Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cure for Criticism

I have had noticed a pattern in my parenting that needs change, yet it is fundamentally sticky in my personality. That pattern is criticism. Criticism, in my personality, is not a preconceived notion; it is impulsive. Logic tells me that it is my nature to criticize, yet I often find myself feeling guilty when I reflect back on my observation and comment.

This critical nature manifests in a couple of ways. First, I am critical of my kids when they continue to fail to adhere to routines and behaviors that I have tried to implement and establish for months (or years.) Second, I criticize people when they do something that I think is the "wrong" way or a "less efficient" way. The rationalization is that it is not just criticism, but constructive criticism - I have a suggestion for how to do it better.

When I think about these thoughts and comments in hindsight, I chastise myself and ask, "Am I so perfect?"

Do I forget to unpack bags and put things away?
Do I forget to clean up after myself when I have to leave a project that hasn't been completed?
Do I always return to that project in a reasonable amount of time to complete it?
Do I remember to do the things that need to get done instead of turning to preferred activities?
Do I always do things the "best" way?

To focus this contemplation, I am going to stick to how it effects my parenting.

Let's examine the beginning of the day: Waking up and waking the kids up.

I should wake up, jump out of bed, do yoga, throw in a load of laundry, look at the plan for the day that I should have created the night before, make lunches, make breakfast, and do any other preparations for the tasks to come throughout the day, such as have my shopping bags and store returns ready to go.

That doesn't happen very often, like, ever.
Even if I do get up on time (6:00,) I will ususally check my phone, then turn on the TV for the weather. But the weather doesn't come on right away so I get stuck watching the local news for five or ten minutes. I do that while sitting in bed, rather than getting dressed while it's on in the background. (I mean, I have DVR, so I could go through my routine, then rewind back to the weather report. But, no, my bed feels too comfy.) Then it's already 6:30 or 6:45 by the time I get downstairs which is barely enough time to get breakfast going and unload the dishwasher before having to wake the kids up.

How I would like the kids' morning routine to go:
at 6:50, tell the kids it's time to wake up, perhaps with a soft voice while sitting on the side of the bed, gently stroking their hair or back. They begin to rouse, then, after five or ten minutes, get up, go to the bathroom and get dressed, come downstairs, eat their breakfast promptly, brush their hair and teeth, pack their bags, and be ready for school in plenty of time so that they can cheerfully review their math facts and recite memorized poetry or favorite scenes from Shakespeare.

How it happens: I realize that time has gotten away from me and it's 7:04. I try to gently wake the kids up. One or more complain. I try to let it go, but sometimes that complaint manifests itself as yelling at me. If I'm not fully rested or simply irritable, I may match that yelling. Either way, I give the kids a few minutes to wake, then actually get up and get dressed.
At 7:17 wonder what the hell they're doing, then walk to the bottom of the stairs and ask them how it's going. One or both of them are still in bed. I may yell from the bottom of the stairs or I may actually climb the stairs to do my yelling.
By 7:30 at least one of them has come downstairs. Eating breakfast is painfully slow, meaning a bite is taken, then deep thought overtakes one of them and the other engages in a long monologue that JUST CAN'T WAIT. Then they get up in the middle of eating to do something like get a toy. That is not met with my greatest patience and empathy. They finally eat and may or may not have time to pack their bags themselves.
In the meantime, I have been working on their lunches and will inevitably find that one or both of them have failed to unpack their backpack the day before, meaning there is old, uneaten lunch from the day before inside of much  needed reusable containers. There may also be homework that needs to be completed. This is met with my disapproval because, as I remind them, I have been telling them to unpack their backpacks as soon as they come home from school EVERY DAY THIS SCHOOL YEAR and that means it's been 8 months and they STILL DON'T GET IT. I want to shoot myself in the face or punch the wall or throw a glass through a window. Instead, I angrily empty their lunch boxes, fill them with fresh food for them to take two bites then leave in their backpacks overnight and repeat the process in the morning. At this point, I firmly believe that yelling will evoke their intelligence and efficiency to get homework done in record time. Unfortunately, panic and uncertainty take over and I have to say, Forget it! and it goes back into the folder.
Now it's 8:03 and the school bell rings at 8:13 and while it only takes three minutes to walk to school, they still have neither brushed their teeth nor hair nor put shoes on. In this case my yelling is enough to motivate them to accomplish these tasks with amazing speed.
We get to school in time to get in line as the bell rings and things are finally okay.

I could go on and on about what I find they've left behind when I get home from drop-off, how they leave their underwear attached to their inside-out pants and tights, yell at me when I pick them up from school, refuse to unpack their backpacks, and complain about their extracurricular activities.

Right now, I can look around - literally as I sit here typing - and see several things that I keep meaning to get to but just can't find the time. Unfortunately, I will instead work on things in an inefficient manner, forget that I needed to do a few things which will cause panic and stress, pick the kids up in a hurry and have things to accomplish at the house rather than be ready to spend time with them or let them play with their friends after school. I will go to Costco and look at prices of TVs and storage containers, filing it away for the time when I actually need to shop for those things. I will shop at five stores because doing so will save me $10-20. I will walk right by the garbage bags I set on the deck, put there for the purpose of taking them on the way to the garage. When I get back, there will be a rough hole in the bag and garbage strewn about. There will be a load of laundry left in the washing machine overnight so that it must be washed again, only to be left there all day.

I believe I have identified the problem: the kids are about as perfect and efficient as I am. Yet, I hold them to a higher standard. My frustration emerges because I am here reminding them to do these things, yet they still complain and fail. What does this say about my teaching methods? Perhaps, if they still don't get it after nearly the entire school year, either I am not teaching them properly or they simply aren't developmentally ready to do it themselves. I may actually have to do it for them for the time being until such time arrives that they are ready and "willing" to make the leap.

The next step, which is challenging for me, is creating a plan and implementing it. To what degree am I willing to do things for the kids? How can I actually change my wiring, or thought process, to change my expectations?

Or, am I right that the kids should be doing these things independently and I'm not being hard enough on them, that I would be more efficient in my life if the others would do their part as they should?

No, that is the old thinking. Reality: we all learn at our own pace and we all have unique skill sets. I have to find out what motivates each individual child to accomplish an undesirable task and tap into that. All I have to do is make the time.