Friday, August 31, 2012

Experiments in Parenting

Back in February or so I noticed that I was saying "no" all the time.  I had a newly turned 3 year old and my undemanding newborn had become a more involved 6 month old.  I felt I couldn't turn around without having more demands on me than I could possibly meet.  I also felt sick of saying no, like I wasn't parenting as well as I could, so I tried a little experiment.  For one week, I endeavored to erase the word "no" from my vocabulary.  Some of the time, it was just semantic wrangling: "Mom, let's go to the park."  "We don't have time to go to the park today."  But other times, being conscious of saying "no" encouraged me to say "yes" more often: "Mom, do you want to play play-do?" "Let me pour a cup of coffee first, and then I do."

Spending a week consciously saying "yes" as often as possible made me more aware of the times I could say yes.  Maybe I'm over-thinking things, but I feel like that little one week experiment has made me a more positive parent for the last six months.  On the heals of that feeling, I have recently been challenged to undertake a new experiement.

I'm reading and enjoying Teacher Tom's blog.  I've only been doing so for a month, so I'm reserving judgment about whether I like it or not.  Often the shine will wear off a new blog in 3 or 4 months, so ask me around Thanksgiving if I'm still reading.  I disagree with a few of his basic precepts: for example, I don't think people are innately good, and while I agree that teaching children how to be citizens of a democracy is an important thing, I don't think it's the important thing.  However, he's a deep thinker and an articulate writer, so even where I disagree with him (sometimes fundamentally), I can get something our of his writing.  So this post struck me.

Teacher Tom is basically calling parents out for using commands as our go-to way of communicating with our kids.  So I started on experiment on Monday: I will not use commands when speaking to my kids.  Instead, I will make factual statements.  "Don't hit your sister" will become "It hurts The Baby when you hit her."  "Pick up your toys" will become "There are a lot of toys on the floor." 

Tell you what, it's really, really hard!  I give orders all the stinking time!  I have to stop and rephrase my sentence no less than half the time.  "Mom, will you read me a book?"  "Sure, bring a book to me.... I mean, uh... what book should we read?"  As The Munchkin dumps rice all over the floor, "Don't d.....  I mean.... it makes a really big mess when you do that."

My trump card is that I can make true statements about myself, too: "I really don't want to clean up that mess."  "If your drums wake the baby up, I will feel frustrated."  But even with that, I'm still stumbling over myself. 

A big part of the reason is that the command is often shorter than a factual statement.  "Don't complain about the food" vs. "It hurts my feelings when you say the food is gross."  "Stop!" vs. "It's not safe for you to run there!" 

I don't know how I'm going to make it until Sunday.  My brain is already too close to exploding.  Which means I should probably do another week of this.  What do you think, do you want to give it a try?

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