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
- 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…