We all try to do our best by our children, everyday, right? I mean that’s the hope anyway. We all want them to be safe and comfortable, have food in their tummies and clean clothes on their backs, and maybe, just maybe they will even learn a little. After all there is so much for them to discover in this amazing world we live in. It’s been a few weeks now, and this post has been circling in my mind for a while – mixed up – unclear – but somehow it still shows up in my thinking at least once a day. It’s summer and thus schedules are packed, moments are rushed, and work always has a long list of to-do’s. Busy schedules keep me from grasping the few minutes of quiet I so desperately try to carve out for myself. Knowing if I just sat for those few minutes, perhaps the thoughts would become clearer to me and I would be able to release whats been unconsciously distracting my mind. So, the last few days, I tried to steal those moments in between the driving to camp – the cleaning the house and cooking, shooting and getting home from work craziness; not the traditional ‘me time’ I strive for. But given that this is life right now, I’ll take it.
Jackson and Molly were playing in the living room while I stood over the kitchen sink piled high with dishes from the evening before. Something that sucks the joy right out of me is going to bed with a dirty house and dirty kitchen. There is just something about starting the day with dirty dishes that just doesn’t really scream “today is going to be a great day!” But, it is what it is with our busy lives right now so I try to just ‘swallow the frog.’ (The truth is, I feel grateful to even have a sink full of dishes. That means tummies were full and everybody’s growing.) I stand there watching the kids playing. I slowed down the stream of water, I moved the sponge just under to rinse the soap as I watched them. The sounds of laughter, real laughter, like belly laughter stopped me in my tracks. They were playing. Like really playing. Not just the playing that happens when you say ‘Go play.’ I turned the water off completely and rung out the sponge, sudsy hands and all. It was like moving 100 mph on a roller coaster (or so I imagine since I’ve never been on one nor will I ever be) as I realized I had unintentionally stolen a gift from my children.
You see, 3 weeks ago we were in the thick of it. The back-talking, the whining, the entitlement, (oh the entitlement,) the bickering, the down right ignoring. There it was – it had become our ‘normal.’ How on earth did I let my children, the children I swore I would never allow behavior like that from, somehow become brats. Oh yes, I said it. brats. Now here is the kicker. For the most part – when with other people outside our home, they keep it together, they are respectful, helpful and sweet. But bring them through the golden front door and there it is like a big giant coat of suck just for Mom.
So there I was. Left a crossroad. I was in tears for not only the way they had become, but also that I had somehow allowed it. What the hell happened? At that point, it didn’t matter, I needed it to stop. I knew the changes were going to have to come from me. After all, children are responding to their environments – they don’t just make it up! They try to get away with whatever they can, and we as parents decide if we are going to let them or not. The problem is, it is far easier to be reactive rather than proactive. The rub is by the time you are being reactive, the battle is lost. So in an effort to take back the reigns, I knew prividedges were going to have to be revoked. There would be whining and yelling and begging and pleading – all of which would get no attention. After the first few days they realized very quickly, I would ask them to do something once and only once. Nothing else would happen until that was done. B doesn’t happen before A. If they wanted a drink but I asked them to put their shoes on and nobody put their shoes on, I just went about the day. As soon as the shoes got put on, oh look, there is your drink! It didn’t take long, they caught on quick. If we education or children with the tools to be successful and what expectations we have of them, they will meet them every time. If we allow them to wreck havoc on whatever they want, they will! No I don’t mean tell them every little thing, but it is good to give some warning. I told them before they headed off to camp some privileges were being taken away and they would have to be earned back. Now, we may have used the TV in the living room as staging for one of our properties that is on the market, but they don’t have to know that! All they know is they were behaving like animals and when they came home from camp, the TV was gone. Mommy 1. Kids 0.
Previously, when we were just one week in, we were seeing small improvements, Jackson just couldn’t seem to get things together when it was time to stop something. In an effort to show off in front of people, and his inability to reel it in when it was time, he managed to lose his kindle for 2 weeks as well. That didn’t go over well. Another privileged revoked.
So here I am, hands covered in bubbles and I realize it has been just about 2.5 week of no TV, no kindle and no wii. Do you know what happened in those two weeks? The two of them discovered something. They discovered the one thing I had been wishing for them for a long time now. They had discovered something that has somehow been forgotten on a societal level. They discovered this thing they had only been forced to use sparingly over the last few months. They rediscovered their imaginations. They had created games that were made up that made them laugh out loud. They discovered how to play with each other
instead of against each other. They discovered the outside, the back yard, the swing-set, bubbles. The stuff that summers are made if in my memories.
I stood there at the kitchen sink, watching them play when it became so clear to me. In an effort to try and let them have privileges that they wanted (and at one point, earned!) and to keep up with interests or things that they were play at friends houses, in an effort to just work one more hour, the length of just one more show, or just get through cooking meals without someone needed something, I had stolen this gift from them. I stole their social skills, I stole their creative energy, I stole their thinking, their excitement, their childhood fun! I’ve said countless times, I wish the kids could grow up like we did, playing outside with friends, going to bed exhausted from playing at the beach or a inflatable kiddie pool, or playing in the sprinkler. I wish they could have freeze pops on the steps with their friends. I wish that they could play boardgames and be sure all the pieces got put away so they could play again, or use their own money to replace it. I wish they could read books over the summer and escape to far away places in their minds and learn about an amazing world of literature. I wish they could play together and learn about interacting, kindness, compassion and laughter. I wished they would help around the house before they asked for something. Here’s the sucker punch to the gut…
How could they possible have all those things, when I was the one blocking them from that. Conveniences. That is what it comes down to. The cold hard facts are that its easier to put on a tv show, hand them a video game, or play the iPad while I get to what I need to do. It just easier to make dinner alone than have them help me and make twice as big of a mess. It’s just easier when I have clients waiting on emails, galleries and images to offer ‘another movie!’ Yay! I heard about lots of parents who say ‘no tv’ and ‘no movies’ for their children and I just don’t subscribe to it. I don’t think its realistic and I don’t believe in such strict measures. The discovery I made in that moment of their laughter — somehow along the way, I lost the idea of moderation. Whoopsie. It had become excessive.
The reality is, just like parenting, the changes come with me. In the last 3 weeks, I have seen changes in both Jackson and Molly that I never in 100 years would have expected. Taking away screen time and privileges awakened a part of their spirits that could have been locked away for who knows how long. I believe blessings show up and are often disguised as struggle. Boy were we struggling. Looking back in just 3 weeks I can see with open eyes the disservices I was doing. Easier isn’t always better. It’s like so many things in life, pushing through the hell brings you to a better side. Dealing with the push-back and resistance was painful. That’s why there is wine. But since we have traveled through that space, and are on the other side, I am so grateful to have stuck with it.
Does this mean my kids will have no tv and no screen time anymore? Not a chance. Does it mean they will have it in moderation, absolutely. I am incredibly grateful to have learned the hard less, but more than anything I am grateful to recognize its about relationships, its about interacting, its about memories and moments and living. Those emails? Yes, they are important, but maybe they can wait until after bedtime today. Maybe getting up a few minutes earlier is a better idea than pushing off the limited time we get with our children anyway. Yes, even the days they drive up batty and make us want to lock ourselves in the bathroom alone for just 5 minutes. Like so much, this too shall pass and we will be left wondering, was it really that bad?
For me, I have decided to become part of their life, not just their Mom – you know, the one who does everything and hands out rules. You know I want to play with them again, do the things I used to do as a kid. I want them to remember me with them, not at them. I want to remember in the big picture, these are the things that matter.
I challenge you, my friend, out of love, try to let go of easier and go for real. I promise it will be worth it.