Like any other mom, I worry about my kids. I obsess over diapers, over daycares, over discipline. I want my kids to behave, of course, but often times I'm at sea when it comes to getting them there. I don't know the best way to get them to listen, if only so the household can function. And then because of that, I often question how my household functions. Do we have too many toys? Do we not have enough? I have three sons, all different ages, and I worry maybe, because I'm spread so thin, I ask my boys to do too much — or maybe I don't ask them to do enough. Basically, I, like so many other millions of parents, exist in a paralyzed terror that I'm screwing something up.
But there’s one group no one asks about parenting: the parented. I often wonder what they'd say or do if I asked my kids to rate my parenting. Would my boys say that I was a good mom, or would they have a litany of reasons and ways I could and should to better?
I decided, for a week, to ask my three sons, Blaise (age 6), August (age 4), and Sunny (age 2), for their opinions on my parenting. Obviously Sunny wouldn’t have much to say, but I was hoping to elicit actual feedback from Blaise and August. I promised myself I wouldn’t pester; I’d ask them for their feedback no more than two points during the day, and while I’d ask them to elaborate, I wouldn’t browbeat for details (which they would then invent). I imagined deep heart-to-hearts and come-to-Jesus promises.
The reality was far, far different.
Day 1: School and Extracurriculars
We spent Monday morning like we always do: bumming around in our pajamas for way too long. I chugged coffee. We did school (my sons are homeschooled). Then I realized I had a limited amount of time to make lunch and pack the kids up for their weekly YMCA Swim and Gym, for which I have to produce bathing suits, towels, water bottles, and snacks, all by 12:45 p.m. This is cruel. So I snarked and shouted at the kids while I did my makeup. They jumped on my bed. I yelled at them to stop. They made a cave from my pillows. I threatened to take away their toys. We finally made it to the Y with a few minutes to spare. Afterwards, I treated them to Chik-Fil-A and Target.
I expected them to tell me not to yell at them. I’d berated myself enough for that. But to my boys, my parenting was “great.” Why, I asked? “You let me scramble eggs today,” Blaise said. I’d completely forgotten: I let him help scramble eggs for lunch, despite our hurry. Blaise said they tasted better when he makes them. He said nothing about yelling or shouting or rushing. Just the independence of (mostly) scrambling his own eggs. I didn’t realize he valued it that much.
According to August, my parenting was “good, because you’re really good today.” I hadn’t felt good today. I’d felt like I was rushing and snarking and generally holding things together with the skin of my teeth. But no, I was really good. That felt nice.
Day 2: Lazy Day
It was a typical morning, except I wasn’t very patient. Actually, I wasn’t at all patient, and spent a great deal of lung capacity shouting at the kids to hurry up, stop beating each other, get dressed, and stop jumping on the bed. I felt better once we got some lunch in us. Then we had their beloved ukulele lessons. At home, I figured they’d done enough and let them binge on Wild Kratts. I knew I hadn’t been acting like myself lately — I was trying to transition depression medication — but I still didn’t feel great about all the stress and shouting.
Blaise, as usual, looked on the sunny side. My parenting was “good," he said, adding, "You were good to me.” Considering I’d let him do his math program for as long as he wanted, fed him lunch from his favorite restaurant, taken him to ukulele lessons, and promised to buy him his own if he kept it up, and then let him bliss out on the Kratt brothers, I figured I had been pretty good to him.
August, however, did not agree. My parenting, he said, was still “good.” But then he added: “I didn’t like it when you yelled at me. You should never yell at me again!” I asked him what I should do instead. Gently remind him, maybe? Getting off my butt and intervening. He said: “Tell me.” But I always talk before I yell. So I asked him what I should do if he doesn't listen to me when I tell him. Then he said: “Yell at me.”
Hm. I don’t think it’s OK for me to yell at my kids, but I do it anyway because first, yelling is easy, and second, I can’t think of anything else to do in the heat of the moment. I need to practice some more gentle discipline, like physical intervention, gentle touching, and redirection. But I'll admit, it’s hard. I’m usually too frazzled to think of it. Obviously, I need to work on it, especially because my boys are taking notice.
Day 3: Laziness and Library
We rushed through school and our morning routine to make time for the library, one of my sons’ favorite activities. We stuffed an Ikea bag full of reading material, which I had to haul out to the parking lot while Blaise carried my purse. After barely enough time for lunch, one of their BFFs appeared for his weekly, hours-long playdate. Pirate play abounded. I sat on the couch and nursed the baby to sleep. This day was an all-around, relaxed, total win.
He resents me for telling him to stop 11 billion times, and I resent him for not listening 11 billion times. It’s a major source of friction in the morning, and no surprise he gets as pissed off about it as I do.
Blaise agreed. He said it was “Great!” When I pressed further, he said it was because I was nice to him. I poked around for more reasons why, but he didn't remember. To be honest, if I didn’t screw up badly enough to be called out, I’ve won.
Day 4: Unsolicited Advice
We watched Yellow Submarine on the morning of day four because the kids asked, and that's why we homeschool: it gives us the freedom to throw our arms up in the air and watch Yellow Submarine before reading time. (We do it for a lot of other reasons.) Afterward, we did school as long as the they wanted. I made everyone get dressed and hauled them to Goodwill, where they behaved admirably while I looked at every single dress and pair of shoes I could spot. A woman actually commented to me that she liked listening to my kids talk to each other because it made her happy. Afterwards, the kids wanted more food — again! — so we embarked on what became, through no one’s fault, the Red Robin trip from hell (picture a 4 year old monopolizing the men’s room for 20 minutes, then refusing to wipe). I was exhausted from the restaurant debacle, but thought I’d kept my cool through the whining that cropped up.
Blaise disagreed some about my assessment. Apparently, in the midst of the day, I’d asked him to pick up some swords. Unbidden, he announced, “I was just joking about your parenting. It’s very bad.”
“No, it’s very good,” said August, and hugged me. But Blaise wasn't having it. “You made us stop doing the things we wanted to do! You made us clean! You have to stop doing that, Mama!” Later, he changed his tune. “Your parenting is great,” he said. “You let us watch Yellow Submarine before we did our schoolwork.” Then, again, he changed his mind. “Your parenting is terrible because you just did THAT.”
The "that" he was referring to was the fact that I'd made him stop jumping on my bed, and when he didn't listen, I asked him to leave.
Jumping on the bed and cleaning are two of our biggest family fights. The kids seem to think our giant, queen-sidecarred-to-a-twin bed becomes a trampoline once they awaken. All three of them bounce in circles, disarranging the covers, throwing the pillows, and destroying any semblance of a sleeping surface. Blaise has ADHD, and jumping’s really tempting, so he has tremendous trouble with this. He resents me for telling him to stop 11 billion times, and I resent him for not listening 11 billion times. It’s a major source of friction in the morning, and no surprise he gets as pissed off about it as I do. There isn’t a solution, other than me saying I’m angry rather than shouting it, which I did.
And the cleaning, well, no one likes to clean. Blaise and August tend to be cheerful about it unless they’re interrupted at their play. In this instance, he was angry I made him stop playing Legos to pick up some swords in another room. I need to be more cogniscent of when I ask the kids to pick up, and more respectful of their activities.
Day 5: Target Run
Both August and Sunny coughed all night, then awoke hacking and snotty. I didn’t want to infect any babies at our homeschool co-op, so we stayed home, did school on our own, and tried to be as lazy as possible. In in the afternoon, I let the kids take their money to Target and buy Legos. Both of the sick boys passed out on the car ride home, and so we spent the rest of the day watching TV.
Blaise said my parenting was great. “You let me buy Legos at Target!”
August disagreed. My parenting was bad. “You didn’t let me watch another Scooby-Doo,” he complained. Again, I forget the value my kids place on independence. Blaise brought his money to Target. He selected a Lego set. He paid the cashier separately from me. And though it was a pain in the ass to have a 6 year old counting quarters in the checkout line, he was proud to make the transaction on his own. Independence is very important to him right now, and I need to respect and nurture that more.
As for August, well, he was sick, he was tired, and he wanted one more Scooby before bed. Pretty easy, in that situation, to make me out to be the monster. (Even if it wasn't exactly true.)
Day 6: Normal Saturday
On day six, we hit the farmer’s market. I came home and napped while my husband did explosive experiments involving vinegar and baking soda with the kids. The sickness still hovered, so our day comprised of lots of movie-watching. I felt slug-like.
Blaise said my parenting was great, again. But when asked why, he said he didn’t remember. This is probably because other than the farmer’s market, my husband and the TV did most of the parenting. For the record, I'm totally OK with that.
Day 7: The Final Day
My husband and I woke up, as usual, for 9 a.m. Mass. We even woke the kids. But the younger two were hacking too hard, so Wild Kratts reruns won out. We all took naps throughout the day and again, watched lots of movies. The kids played with the iPads were played with. Overall, our Sunday couldn’t get any more boring if we tried.
Blaise, however, didn’t agree. In fact, he thought it was the best Sunday of all time. “You let us stay home from Mass because we were sick,” he said. “Mama, that was the best parenting you ever done!” Way to make a Catholic mama feel like sh*t, kid. When you don’t know what’s going on, Mass is totally boring, and I know that because I remember being totally bored. This was a great reminder for me to step up in the religious education stuff — especially if I want the boys to understand why it's important that we go. The next time we went, I tried to point out what was going on. This seemed to cut through the misery a little bit. I also encouraged Blaise to say the prayers; to sit, stand, and kneel; and to generally participate.
Surprisingly, knowing what was coming and what he should do helped hold his attention.
Did My Parenting Earn A High Score?
I thought my kids rating my parenting would end with pleas for more toys and less cleaning. They surprised me. Blaise reminded me how important independence is to him — a big deal, especially since we home school. It also highlighted some places of friction in our house, notably cleaning and jumping on the bed, and made me think about ways to decrease the drama surrounding them. The kids also reminded me to think of ways to step up my parenting, notably by not yelling.
But mostly, every single day, no matter how miserable or tired or defeated or ineffective I felt, Blaise or August said my parenting was great. Blaise said I was great. So while I worry about curriculums and clean laundry and his ADHD, he doesn’t care. Blaise thinks I’m doing just peachy. That’s something I need to remember. I might think only about the yelling, but they rate my parenting just fine.