, too. That one’s harder, maybe because it should be taught by example, and I am grumpy. (Did you notice the hint of vengefulness in the Last One/First One rule? What do you mean, “It was impossible to miss”?)

Public Recognition Boy, mentioned above? He used an inappropriate term in front of me, and the resultant exchanges did not show me at my best, although I did get to demonstrate the correct way to atone when you have acted like a jerk. But it also reminded me of how hard it is to pass along values that don’t have practical advantages. The term in question is one that reeks of privilege, something his family and ours have plenty of: white, able-bodied, economically secure, and more. I’ve had numerous conversations with my kids about how they are lucky in numerous ways simply because of who they are demographically, and they get it. They’ve told my brother, whom they adore and do not want to criticize, that he shouldn’t call something “lame.”

The same people who think we’re lax in certain areas may well think we’re unduly strict in this. And humorless. And self-righteous. I can live with that. I am willing to wait for the development of responsibility while my kids figure out that they’re only hurting themselves or while I discover that I am worrying too much. I’m not as willing to let them hurt other people’s feelings because they aren’t yet thinking about that consequence. Now if I could just find the line between productive discussions of how to take other people’s feelings into account and relentless lectures about why you can’t always do what you feel like doing even if it seems as though everyone else is doing it, because you are not everyone else and I am not their mother.

Hey, anyone want a cookie?

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3 Comments
  1. Doing My Best permalink
    July 28, 2012 5:16 pm

    “Last one/First one” I AM SO USING THAT! A certain child stays up late EVERY NIGHT and is grumpy no matter what time I squirt, er, “motivate” him out of bed in the morning. I might as well get him up first so he can get his work done!

    I’m getting harassed about the teeth-brushing EVERY TIME I take the three to the orthodontist; the ladies who change their wires give me the evil eye as they tell me that a certain child’s teeth are liable to have scarring from plaque because he refuses to brush his teeth, and I keep telling them that the psychologist said that I shouldn’t be brushing their teeth for them.

    The world would be a better place if more mothers would teach their children to be kind.

    • July 28, 2012 5:40 pm

      The inspiration for Last one/First one is partly being contrary, partly just a night owl. I have assured him that some college students only take classes that start after noon, and he’s welcome to be one of them WHEN HE’S IN COLLEGE. Until then, deal.
      The “my child’s psychologist said” conversation is always fun, isn’t it? So nice that you get to have it at every visit.

  2. July 30, 2012 3:24 am

    I love that you talk about privilege with your kids. I admininstrate a feminist forum and we get people all the time saying that they don’t have any special advantages just because they’re white/straight/abled. I think that kindness and responsibility are excellent values to place front and centre.

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