I have a four-and-a-half-year-old girl who I really love. Really. She is smart and funny, super strong and capable. She's just about everything I would want a young girl to be in our society, one that is primed to not pay her any heed. All this is true, and at the same time I often have a hard time enjoying her company because everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is a battle. This is so pervasive in our relationship and in my household that it is pretty unbearable, and it start first thing in the morning! There is an argument about clothes, about breakfast, about getting hair brushed about this about that...I find myself yelling a lot of the time and completely exasperated by the end of the day. I know that this is not uncommon and it is probably a stage in her development that she will grow out of. Honestly I'm more worried about me and the changes I am making to my parenting ideals to try and cope with this situation. I feel like I am turning into a parent that I don't admire. I see people enjoying the antics of their children and I wonder how they do it. I also see mothers completely impatient with their kids, biting their heads off, and not noticing them. They are really not even seeing their children. As much as it hurts me to think of it, I bet I would be closer to these mothers in behavior at this point. I know we “all have those days,” but that's not what I'm taking about. I am talking about a pattern of lousiness that no one wants to be around. What worries me the most is that I feel like I am creating a pattern of distance with my daughter. Also, in general, I'm not teaching her to behave the way I would like her to.
So I did what any desperate parent would do, I went to the library and got a book. I mean, that's what anyone would do, right? I checked out Four Weeks to a Better-Behaved Child Breakthrough Discipline Techniques that Work -- for Children Age 2 to 10 by Cristine Chandler, Ph.D., with Laura McGrath. I am not quite done reading it, but it has some pretty good advice and techniques that might work for our family. Something that struck me when I began reading it was how much kids want structure. Of course, I already know this. I mean everyone tells you this all the time. They say, “Be consistent.” They say, “Have structure.” They say, “Don't let your kids play with knives.” All good advice in theory. But it's hard, at least for me apparently, to determine what is structure for me and what is structure for our children. So, as I look through the eyes of my girls, I see that maybe we don't have a reliable structure they can feel like they depend on. We do the basic same things every week on each day. It's not completely loosey-goosey, but the regular routine, the little things that must get done in a day can happen any which way. I's like the bricks are in place but there's no mortar.
Now, I am not a very disciplined person. I am not particularly practiced at finishing what I start. I start a lot, and I have even more ideas that I am too busy to beginning and then not finishing other ideas to start (and then not finish). I can name the amount of things I have conceived of and completed start to finish in a short list. If I make “on time” a part of the requirements for the list then I could name the number of things I have conceived of and finished in a short list on a gift tag. I'm not proud of this, quite to the contrary, I find it really embarrassing. I used to be very deeply ashamed of this character trait, and went to great lengths to hide, deny, ignore, this tendency all to my own detriment. But, now that I'm a mom and married, it's harder to hide. I am also determined to change this aspect of my behavior so that I can stop worrying about it and so I can be a better teacher to my children.
So, I decided to make a schedule. Usually, when something like this happens—there is a problem and I need to change something—I go way over board. I make a long complicated list of things that need to happen and a complete overhaul of my entire life, completely disregarding both my habits that took me 30 years to ingrain and my current life situation. I form, on paper, my new life and it looks awesome. In reality it is too complicated and unrealistic to manage and it remains unfinished like so so many things in my past. This time I have manged to not do that! I'm very proud of this. I did make a schedule of every task of every week day, but there is ample time to get it all done. I am also only focusing my real efforts on the morning. I figure I will start with a morning routine and work my way through the day slowly making it all habit as I become more capable of being a person who is capable of finishing what she starts.
So now, we all get up at the same time: 6:30 am. We all make our beds, then we brush our teeth and wash our faces, brush our hair and get dressed. No one (including me) is allowed downstairs until these jobs are done. I have an hour allotted for this, so there is no need to rush. We have a dry erase board with color coded days and pictures to let us know what is coming next and the tasks get a check when they're completed. We have been doing this for one week now and it is going great. The difference in my children's behavior is like night and day. There were so many first-thing-in the-morning arguments about getting dressed and brushing hair. There were also tons of annoying trips up and down the stairs to get all the necessary components together, and a little bit of forgetting to make the children brush their teeth (I know, crappy parenting, right?). Simply not starting the day with tons of little chances to argue, on top of my older one knowing exactly what is happening next and getting a chance to check tasks off a dry erase board is making for an awesome start to the day.
I have been paying attention to my schedule in secret. I just don't want to introduce the kids to a day-long schedule I'm not sure I can follow just yet. However, I am already finding that it has a similar effect on my behavior. I find just knowing what I am supposed to be doing now and immediately after is helping me prioritize the projects I start, resulting in a less frantic, less frustrated mama. I know this must all seem painfully obvious and simple to most, but I was never really taught how to do this, so it really is a learning process for me. I hope I can effect a real change in my own behavior, but more than that I hope I can give my girls a way of thinking that isn't such a hindrance to executing their ideas. If I can pull it off this will be one of the many lessons my children have taught me, or at least motivated me to teach myself.