Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Must Confess...

I’m going to come clean about something I do as a parent and I bet I’m not alone in this. It’s something I do almost every day, although I should not do it at all. I should know better. But I do it anyway. And there’s a good chance you do it too.

By now you’re probably dying to know what it is, so I’ll let the suspense build while I provide some background information. You’ll thank me, this will totally be worth it.

My sons are eight and five. They are bright boys, and they are well behaved (for the most part). And they are completely different. It’s not just that one likes trains and the other likes jigsaw puzzles. A lot of the difference is their age coming through. They are at a very formative stage, and each year they surprise me as they grow.

As I see them get bigger I interact with them differently, giving them more responsibility, harder tasks. And herein lies my problem: I dole out instructions like I’m talking to adults. But they aren’t. They are kids. And I talk to the eight-year-old like he’s an adult and I talk to the five-year-old like he’s an eight-year-old.

Then - this is the kicker - I get frustrated when they don’t do things right, or they do them too slow. And even though they are close in years, the eight-year-old has no concept of what it was like to be five, when he was still learning and wasn’t as coordinated. He gets frustrated over menial things, like how his brother plays Lego Batman on the Wii.

Kids don’t think like we do. They may be able to carry out a short list of simple tasks, but they can’t remember long lists of complex tasks. Especially my five-year-old, who is free-spirited on top of being five. Here’s an example:

I can’t say “Get ready for school” when he gets out of bed and expect him to make it all the way to the bus stop without further instruction (not counting assistance provided, like toasting the waffles, pouring the cereal, and crossing the street). Here’s what all is required of him in order to “get ready for school” -

- Get dressed
- Brush your teeth
- Comb your hair
- Go downstairs
- Take your allergy medicine
- Eat breakfast
- Use the bathroom
- Wash your hands
- Now dry them off
- Turn the light off
- You turned the fan on. Turn the light off
- Now turn the fan off, too
- Leave the dog alone.
- Come over here
- Now
- One
- Two
- Thank you. Now pick those shoes up and put them on…

Eventually we do make it to the bus stop. But you see, there is so much that falls under “Get Ready for school” that they can’t remember it all. I have to break it down into its smaller components and micro-manage the shit out of each child, or they will manage themselves. For kids at ages where they still miss important details, like “wear underpants,” they just aren’t ready for self-management. I will find that they inserted a 20-minute session of “Play with Darth Tater” between “Brush your teeth” and “Comb your hair.”

It gets worse when I use big words. These are usually reserved for the Great Parenting Lectures where I go on for ten minutes, knowing I lost them nine minutes and forty-five seconds ago but continuing to extol virtue after virtue nonetheless because I feel bad when I spank them.

I tell them about the consequences of their choices and taking responsibility for their decisions and owning up to their actions and being a leader, not a follower. And they look at me and say, “If you hold you face like this too long,” (pinches his cheeks and purses his lips like a fish) “will it stay like that forever?”

On the other hand, if I say let’s go to the park they will vanish and reappear a split-second later with shoes on, thrusting my car keys into my hand and urging ME along, telling me that I made a wrong turn when I wasn’t going to the park he was thinking of. Now he’s got a built-in GPS for crying out loud…


Elizabeth Bradley said...

My son is 18 and it's pretty much the same thing. Telling him to clean up the kitchen just isn't enough, you have to say, load the dishwasher, put in the soap, turn it on, wipe the counters, blah, blah, blah. Otherwise they have an out, with, "You didn't tell me to wipe the counters." Even though it's always expected. Sheesh, kids. They can wear you out.

CKHB said...

- Turn the light off
- You turned the fan on. Turn the light off
- Now turn the fan off, too


TLH said...

Having worked with hundreds of kids from four weeks to 16 years, I can tell you that you are using pretty much the only approach that works.

Lofty ideals can often conflict with reality. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. My parents were the same way with me and look at how I turned out!

Oh, wait... I see your point...


Bane of Anubis said...

Could just be boys, regardless of age :)

Amy said...

As a mother of three girls and one boy, I have observed what you describe and it's a "boy thing." My girls can take the instruction of "get ready for school," and run with it. I must go step by step and turn by turn with the boy. When he was about ten, I told him to take a shower. Sixty seconds later he was out. I asked, "Did you wash your hair?" No. "Did you use soap?" No. Then, I looked at him and noticed he was in the same clothes as before the shower. With hesitation I asked, "Did you put on clean underwear?" NO! Seriously.

Rick Daley said...

So it seems the consensus is that they will not grow out of it. Damn.

Frau said...

Even my 15year old daughter will say "you didn't tell me to do that" hello you are 15 I shouldn't have to. Very literal! It doesn't get easier sorry!

Rick Daley said...

Frau- Danke!

lifeissweet16 said...

Mine is going to be 15 this month. It doesn't get better.

Vodka Logic said...

That was funny, never realized how long the list to get ready was. I do find my girls could take the "get ready for school" and go with it for the most part.


Lady Glamis said...

Rick, this post has made my morning.

Kids. That's all I have to say. Kids.

They live in a completely different list-free world. UGH.

Rick Daley said...

Vodka- Hopefully your girls will still be as good with direction when they start dating.

Michelle- It's stange how the kids can come bundled with both frustration and joy. I often find myself telling them "You're lucky you're cute!"

Lady Glamis said...

Rick, I say that to Darcy all the time. And it's true. If she wasn't cute I'd be in big trouble from selling her to the gypsies.

L. T. Host said...

I don't have (human) children, and my pets don't speak English, so, I'm not really qualified to weigh in here except to say that:

When I do have kids, this is the part that freaks me out. Some people say, talk to your kids like they're adults, and they'll be more mature/ easier to get along with/ smarter/ insert parenting thing here. Others say, talk to your kids like they're kids, because who wants to grow up so fast?

Again, don't have any experience to draw from except for my nieces, who I see so little of they are literally different people every time (5 and 7). But I have noticed when I talk to them like they're adults, my older niece will nod gravely, and be very serious and calm. When I talk to her like she's a kid, she is crazy. My younger niece doesn't quite get the whole adult lingo thing and often chooses to ignore me, but my tone is what calms her down.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that like anything else, you need to find a balance. Good luck~


Rick Daley said...

I've found that when my kids nod at me gravely and act serious and calm, it's because they don't have a clue as to what I am actually saying.

That's the biggest issue with treating kids like adults: they're not, and it leads to misunderstandings.

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

"And they look at me and say, “If you hold you face like this too long,” (pinches his cheeks and purses his lips like a fish) “will it stay like that forever?”"

Welcome to my world!

Your sons sound exactly like mine. We've given up on the big lectures since he glazes over and really isn't listening. I really think its a boy thing too.

Laurel said...

Lady Glamis: Too funny! I threaten to sell mine to the gypsies on a regular basis. I had to curb it when we lived in Augusta, GA since there was a large community of actual gypsies there. Irish travelers. Spoke their own language, inbred, the works.

Rick: I do this, too. Mostly with conversation. I can't get it through my head that when the hatchlings repeat the same question four or five times in a row that they really DON'T know that the answer won't change. They're developing verbal skills and experimenting. And of course, hoping I will say "Yes, you can have a milkshake" if they keep at it long enough.

Rick Daley said...


One definition of insanity is "doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting different results."

So our kids are just nucking futs.

L. T. Host said...

Touche, Rick, touche.

I now know why my nieces never do what I ask them.

Martha W said...


Holy cow... it's like you were just at my house! I have 2 boys (4 & 2)- and it's just that way! And, again, I'm with you - I was really hoping it would change... but damn! It's not sounding like it!


Laura Martone said...

Hahahaha! As usual, I have two thoughts, Rick. One, you're freakin' hilarious and why don't you have your own one-hour comedy special? And two, I'm kinda grateful that all I have is a cat. Good luck with the parenting thing!

jdcoughlin said...

That is so funny!! I'm at that point right now, and trying to get out of it. My new thing is waking my 14 year old up later and later so he has to rush and will then wake up on time. Hasn't worked out yet. He's just getting really good at rushing.
Damn...thought I was getting good at this mom thing.

Martha W said...

That's the funny thing about kids - if you give them 10 minutes to do something, they do it. If you give them a half hour, they can't!

Now that I think about it... I know adults like that too! Does that mean it never goes away? *sigh*

Rick Daley said...


If you give them 10 minutes to do something they want to do, they do it in 5. IF you want them to do something they don't want to do, you have to give 10 minutes warning to prepare them for the start of the task. EX: "We're leaving the park in 10 minutes."

Then repeat warning at 5, 2, and 1 minute to minimize the meltdown.

lifeissweet16 said...

'I often find myself telling them "You're lucky you're cute!"'

It's not luck. It's design.

Notice how all babies of animals who need to be cared for are cute?

That's what keeps us from killing them when they are doing the things they do to drive us insane. You get the blind rage and then look at their widdle, biddle, cutey faces and you can't bring yourself to kill them and hide the bodies.

Not that I would do that, anyway, but you parents know what I mean. :-)

Anyone who doesn't believe in evolution has never had this particular realization.

Mira said...


Funny stuff, Rick.

Rick Daley said...

Thanks Mira ;-)