Category Archives: parenthood

The Special Handling of "No."

The other day one of my children had to do the dishes.  One of the duties of dishes is cleaning out the sink.  It’s a gross job, after all the dishes have been rinsed and loaded, and all that’s left in the sink is the slop pooling in the dish drainer.  


“Don’t forget to clean the sink,” I said.  We were hurrying to get out of the house to go somewhere.  We did not have extra time to talk or do anything other than hustle.  Well, this child looked into the sink and said, “No!  I can’t do it, Mom.  I’ll do everything else, but I will not stick my hand in there.”


“It’s part of the job, now get it done,” I said as I helped tie some shoes and scurried to get the car bag packed.


Child shook her head, looked down at the sink and said, “No, I’m not doing it!”  Then she turned around and folded her arms in a most resolved fashion.


Well, what do you do with that?  Too often, my response depends on my mood.  Which I don’t like, but there it is.  Sometimes I am instantly enraged.  I snap and speak louder, sometimes I order it done, sometimes I take the bait and begin arguing and negotiating.  I can guarantee, the child might do it, but the situation will escalate.  Then there is crying, raised voices, and hurt feelings.  And it makes me feel pretty lousy when I reflect on it later.


So, there she stood, arms folded.  A defiant “NO!” was right in front of me.  No is actually a rare thing for my children to say.  They are pretty obedient, but there are occasions like this where I think, Oh crap, now what am I supposed to do???!  I decided to apply some John Rosemond parenting style (Author of two of my favorite parenting books, The Six Point Plan to Raising Happy, Healthy Children and Making the Terrible Twos Terrific.)


I decided to say nothing.  We left the house and by the look on my child’s face, she was pretty sure she had gotten out of cleaning the sink.  I kept thinking, please let an opportunity present itself quickly.


An teaching opportunity came that very night.  (Of course it did.  There is always something our children want.)  We ran into our wonderful Grandma and my daughter excitedly asked, “Can I ride home with Grandma, please, please, please?”  Riding home with Grandma, getting her undivided attention, and maybe a shamrock shake on the way home…well, it’s a pretty special thing!  Bingo.  The opportunity had come.


“Sorry,” I said.  “You didn’t clean your sink.”


What followed after that was wailing, crying, begging.  The worst thing I could have done was say, “Okay, go ahead but next time…” No, no, no.  I had to follow-through!  I wanted to say yes.  Frankly, our car ride would have been much more peaceful.  But I had to be strong even though she was very sincere, quite repentant, and used some very convincing bartering.  


Child drove home with us, sniffling the entire way in the back seat.  I did feel bad, but mostly I felt triumphant.  That sounds smug.  But I was happy because I had not yelled or argued.  I did not hurt our relationship and she didn’t even think I was mean.  What I hoped was happening was a child seeing that there is agency and there are consequences for every single choice.


What happened when we got home?  She went right to the sink and cleaned it without one word from me.  And the next time she had the dishes?  She did the sink too.  She got it and she got it quickly.


I’ve thought about this several times since it happened.  Especially as our children get older, we cannot “make” them do anything.  If we try to force, we are going to do damage.  But there has to be consequences. Permissiveness can hurt our children just as much as being overly harsh. 


But maybe, I thought, I just need to shut my yap and let the natural consequence present itself.  Didn’t clean your room?  Bummer.  Now there isn’t movie night.  You didn’t eat your dinner?  That’s too bad, we made brownies for dessert.  A tantrum in the supermarket?  Drat.  Guess we’ll just have to go sit in the car until you are done.  I vow to do better.


This situation was followed up with Gregor and I watching the documentary, Buck.  Oh, it’s such great stuff!  Buck is what the late psychologist, Carlfred Broderick, would call a “a transitional character.”  Instead of passing on the abuse he endured as a child, he rejected it.  


Buck is the original Horse Whisperer, the inspiration behind the bestselling book that I must now read.


I was very taken with this whole concept.  He works magic in minutes with horses, using nothing but some flags, body language, and a very soft voice.  It is immediate, how this transcends to how we work with people, especially our children.


There is no bribery (it doesn’t work in any long-term scenario, he says), no manipulation, no hurting, hitting, no yelling or even the hint of a raised voice.  I’m sure Buck gets frustrated and annoyed, but he always approaches from a place of humility and compassion.  He’s no pushover.  He’s firm and he’s strict and he means business.  The horse knows it!  The horse learns to follow, respect, and love the guy.  Buck is teaching horses with people problems.  He’s also teaching people with people problems.  He sure taught me.

The inspiration for the book, The Horse Whisperer, Buck helped Robert Redford nail his Hollywood movie role.  See the Buck trailer Here.  

And yeah, I’ve always had a soft spot for the cowboy.



Buck Brannaman says, “Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see… Sometimes, you will.” 
It’s like that with our children, don’t you think?

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Doing the Hard Things

It’s a hard balance knowing when to push your kids and when to back off and let them make their own decisions.  They are getting older.  The decisions are less about physical harm (you will get burned if you touch that stove!) to more emotional, social, and moral.  It’s especially hard when the consequences are painful but you know they need to learn from it.
This was the case a few weeks ago when Nelson was going through a rough patch with basketball.  He’d had a tough day of soccer, then basketball, and then fell on the ice.  He said his knee hurt, he limped, and he absolutely COULD NOT play in his game.  Though I do believe his knee was sore, I suspected there was a larger issue.  I thought he was nervous and just wanted to forget he had ever signed up.
My dad with Brynne on his lap…thank goodness.  Watching sports with my two little girls can be such a treat (not).
The big day came and Nelson came home from school.  Nope, leg was still lame, couldn’t play.  I had been thinking about it all day, had discussed it with Gregor, and decided that he should have to at least try.  There were tears, anger, “I can’t do it!”and mom and dad saying, “You just have to try.   You’re part of the team.  If you really can’t play then you can sit on the bench with your team.”
“I don’t WANT TOO!”
“Tough.  You’re going.”
I have to say that I’m a rather impatient person when it comes to illnesses or injuries.  It’s a weakness I’m working on.  
But I made him go.
Then I watched from the sidelines.
Was it the right decision?
Nelson was happy when I wrapped his leg with an Ace bandage.  It made him feel a little more secure and he got some attention from his teammates.

And then…he was off.

He played the whole game.  Afterwards, when we asked if his leg hurt, he shrugged and said, “a little.”

There are only six boys on Nelson’s team.  He is not the best player.  He is not the worst.  He does not practice on his own every second he can get, like some boys do.  He is small, is not overly aggressive, and he hates to lose.  He takes it very hard.
In this case, I think we made the right call.  We made him do something that was hard.  And it worked out.  I think it was good for him.  I want my kids to do hard things.  In fact I want a big sign in my kitchen saying, “We Do Hard Things.” 
But it won’t always be my decision.  I’m still not sure I have the right balance.  In high school my parents let me quit track.  To this day, it’s my biggest regret.  I threw away a lot of opportunity when it really mattered.  I failed in that decision, but I also learned from it.  I think it made me stronger, more resolute about the kind of person I wanted to be.
It’s hard, this parenting thing.
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Sunday Interviews and a New Sunbeam

Awhile ago I blogged about starting interviews with my kids.  Since they were babies I’ve had a notebook that I try to write in at least a couple times a year.  I used that notebook, and for each child wrote:  Physical, Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, and Social (though, what’s the difference between mental and emotional?) Largely inspired by Shawni‘s stories of her parents, The Eyres.  
Then, the 1st Sunday of January I asked each one separately to come into my closet (the one Paige slept in) by themselves and talk withe me.  I couldn’t believe how excited each of them was – the feeling special, singled out, one-on-one time with mom?  Brynne was hopping up and down waiting her turn.  It was so funny at how different their responses were.  “Fine.” “Fine.” “Fine” versus full paragraphs. (Hmmm…boys vs. girls). 
My goal:  Do this once a month.  1st Sunday of the month is good.  Must not be a slacker.  It’s very interesting what you find out about your children when you actually sit down and no one can escape and there are no other distractions.  I wasn’t running around saying “uh-huh, uh-huh” and not really listening.  

More exciting news is that Paige became a “Sunbeam!”  Yea!  Sob!  At church, when kids turn 18 months old they go to nursery.  When they turn 3 they get to go to primary (for all the kids 3-11) but it starts every January.  So, this January our baby Paige started a new chapter in her life.  Now, all of my kids are in primary with me!  If we could only get Gregor teaching primary too…but he’s with those old men.  As you can see, Paige was feeling a little shy about the whole thing.
But by the end of church?

We had a very happy sunbeam! (I would not have put this picture of myself but Paige’s face was so funny).

She has cried a few times sitting on her chair while I’m running around getting things organized and trying to conduct, but we’re all adjusting.  Her teachers are just fabulous – I am thankful!  They always say, “Go away, she’s much better without you.” I suppose we are all constantly adjusting. 
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