Thursday, January 7, 2010

Parental Perfection

The idea of parental perfection has been swirling around in my head as one of the enduring realities.

Anyone that has been here even once before knows how very far from perfect I fall. A big part of my parenting philosophy is modeling that we all make mistakes but we have to own up to them.

I readily accept that, at best, I am as flawed a parent as the next guy. I have some good days, and some parenting strengths, times when I really shine -- I make almost no errors while the kids are sleeping, unless you count forgetting about the tooth fairy or leaving their music on all night.

But what this blog entry is about how it sometimes feels like you have to be perfect.

I am not talking about society's expectation, or having read one too many books on parenting which makes it sound easy. I am talking about this:

Monday, January 4th - first day back to the routine after the holiday break

I worked this day (unusually) which means Husband brought the kids to school, the kids were minded by others after school and I arrived home from work at 5:30 p.m. Since Husband got to work late, he is not due home until 7:00 p.m.

The kids have eaten, Sydney has done her homework with the babysitter. Really, I have 3.5 hours until the theoretical bedtime, and the last 2 hours Husband will be here for joint duties. My / our to-do list:

1. Get Jackson's to do his spelling homework, which in addition to working on his 16 words, he needs to write them in alphabetical order in his planner
2. Remain calm while accomplishing 1. and still de-stressing from a long day at work and anticipating a long day tomorrow.
3. Kids in their PJ's by 8:30.
4. Kids in their rooms by 9:00.

Even in my somewhat stressed-out stated, but with great resolve to remain patient, I think this is accomplishable (I know that's a made up word, I haven't made one up in a while though, so I'm due).

So I mention to Jackson about his spelling.

"I'm supposed to do the spelling at the same time as I do my reading, which is after I go to my room at 8:30." He tried to fire up the Wii.

"I'm not saying you have to do this now, but we need to some up with a plan. You can do your spelling words in alphabetical order at 8:30 when Sydney goes upstairs, but you need to practice the words before then."

"But the teacher said to do it ALL at bedtime."

Does he think I was born yesterday??

In a well-intentioned effort to create good will, I mention to Jackson that Daddy unlocked some new race courses in Mario Kart Wii, the night before. Since we had been working on it unsuccessfully the day before, I thought we would be pleased. He was.  Initially. My intended plan was to secure his agreement on doing a few races, then homework, then more Wii races. But then this:

"Did Daddy do it under my license, or his license?"

"His license."

"But I want it under my license!!" he wailed.

"You can still play under Daddy's license. And we can work on unlocking them under your license."

At this point, Jackson was unglued.

And it was all moot as the Wii is frozen and will not respond to any commands. But I was calm.

As I start problem-solving the Wii situation I am treated to barrage of unpleasantries.

"You better fix that or I'm not doing ANY spelling"

"You probably can't fix that."


"When is Daddy home, at least he'll be able to fix this."

While I know many might think any of these are offences worthy of court martial, and banishment to barracks should be the only possible result, that never works. While we do exile the boy to his room sometimes, it is a physical fight to do so and is the proverbial gasoline on the fire. It's not that we never do it, it's just often not the best choice.

The point I am trying to remember, is the lad is having problems containing his emotions (frustration/disappointment). I need to keep control of mine. First because if I don't it will make things worse. Second, because if I am expecting HIM to maintain control, it's not a bad idea to model the desired behaviour myself.

So I (calmly) took away the Wii for that day. And while all too often I give him the chance to earn back his privileges (and lately, probably too much), I say "The Wii for today is gone. You can't earn it back." That was for the dumbo comment.

"It doesn't matter, I'll just play anyway."

"Then I'll pack it up in a box until you earn it back." Empty threat as I am not about to do without the Wii Fit.

I won't horrify bore you with any futher details, but Jackson lost Wii for three days before he decided to put the brakes on his tone/language/demeanor. And I remained calm throughout.

He eventually agreed to work on his spelling words, even if he was particularly obtuse spelling cooperate as "cawaparate" and insulate is "insyoulate". Thank goodness this kid was born into a world with spell check.

At some point Husband came home and Jackson had completed his spelling practice, earned back his Wii for Tuesday and Wednesday (but not Monday) and he secured my agreement that he could put his spelling words in alphabetical order in his planner at 8:30.

And once Husband sorted out the problem with the Wii (which required high tech approach of unplugging and replugging) we agreed that the J Boy could watch us play Mario Kart and try to unlock things under his license.

It went pretty well. Husband and I unlocked some things. the J Boy took his Wii-ban like a man and didn't try to sneak a turn or beg for an absolute discharge to his crimes, even when Sydney had turns and was a little ungracious about it.

He did try to convince us that his cessation of Wii privileges ended at midnight and he should be able to play then. He had a hard time making the argument with a straight face and reluctantly agreed that 7 a.m. the following day was the soonest he would be able to play the newly unlocked courses.

At 8:30, the Wii went off and Jackson accepted knowing that "screens are off at 8:30". And, I thought I had curried some favour with him by letting him watch us play Wii on his identity. He needed to put his spelling words in alphabetical order. I asked him to come to the kitchen table.

"But that will take me hours!!!!" he complained.

"Jackson, I wanted you to do this earlier, and you refused. This was your choice to do it now. Come to the table please."

"Can you just write them out in order and I'll write them in my planner?"

"That would mean I'm doing your homework. You have put your spelling words in alphabetical order for months at school. You know how to do it." I replied evenly.

"It's just that I'm not good at it." he said in tears.

We each repeated our positions about three times and then I said:

"You have one minute to get to the table and get to work or you'll lose the Wii for tomorrow. Again."  I was very firm. But in control.

I went to the den to check my work email where I saw an email from a colleague asking for my responses to a 7 part question. This related to something we were to be doing the next day. While my colleague was probably expecting an answer in the morning, I wanted to deal with it right away.

My stress level, which was barely contained at code orange, hit the red zone.

But first, I told myself, spelling.

I went back to the family room and his carcass was still on the couch bemoaning the spelling homework. I put my face in his and yelled:

"YOU ... GET ... TO ... THE ...TABLE ... AND ... DO ... YOUR ... HOMEWORK ... OR ... YOU ... MAY ... NEVER ... PLAY ...Wii ... AGAIN!!!!!!!"

He dragged himself the table tears streaming down his face. He looked broken.

And I felt worthless.

Three hours of my remaining calm in the face of defiance, name-calling, threats and hostility do not make me feel any better that I have yelled at a tired, frustrated, disappointed 8 year old to the point that my throat is raw.

I am not graded based on the number of minutes I kept control. 179/180 minutues is near perfect, but I don't feel any where near perfection. And that night, I needed to be.


Ellie said...

Great post! Too funny that we were both thinking about parental perfection (or imperfection) during the first week back after vacation ... things are crazy here!

Ellie said...

P.S. - LOVE the picture in your header!!

Konnie said...

Thanks Ellie, as always. We are so often on the same page, parenting wise!

I moved the pic to the side. I was playing around w/ new format earlier. I thought the pic was too freakishly big.