Thursday, November 19, 2009

Train up a child in the way he should go...

Our house was a disaster today. Busy work week. Busy play week. Unpacking from vacation. General post-vacation laziness. You know how it goes.

So all our scheduled "stuff" was this afternoon, leaving my morning blissfully open for productivity. Well, going back to bed would have been my first preference, but that wasn't really an option. So instead, I decided to clean the house.

At first, I'd been tempted to call the boys into action on the disaster of a house and/or their room. The vomit of toys across our living room....capes and superhero costumes scattered about...etc etc.

Then I had this moment of realization. If I made it seem like we were cleaning the house out of some place of frustration or explosive irritation, that wasn't much of a lesson I wanted to pass on. I was cleaning the house to bring joy and peace to my family. Shouldn't they see cleaning as a positive and not a burden?

So, I made a conscious decision to just clean. Let them do their thing, but occasionally say things like: "Hey, could you grab those shoes and bring them to the front door? That would really help me out."

Then we went off to our afternoon of the chiropractor, Jack's Aquarium class, playdate at Dawn's, and then I left for a mom's night out. I came home to the living room, looking beautiful. Everything picked up. I said to Steve: "Wow, did you do this? Thank you!"

"Actually, Jack did it all. He asked me for a Harris Teeter bag and to set the timer for 5 minutes. That's when I realized he was going to clean with the bag."

"Seriously?"

"Then said he was going to vacuum. He even unwrapped the cord out and just needed help plugging it in - it was upside down. He vacuumed, then wrapped the cord back up. Put it back in the bathroom. He kept saying things like, 'I just love when the house is clean.'"

I had this moment of awareness about how many times I've gone wrong in that area of parenting. Thinking that teaching through words, explanations, or demands will somehow shape a child. But when it comes down to it, they're just watching how we approach things and will mold into that...whether we like it or not. I know it in my heart...can remind myself in my mind...but my days don't always reflect it.

Case in point:

I've been inappropriately frustrated by both boys eating only brown rice the last 2 days. Actually, it's not about what they eat. It's that they'll ask for food, I'll make the specified food, and then they are completely uninterested in it. Argh. Normally, we don't have food struggles, so this has been a bit new and uncomfortable to me.

Today, it boiled over a bit. I said to Jack: "Really, you need to eat something more than brown rice. Is there ANY vegetable you feel like eating?" I said it too irritatedly, and uncharacteristically annoyed. His face fell, and he said with a sad, dejected voice: "I do like celery." I immediately burst out laughing, and then he did too. It was so ridiculous, what I was doing. I was willing to burst out at this sweet little boy over his vegetables? He'll eat them again. It might be brown rice this week, bananas the next, apples the next. Whatever. His innocent but heart-broken response somehow snapped me back to reality. I was completely out of line.

Motherhood, man. When you're married and screw up, at least you're not building the foundation of your partner. I can be ridiculous with Steve, and then call him on his way to work and say: "I accept your apology," and we'll both laugh and be back to normal. Our ups and downs aren't really that big of a deal, because we're not immersed in our formative years. We're evolving, mind you, but it's different.

With PARENTHOOD, you're sculpting this sense of how the world works, through our actions and what we pass on. If I show that we get irritated easily over upsets, then they start to accept that as their reality. Not good. If we show that cleaning is a horrible burden to bear, that's their expectation. Not good.

It's all a learning process, isn't it? With high stakes. But worth it.