So there was a ‘thing’ that happened last week with one of my kids. It started out with the kid being obnoxious in general and then being a tattle tale to top it off. Because the obnoxiousness embarrassed me (because it’s all about me, don’t you know, and if my kid is a jerk it reflects on me, and is unacceptable to this brand of perfectionist), I responded by quickly and LOUDLY informing said kid that the behavior was unacceptable and that said kid must apologize. Now, I’m not sure what led me to believe that this would result in an apology and corrected behavior. Certainly not the past several years of that totally not working. Or the fact that both Dreamy and I respond to threats, shouts and attempts at shaming with walls, hostility and NOT obeying the commands. However, in the moment, it seemed like the right thing to do.
The only funny part is that it started out me bellowing. “OH NO YOU DIDN’T JUST SAY THAT!! YOU APOLOGIZE RIGHT NOW OR WE’RE LEAVING!!” Now, if you know my kid better than I apparently do, you might guess what happened next. Fast forward the arms crossing, glaring, foot stomping, reassigning of blame, and all that, right to the part where kid demands “FINE! Take me home! Right now!”
So now, I’ve created a standoff. My kid sitting there glaring at ALL of us now, refusing to acknowledge anyone and insisting we go home. Everyone else is confused and crying (Kids that is. Moms were in solidarity that this crap had to end). At this point I realized I have been trapped, and the kid knows it. I want the apology (and better behavior) more than the kid wants…well, anything. So I valiantly change strategies. “Oh yeah? You want to go home? Well guess what? WE ARE NOT LEAVING UNTIL YOU APOLOGIZE!!!”
Yeah, pretty weak, I know. As any parent of a ‘strong-willed child’ will tell you, choosing your battles is 99% OF the battle. And obnoxious behavior is certainly never acceptable, but man, tattling is a TRIGGER with a capital everything for me! The problem is a clash with my personal code of ethics and approach to life, and a desire to know if one of my kids is doing something I want to know about it. Let me explain…
My personal code of ethics and approach to life is thus:
- Your opinion of me is none of my business
- I am powerless over people, places, and things
- To the extent that I refuse to accept the first two points is the extent to which I suffer angst, frustration, anger and bitterness
- The only thing in life I AM in control of is myself – my actions and my responses
- I am NOT in charge of outcomes, only in doing the right thing to the best of my ability and apologizing when I blow it
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Now, I know what you’re thinking…Carrie, you amazing paragon of awesomeness…how is it you’re not leading your own country by now? Well, I probably would be if I wouldn’t have gotten such a late start on my awesomeness. Prior to a personal bottom of epic proportions, I labored under an almost completely opposite set of beliefs that I WAS in charge of ensuring other people were acting appropriately, that I COULD make sure they did so by my words (or by my eye-rolls if that failed) and that of COURSE I could affect the outcomes…if I didn’t have the outcomes I wanted, I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Lather, rinse, and repeat the neurotic and destructive behavior ad infinitum.
And even though I actively work on not letting it bother me, people not doing what they’re supposed to and getting away with it is still a trigger that leads to my joy being sucked away so I just don’t need my kids rubbing it in all the time. And, having been on both sides of the ‘I’m in charge of maintaining order’ scenario, with the accompanying aforementioned epic self-destruction, I am acutely sensitive when I feel like my littles are going down the wrong path and so I take what may seem like extreme measures to save them.
And again, I know what you’re thinking…Didn’t I JUST say I was powerless over people, places and things, and that I was only in charge of myself, so why do I think I can save my children from life lessons they will need to learn? Just shut up, okay? If you’ve been paying attention to ANYTHING I’ve written over the last year or so you will know that being a Mommy to three under five (I can still say that for 4 more days) can erode spiritual fitness faster than a three-day cheeseburger-binge erodes a 20 minute workout! So yes, I understand the paradox in what I’m saying…but…
When it comes to tattling, there are a few classifications (all except one of which bug me to varying degrees).
The good kind of tattling is when a kid is doing something legitimately dangerous or destructive, and the tattler knows this and is concerned, so tells an adult out of good motives. Without this kind of tattling #NoBen probably would have fallen out a window years ago. Similarly, if someone is doing something that negatively affects my kids (taking their lunch, or what have you) my kids know darn well that they need to say NO…AND tell a grown up. I don’t even consider that tattling as much as good citizenship and self-respect.
The annoying tattling is when they’re just too lazy to work something out themselves, or when they want to get someone else in trouble. I have zero tolerance for this and usually ignore them or punish the tattler instead of the transgressor in some ingenious way (like making the tattler share THEIR stuff instead of the other way around).
Then there’s the kind of innocent tattling that can get twisted. That’s when kids are learning rules and take it to heart to an extent that they are genuinely alarmed when they see someone breaking them. I’m seeing this a lot in all the kids right now. For example, #StopThatAiden is very quick to point out when a kid in his class is not using ‘walking feet’, or Bisky will (loudly) tell the teacher that so-and-so is not sitting crisscross applesauce. I think how this is handled is probably more important to someone’s long term well-being than we might know (of course, this is through the lens of my approach to life).
When it happens, I like to affirm that the kids have understood the rule correctly, and praise them for how well they follow the rule but remind them firmly that they are NOT in charge of how other people behave. For example: “Yes #StopThatAiden, we are supposed to use walking feet in the class, and you do a good job of that. I think it’s best if you worry about your own walking feet and not #NoBen’s though, ok?” Again, I only do this if the other person’s behavior is not endangering my kid’s body, rights, or safety, or anyone else’s, per above.
Because frankly, I have way too much to do to manage anyone else’s circus or monkeys and I’m concerned that if my kids start trying to make everyone else behave, they will irritate the crap out of me and every other parent and teacher they deal with by obsessing on what everyone else doing and insisting everyone else know about it. Oh, and set themselves up for a slippery slope of frustration and bitterness about all the stuff out there that isn’t been done ‘right’.
So yeah, this is definitely not an easy one to solve. Because I do want to know when #NoBen is trying to eat paint, and I also want to know which kids are chronically misbehaving (please don’t be mine!) as something to be watchful of (not to fix them or their parents, as it’s obvious, as I’ve already mentioned, that I have some pretty big planks to deal with before assisting with your specks). Knowing the likelihood that my kids will do everything to the extreme makes me very, very cautious in condoning behaviors that may lead to ‘I’m-in-charge-of-the-world-itus’. And having practiced HR for over 20 years, I’ve really got zero tolerance for that nonsense.
So that’s the story of the 2 hour playdate that lasted 15 minutes, why I probably need parenting classes, and how a bunch of kids will knock the peace and love right the heck out of you!
What ‘kid thing’ drives you bonkers to an extent that is out of proportion with everyone else? I can’t be the only one, can I?