I recently picked up Screamfree Parenting by Hal E. Runkel, LMFT. Why? I could be coy and say "Why not?" but we both know that's not really the truth now, is it? The truth is that like a lot of parents, I have frequenting parenting FAIL and I'm open to ways to not do that so much.
I'm hornswoggled on a daily basis at how creatively frustrating my children can be. They are masters of finding the pain points. I dont' think they do it to be malicious, they do it BECAUSE THEY CAN. For years I had immense difficulty with the concept of Original Sin...and then I had children. Now I understand that they emerge bloody from the womb filled not only with joy and love and innate bueaty, but also with deviousness, malicious intent and willfulness brewing.
Undeniably my children have taught me to have far more patience than I had before they fucked up changed my life for the better. However, that's akin to saying that box wine is a huge improvement over jug wine. Sure, one is better. But by how much? (Annnnnd there, I've gone and offended 95% of my living relatives and inlaws)
It is a guarantee in my house that if I need my kids to get ready quickly for any reason, they will move at sub-visual speed. Quirky scientific phenomenon in which the subject moves so slowly as for all movement to be visually imperceptible. I watch them for ten minutes and I don't even notice them twitch. NOTHING. Even before embarking on a new career as a single mother last summer, mornings were my domain alone. Before J and I split, he worked an earlier schedule than I did, so the kids were mine to deal with. I've written before about my struggles with our mornings. I'm getting better at dealing with them, but they are a continual challenge to me.
In Runkel's book, after he explains to you that yelling at your kids puts them in the position of being responsible for calming YOU down, which is not really their job (hint, it's YOURS, grownup person), he then discusses natural consequences and how instead of being responsible for our children, we are responsible to them. TO. THEM. Which means letting them learn that their behavior has consequences. Imagine how differently people who employ this method parent.
As much as I fail and do exactly what Runkel says not to (yelling), I was also a little bit pleased and gloat-ish after reading the chapter on consequences, because it is a technique I have been working on with some success for our morning routines.
I got so tired of trying to wrangle them out of bed and get fed and dressed so that I could get animals fed and dress my own self in time to catch my carpool. Mornings were a daily exercise in frustration. I'd ask them to do something and ten minutes later they'd still be staring at the TV, openmouthed, with the half-eaten plate of waffles still sitting in front of them. It was making me feel insane. Gradually I realized that I was the one bearing the consequences of their choices not to be ready, and that it was time to change to equation.
I found my egg timer. (I really have one. I used to bake. And cook too. Then I had kids.) When I ask them to wake up, I set it for 10 minutes. That's how long they have to stumble into the kitchen in time for me to prepare their breakfast. If they don't get out of bed before the timer goes off, they're on their own, because its now MY time to get myself dressed and prepared for work. No, they won't starve. But they won't have warm breakfast. They can have whatever they can make for themselves,which includes pop tarts, cold bagels, yogurt and assorted other prepared items. After I'm ready for work, Child 1 and I "do meds." I find if we make a game of it, she resists less. She takes a pill, then I take one of mine. She's always happy because it takes me longer (I have more stuff I take). And she also knows that the consequence is either a beloved toy goes in long term timeout or a planned activity is canceled (birthday party, play date, time with grandma). So we do our meds. Then after I have fed the dogs, I go to feed horses. By this time they need to be done with breakfast. As I go outside, if they have not already gone and started dressing themselves, I remind them that by the time I return from feeding the horses they should be dressed and ready to go. When I come back in and put the dogs away in their crates, if they are not dressed with shoes and coats on, then they will go to daycare/before-school care in their pajamas. And bare feet. If it is embarassing and uncomfortable, it's only so for them. Not for me. I bring their clothes with them, and they can change when they get there.
The nicest thing about this method is that I don't have to yell. I don't have to get mad, or frustrated. No matter what THEY do, as long as I follow my schedule, I will be on time. The unpleasant consequences are theirs to bear. Sure, I might have to listen to some whining, or crying because they're going to be embarassed in front of their friends or because they really wanted something warm for breakfast and not a cold Pop-Tart. But I can listen to a few minutes of crying or whining without feeling like I have to make it stop. It's not fun,but its tolerable.
The best thing? Its working.
The first day that Child A didn't get out of bed on time, she started to cry and whine about wanting her breakfast. I forced myself to calmly continue getting ready for work and to let her stew in her own juice. I gently reminded her once or twice that she was still free to go get something for herself to eat. Eventually, after about 10 minutes, she actually did! She got out of bed, stopped crying, went to the kitchen, and looked for food. She asked me if I would come help her reach the peanut butter, which I did, and then she MADE HER OWN BAGEL. With peanut butter.
First best? She was SO PROUD of herself. And I was proud of her too. What started as a potential tantrum instead turned into a learning lesson and a clear example that she was capable of doing big-girl things. On her own. Two years ago I guarantee you that she would have still been screaming about breakfast an hour later. Today? So much better. So incredibly much better.
We still have room for improvement. Little Man has gone to school three times so far in his pj's, including today. He does not like to comply with requests. I am learning that I can control myself and not get mad when they don't listen to me. I'm not 100% successful yet, but I'm better than I was. The morning stress level is diminishing for all of us and the days that I climb into my carpool feeling like a wrung-out washcloth are fewer and farther between. Its worth noting.
I hope I never stop learning what my kids have to teach me. I am a better person today because of them.