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