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.
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.