Monday, March 23, 2009

Predictable Patterns

We live in a house that runs more or less on a schedule.

Oh, who am I fooling -- does any family with children and parents who work full-time run on a predictable schedule? In my mind, I have a schedule that would work, but the number of days in a week that this schedule is actually followed are few if existent at all.

When I had a young child, I took for granted that I had the majority of control in the day to day, hour to hour events that transpire. I put the child to bed, I turned out the lights, and I told her to go to sleep. Eventually, she fall asleep within a reasonable amount of time. I made dinner and didn't mix it up too much -- chicken, peas and carrots, some potatoes and applesauce on the side. Juice or milk to drink. That's dinner, now eat it. The kid fussed, she complained, she cried (shock!), sometimes...she even would throw a temper tantrum. But the bottom line is, I had a certain measure of control over the situation. Ice cream only came as a treat, and not in huge quantities for snack time. This way the kid was hungry for nutritious foods at mealtimes. Bedtime came at a reasonable hour so that the next morning when we all have to get up and start the day, she was well-rested and ready to start the day.

Little by little, as my daughter get older (and taller, and smarter, and more self-reliant) I found that the schedule and rules I set out in my mind wasn't quite so easy to enforce. All sorts of new things entered the picture as she aged and became more independent -- the expectation that chores will be done, the need for cell phones (!), her coming home and fixing her own snacks based on her own hunger level, days full of extracurricular activities, and the influence of what is normal is other kids' households. There are many more I could add to this list. Sure, the independence means there's less that I had to do for her. But this all leads to the one day when you wake up and you think, what happened to the way things used to run around here?

Which leads me to a constant source of friction in our household. With only one child, one who just started high school this year, it seems like the need for scolding never ends.
"Get up for school."
Get up when your alarm goes of and don't make me call you three times."
"Yes, you must eat breakfast before you leave for school."
Who spilled milk on the counter and didn't clean it up?"
Can you please not pour glasses of drinks while holding the refrigerator door open?"
"Can you please clean the hair and make-up of the bathroom counter?"
The cat litter hasn't been changed yet; it was supposed to be done three days ago and the cat is fighting back in a very nasty way."
The dishes have to be cleaned every single day, after every single meal!"
Why is it 11 o'clock and you're still not ready for bed?"
"Why is it midnight and you are still up on a school night using a computer?"

Set the alarm for the next morning, fall asleep, and...repeat.

There are little things that make me a little crazy too. Spring has just sprung here in Michigan and those highs in the 40s or 50s have made us all a little delirious. Somehow the idea that a coat or socks are still needed seems stuffy. I myself was at Meijer last night wearing nothing but a long-sleeved knit top and sweater with leggings; when we left the store, I regretted not bringing along at least a pair of gloves or the additional layer of a light jacket. But when it comes to my kid, this makes me crazy. Day after day, my daughter dons less and less as she runs out the door for the school bus in temperatures still in the 20s. Yes, I know she's indoors all day, but still, is it so much to still wear socks with your Converse sneakers when you know the outdoor temperature won't go above 45?

Let's bring it back to home life, though. You'd think that what I gained in my child's independence and self-reliance would outweigh the inconvenience of the relative chaos that independence brings. But more and more it feels like I'm living with a sloppy roommate, the one you had when you first moved away from home. Sure, you were happy because you got a great deal on rent, but my god, was it so much to ask for this person to actually clean their dishes once a day? And not leave candy wrappers lying around on every surface?

I decided I was going to try and approach the issue with my daughter like an adult. That is, I was going to treat her with respect and expect that she would give me the same. As soon as I made that decision, it became apparent to me what the breakdown was. Many of the things that were driving me crazy were the ways in which her behavior broke from what was expected, predictable, responsible. It drives me crazy when she sleeps in until 11a on the weekends because that inconveniences everyone else. When she finally does rouse and make her way downstairs for Saturday morning breakfast, she's in a horrible mood and the last thing she wants to do is help with the dishes or make pleasant conversation. I described it to her as "rock star behavior" -- when she stays up until 1a on Friday night and then can't function again until 1p on Saturday. The behavior that results from these choices presumes that other people around her are going to pick up the slack and make sure her needs are met. It also means she's not looking out for anyone but herself.

As we went though other ways in which her daily patterns were less-than-appreciated by others in the household, we realized most of them reduced to this same issue -- doing things in a way that was out of the ordinary, like a rock star, and assuming other people would pick up the slack. When we came to this understanding together, she began to see that she's part of a group that works together, not a kid who everyone has to take care of. It not only solved the problem of my frustration, it made her feel more like a maturing person who was taking charge of her life more and more each day.

1 comment:

Heather said...

My 6-year-old can't understand why she still needs to wear a coat when it's 50 degrees either.

And I remember doing many of the things your daughter is doing. Maybe it is just normal teenager stuff?