Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It’s Not That They Don’t Listen; It’s That They Are Kids, Human Kids

Parents are so much more practical than parents-to-be and people who don’t have kids.  Well, most of the times.  Don’t believe me?  Remember how you swore when you become a parent that you would never hit your kids or shout at them?  Remember how you swore they were always going to be well behaved?  Remember how you swore that their noses would never run without being wiped?  Okay that last one was me, and I was able to easily hold myself to it.  But the others, please!!! 

Years ago, I was on the subway and saw a child and her mother having meltdowns.  When the young mother cursed at the toddler, my heart dropped.  Who says words like that to an innocent child?  And how can a grownup not control herself in public?  Obviously, the child acts like that at home, so she will behave in the same manner outside.  Well, today, I wish I could apologize to that young woman because it doesn’t matter what expectations we have of our children, they will not always meet them.  Like any relationship, it is all about expectations.  In our minds, as parents, we expect them to do EVERYTHING we tell them to do; and we expect to talk only once.  After all, good kids listen, and bad kids don’t.

A few days ago, I told the kids to clean their rooms.  My daughter spent about 60 –90 minutes while the boys spent about 6 – 9 minutes.  I expected them to get rid of their junk so that when I go to vacuum, polish and organize things, it wouldn't take me too long.  I completed her room in about 30 minutes, but when I got to my youngest’s, I was appalled.  Snack wrappers, blankets, pillow cases, stationery, and the usual suspects, underwear and socks were piled under his bed.  Oh hell no!!  We are still doing this?  That is so two years ago.

The old me would have cursed him out, maybe throw in a spanking, but all that does is raise my blood pressure, get my heart pumping in a not so good way and just leave me frazzled.  And I’m not going out like this.  There is no way they are sending me to an early grave and have some young, perky stepmother take my place.  No way! 

My older son is obviously more responsible so I was expecting to spend the same amount of time in his room like I did in my daughter’s.  I won’t say I was shocked, but I took a pregnant pause when I saw he had taken a page out of his brother’s book.  School work and books under his bed, snack wrappers in a treasure chest and scraps of paper on his dresser.  I thought to myself, “How many times have I told these boys not to do stuff like this?  How difficult is it to put clothes in a hamper and garbage in a pail?”  Then it hit me.  In my mind, I expect them to do what they need to do before they do what they want to do; but in their minds, they expect to hurry up doing what I asked them to do so they can do what they want to do.

As I’m about to get angry again for having to repeat myself for the 1000th time I recalled another time when a parent expected kids to do what they needed to do so they can do what they wanted to do.  About 30 years ago during some school vacation, our father had some tomatoes that needed to be reaped.  I imagine in his mind he expected that with five kids, he can just get them to quickly pick these tomatoes so that he can get them sold and continue with his day.  In his adult mind, he is thinking he doesn’t need the get the workers because his kids can knock this off in a short time. So we all jumped in the pickup truck and drove to the farm to reap the tomatoes.

If you have ever picked ripe tomatoes in the hot sun, you would understand that it is not as simple as an adult would think.  We could not resist eating the pretty ones or throwing the rotten ones at each other when our father wasn’t looking, or when we thought he wasn’t looking.  He warned us so many times to quit; he threatened that he would make us walk home the 10 mile trek if we didn’t stop; but we just could not resist the tomato fight.  All the poor man wanted to do was to get the tomatoes bagged and sold and move on with his life.  But in our teenage minds, when else were we ever going to have a tomato fight like this?

When he told us to leave his tomatoes and leave the farm, we didn’t believe.  But when we saw his face, we knew he was serious.  When we were positive he couldn’t hear or see us anymore, we started cracking up, rolling on the ground.  We walked almost all of the way, fooling around the entire time.  Never once did we get serious until we entered the house and saw him.

Just as our father forgot what kind of child he was and expected teenagers to maturely and quietly pick tomatoes, that is how many parents are.  Even I, who put the M in mischievous, expect my kids to always do the right thing.  Please, every vacation day when our mother told us to take a nap, I would wait until everyone was settled in bed to tickle their feet.  You would think by the Thursday, I would come up with something different after hearing on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday to stop and go to sleep, but noooooooo, without fail, every single day I would obnoxiously tickle them until my mother called me and forced me to sleep right next to her.

The other day, I assessed my kids,  and I was sincerely impressed.  Okay, they might not remember to wipe the toothpaste out of the sink EVERY TIME, they might not remember to pull the shower curtain back EVERY TIME, they might not remember to clean the table, island and counter EVERY NIGHT, they might not remember to close and open the shades EVERY DAY, they might not remember to do everything the right way, but that is because they are NOT perfect.  They do quite well in school.  They play musical instruments.  They play sports.  They cook.  They clean.  They are well behaved in class.  Notice I said in class.  The other day at lunch, my youngest got written up because he and a girl put shredded cheese in another boy’s drink.  Between you and me, that prank is sweeeeeeeet.  And if the cheese and the drink are going in the same place, what’s the big deal?

Yesterday my eldest came home right after school because he said he had a project due the next day.  The next thing I know he is cleaning the table, the island, and the counter, throwing away the recycle garbage, making juice and sweeping the kitchen.  Chores that are split between him, his siblings and me.  Who is this person, and what did he do with my son?  Then he did his homework and played his flute for about 20 minutes.  Of course I’m still bewildered, then he said, “Mommy, can I practice my foul shots outside?”  How can I say no?

Parents want their children to be perfect – always well behaved, only speak when they are spoken to, always do what they have to do without being told, never having to be reminded of what they should do.  Parents want their kids to be perfect, not because they can brag, although that doesn’t hurt, but perfect kids imply perfect parents, perfect parenting.

A few years ago as I laid in bed, I noticed my daughter’s sock on the floor right next to our hamper.  After telling them 400 times to make sure the clothes go in the hamper and to put their clothes in their own hampers, I woke her up.  I brought her to our room and asked, “ What’s that on the floor?”  She looked at me blankly and snapping her fingers, replied, “Toes.”  Poor little girl was in such a daze that she didn’t know what was going on.  She knew it had something to do with feet, but she was too sleepy to know for sure.

Now, I’ve learned that it’s really not that serious.  First, my strategy is not working.  Second, my strategy is not working because I’m looking for parenting to be easy; but this is not ‘set it and forget it’.  Parenting is constant.  Parenting is repetitive.  Now when I see a sock on the floor, I pick it up.  I pick it up because obviously someone threw it in without looking to make sure that it went in properly.  Ten and twelve year olds are not going to double check.  Yes, it is okay to let them know when you do a job, do it to your best, but on the other hand, expecting everything they do to be perfect is CRAZY.

So my new strategy is to lower the bar.  Not lowering the bar where anything goes, but lowering the bar of perfection.  Do they sometimes make me breakfast in bed?  Yes.  Do they do their homework without being told?  Yes.  Do they sometimes do what they are not supposed to do?  Yes.  Do they sometimes say things they are not supposed to?  Yes.  And they do it because they are people, not because they are children, but because they are people.  There are so many things that I don’t do that I’m supposed to do and vice versa; and I’m a grown woman.  Although they do not always listen, I’m cutting my kids some slack because perspectively speaking, I don’t know anyone who listens all the time.


  1. Awww Man... That certainly hits home.. I too am guilty of expecting my soon to be 12 and soon to be five year old to get it right by just listening. Especially the 11 year old. Because of his size... At 11 he is already taller than me. deep voice.. wearing men's clothes... with size 14(men's) feet.. I sometimes have to remind myself that he is still only a kid. Thank you for putting things into perspective... I do cut them slack, but maybe not enough... Thank you for this awesome post my friend. We always have to think back to our own childhood and remember the things that we were guilty of, and when I pause to do so, my perspective always change.

    Charmaine Southwell-Joseph

  2. Another great perspective, Myra. I do believe that if parents sometimes looked back at their own childhood, they would give their children a little more credit, and cut them some slack. Especially where discipline is concerned. If children come to expect punishment for every little issue, after a while the punishment loses it's effectiveness. They are going to be telling the parents, "just give my punishment and let me get on with my life".

    Spankings wear off, withholding TV/video game/phone privileges are temporary, grounding is temporary. Did the child learn anything? And what exactly was the lesson being taught again; that caused the punishment in the first place? I think parents need to communicate more (verbally) with their children. Get them thinking and discussing. Ask them how they would solve a problem??? Can you imagine the imagination of a child trying to solve "how to keep my room clean at all times (well, most of the time)"?

    And, Myra, as for the kids sending you to an early grave and having some young, perky stepmother take your place...after having to repeat herself 1,000 times and being told "you're not my mother" another 1,000 times, SHE may find herself following you to the early grave. Just saying:)

  3. But guys... Do you think our kids wonder the same things about us sometimes?

  4. Myra, I remember that we had to walk from Cedar Grove to Sea View Farm. That was a walk but what was the lesson learned? There was a lesson or you would not have remembered the event. However, some good points but ask my teenage girls, they still leave a mess. I just hope you are not picking up socks when they are in college cause I don't, but I am not a housewife haha.

  5. Hi Myra. I enjoyed reading your blog. I agree I think we place too much expectations on kids and then beat them up for not following through. Kids are not adults, they are still developing. I think we need to know what are realistic expectations and help them in meeting those expectations. Thanks for your post.

  6. Ditto my dear Sister. So true. Are you sure that it wasn't over 10 miles, felt like it that day? I was in stitches. But seriously, I have been doing that, I don't shout or beat my kids like before and you know that I started EARLY. I have conversations with them. If we do a self check, we will be better at dealing with others not just the children....

  7. Thanks Sista! I resemble this message so now I have got to go rethink my game plan! Blessed

  8. I know this is a late response but, I have since learnt that ranting and raving at the children only wears you out!!!!. If it is one think I know repetition deepens the impression and as the children grows and matures like my children now it gets easier. So hang in there we will get to see the results of our persistence very soon.