Kindness vs. coddling

I don’t know if I did today right. I tried, I debated, and I followed my gut. Let me tell you the story, and you judge.

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(Cool or gross? Also something for you to judge. Because I like empowering readers. And distracting them with science.)

Mornings are relatively time-sensitive I our household. We have a chronic problem with “ten minutes until you need to get ready; five minutes until you need to get ready; time to get ready; please get ready now; I’m really serious that you have to get ready; why aren’t you getting ready; we need to leave NOW,” with my frustration and stress increasing with each of these announcements (the latter of which are about three minutes apart).

The boys have different temperaments, and different needs. But both can put on their clothes and eat breakfast. The older one can put his lunch, homework, and library books into his bag. They can both become self-shod in a matter of seconds.

The problem is that they don’t do these things when asked, and I bristle. Over the past three years we’ve tried charts and rewards and different announcements and fewer reminders and more direction and yelling.

Nothing works consistently.

And after listening to Jennifer Senior’s book All Joy but No Fun, I’ve decided to reclaim what I want in this relationship. Fun. Senior notes that most mothers’ child care is time-sensitive and therefore more stressful. We’re the family nags because we have to get people places, get assignments done, prepare and serve food, administer baths and bedtimes…and it all has to be done relative to a clock.

Fathers, Senior writes, engage in interactions. They play. They teach. They chase. So one parent is generally the bad cop and the other gets to be the good cop.

I want to be the good cop.

So this morning, when the boys came in to cuddle me (more and more I’m embracing the “work late, wake grouchy, allow sweet boy cuddles to wake me and make me happy” paradigm we’ve settled into), I told them I wanted less time pressure and more play.

“I want to say ‘it’s time to get ready’ once, and I want you to heed me. And I’m going to try for a whole week not to say ‘we’re going to be late.'” They laughed. My middle name is “I don’t any to be late.” Because I don’t. Late is poison to my soul. Late is disrespectful and tells me that I’m a royal fuck up.

Sorry if you, gentle reader, are chronically late, but that’s what late says. It says you don’t care and can’t be bothered. I strive for one tardy a year. So far we’ve been tardy twice each year. I’ll take that failure rate.

But I exact this timeliness by harassing my kids. And they teach the family to operate this way by “just a minute-ing” until I’m mad.

So I can’t let them “just a minute” me any more. The anxiety isn’t worth my energy. I don’t want to be the bad cop. I want to be a fun mom. I want to play, then get ready without stress.

Today I said “it’s time to get ready.” After only one “just a second,” they did. Peanut had finished his homework, and I had checked it. He corrected a few minor errors and, as he packed his lunch and library books, grabbed his homework and put it in his bag.

Later that morning I found one sheet of homework he’d overlooked. He had corrected it and put it next to the others, and then forgot it during the great pre-school gathering process.

And I debated bringing it to him.

I had ten extra minutes.

He had tried and done his job, but made a little mistake.

I have a lot of work lately, and time is precious.

Homework is his job, not mine.

It’s not a big deal to help a little guy making his way in a grouchy world.

Spending recess redoing one sheet of math might remind him next time to be more careful.

Spending recess redoing one sheet of math he already found dreadfully easy was more consequence than an active eight-year-old boy needs.

If I left now id make it before recess.

Showing him that I care about what happens to him is core to my biggest job.

Showing him that there are consequences for actions is also core to my role.

Showing him that I can stop my day to help him could be detrimental to his long-term conception of what people should do for him.

Stopping my day to help him teaches an important lesson about how important I think he is.

And that’s where I stopped. It was a mistake. I love him. I may not have the time any other day, but I had the time today.

I made nice small talk with the office staff, whom I like. I showed my youngest that we help family in trouble. I showed myself that even though I often think about what a staff job rather than consulting could have done for my career, my retirement account, and my housing situation, I am glad I stopped working to invest in my children.

So I invested ten minutes in my firstborn child. I gifted a tiny little drive to teach my son that we’re in this together.

I won’t drive his homework to him again. And I likely won’t have to, because an hour spent thinking he would lose recess time was already burned into his rule-following little mind.

I treated him the way I would want to be treated.

That might mean I’m selfish. Or coddling. Or pathetic. But it feels as though it means I’m a good mom.

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(How could I not help a ninja in need?)

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18 thoughts on “Kindness vs. coddling

  1. I’ve totally taken my kid’s homework to him at school. But like you said, his worry for that hour of morning was enough to make him remember, and he hasn’t forgotten again. I’m knocking on wood right now, but I was just thinking today about how proud I am that he’s gotten to the point where I don’t have to nag him about doing his homework anymore. He just does it like a responsible human being! Let’s count it as kindness. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is using love as your navigator, and not what books and behaviorists tell you to do. He will remember the day mama brought his things to him at school. Because how many of us never screws up. Also, never pass up a chance to be someone’s hero.

  3. Ya done good kid!!!! You’re the mother every kid deserves! Your little one will always remember you were willing to be inconvenienced for him because he was worth it. Bravo!

  4. Hmmm. My kids aren’t old enough to even do homework yet, so I haven’t had this particular issue, but honestly, my first inclination would be to not bring it. But then I thought maybe this is one of those instances in which I might consciously choose to be less rigid than my parents, who were very into Responsibility–capital “r”– and living with the consequences of your actions and all those other things that translate into “you’re on your own, kid.”

    Time will tell, I suppose.

    P.S. I almost stood up and applauded at your comments about being on time. Since I’m pretty much the only person I know who is alwaysalwaysalways on time, I spend a lot of time silently fuming over other people’s inability to plan ahead so they’re not chronically 20 minutes late.

  5. I am always in favour of applauding and reinforcing the good intentions and effort my kids make (in theory). Do I always do it? Unfortunately not, …because sometimes it is so damned annoying when they don’t try hard enough, or it makes us even more ‘late’ because their ‘trying and doing well’ takes 3x longer than my ‘do it for them’…but I try. I really do try, and when I do you can see the pride in their faces!

  6. I had to laugh at SO much of this. The story of my mothering life for, um, dare I admit… about 18 years…

    And that’s true right down to my resentment of always being the bad cop (though for 11 years I was the ONLY cop, and therefore had multiple personalities), the increasingly repeated 4-minute, 3-minute, 2-minute, do it NOW, we’re late, we’re REALLY late, goddammit we’re late stream of warnings…

    And no matter what I tried, one of my boys (the younger, Mr. Head-in-the-Clouds) would forget a key, an art project, a homework assignment…

    Like yours, my inner dialog went back and forth; equally valid arguments on both sides, and lessons on both sides. To be frank, what I did would vary with my mood and his situation. The importance of them knowing that you are “on their side” and “in this together” is not to be underestimated.

    Incidentally, Mr. Forgetful, now in college, clearly never forgot all the going-out-of-my-way that has taken place over the years. He goes out of HIS way now – for me – anytime I need him.

    I think you did good. I think you will find your “kindness” lessons help build terrific adults.

    xo

  7. I laughed at your post cuz oh my I have been there many times. I now have a 24 and 27 year old and believe it or not you will see how all your wonderful lessons actually turn them into caring and accountable humans….my youngest has actually said that he is so glad that I raised him as I did…he says too many of his friends don’t know how to make a decision, aren’t accountable etc….that my friend is all that a Mother can ask for – phew I did get something right!! We do our right..my motto was alwasy “Balance and Compromise”…I figure that was important in their life as a parent and important now for them to have it in their lives as they are grown up.

  8. I found this posting to be so honest. We doubt everything we do, don’t we?? We overthink like crazy!! It’s ok. It makes us good moms. Personally, I love the decision you made. 😃

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