A Parenting Thought: Let Reality Be The Teacher

So now that I’ve publicly ridiculed someone else’s parenting tactics, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is.

I am currently reading a very inspiring parenting book called Have a New Kid by Friday, by Dr. Kevin Leman.  Some of you may recall my recent blog entry, The ABC’s of Men, where I cited another of Dr. Leman’s book, Have a New Husband by Friday.

The book is full of great suggestions for training your children to be responsible for what they say and do, at every age.  Dr. Leman, a psychologist with 40 years experience and five kids of his own, guarantees it will keep you from nagging your children all the time but also prevent you from enabling them and doing everything for them. I’ve been highlighting and flagging sections of the book like a crazy woman because so much of what he talks about really describes our house.  Don’t get me wrong, we have fantastic kids (if I do say so myself). I mean, just yesterday I got stopped in the grocery store as a woman told me she thought my children were extremely well-behaved. But let’s be honest, that is definitely the exception to the rule.  Most times, I am uttering threats at them the entire time we’re in the store all the while about to pull my hair out with frustration at saying the same things over and over and over and…

As I read the book, I will admit that there were some suggestions that I really had a hard time agreeing with. I heard myself gasping and thinking, “No! Surely he wouldn’t suggest you say that to a child!“. But I appreciate that Dr. Leman puts the onus back on me, as a parent. It’s not about what kind of child I have (which many parents use as an excuse for bad parenting) because it truly starts with what kind of parent I am. This is not a case of “which comes first? chicken or the egg?“. His tried-and-true principals are based on you being a better parent, therefore producing a better child. For starters, he pointed out that my aforementioned threats before entering the grocery store (okay, and while getting ready to go to the grocery store, while in the grocery store, leaving the grocery store, umm….you get the idea), was actually a no-no on my part, and he gives much better suggestions for how to avoid that.

Well, this morning marks Day 1 of a week to a better Attitude, Behavior, and Character in our children (so the author says!). And J&L will act as the guinea pigs while I document the success and failures here.

Although it’s unclear whether this morning’s meltdown will be classified as a success or a failure, Project New Kid (or should I say Project New Parent?) has already been put into full effect. I’m curious to hear what you think of how I handled this situation.

We recently found an amazing kid’s outdoor pool in the area. Jack has been dying to go back ever since. As I packed our bags to go this morning, the boys were being their usual spastic selves. You know, not listening when I asked them to get dressed, pack their bags for the pool, clean up their messy toy room, etc.

So, instead of my usual

A) nagging

B) shouting, or,

C) threatening,

…I just walked away.

The boys then spent the next twenty minutes fooling around doing whatever. Finally, they came to me (while I leisurely relaxed in my room) and asked when we were going to the pool. Taking a page out of the book, I just calmly said “we’re not going” and walked away.  Of course, I was braced for the response! “BUT MOM!!!!  I’m in my bathing suit!!! I wanna go to the pool!!!!! I HATE your days! Your days are STUPID!!” To which I just walked away again (felt weird but hey, gotta try it 100% if we’re going to say it works or doesn’t work).  When they came after me a little while later to push the subject, now very curious as to why we weren’t going (here is what the author calls the “teachable moment”, when your kid really wants to know why things are not working out the way they expect them to), I calmly said “we’re not going to the pool because you haven’t done the things I’ve asked you to do”.

Reading this book has helped me see that I don’t give our kids enough credit. Often times, we think we need to say things ten times for them to “get it” but that just tells them that we think they’re too stupid to get what we’re saying the first time. Because they do get it! I didn’t think they were listening at all when I asked them to help this morning but sure enough, as soon as they knew we weren’t going to the pool, they responded with “but we’ll clean the toy room!!!”. Ah hah! So you did know!  You just didn’t feel motivated to actually do what I’ve asked you to do! Now the trick is to stick to your guns (so the book says) and let reality be the teacher. If I let them go to the pool after they’ve cleaned up now, I’ve simply taught them that they only have to act responsibly once I’ve threatened them. Reality discipline is about no threats, no nagging, no warnings! Let their natural consequence be the lesson — no matter how painful it might be (for you and them!).

So an hour later, my house is still an absolute mess and I’ve officially gone on “strike”.  They’ve come to ask me to do things with them or help with something and I just say “no, mommy is not helping you with anything right now” (again, feels harsh, but gotta do it).  Liam just looked at me sadly with those big brown puppy-dog eyes and then walked away (stay strong Tash! stay strong!). Sure enough, he came back to inquire, “why mommy?”, to which I replied “well, you and Jack haven’t done anything mommy has asked you to do, so I’m not doing anything you’re asking me to do, either.”

Wow, does that sound like being a total jerk, or what?!  But I agree with what the author is saying…that no kid should get a free ride in life.  We are all accountable for what we do and say. At first, it seemed very heartless to say something like that to a child. But when you think about it, life is about accountability.  As the author says, B doesn’t come before A. So many times we let our kids have “B” before they’ve done “A”.  And the world doesn’t work that way! If we consistently do this for them, we are setting them up for failure and teaching them that they can expect to get what they want without living up to any expectations.  So by saying, “sure, I’ll help you with this craft even though you’ve done absolutely nothing I’ve asked you to do”, you’re actually giving them a false sense of social interaction and how the world works. In other words, you’re conditioning your child to be spoiled and self-centered.

To conclude, the house is still a mess…and the boys are quietly playing in the toy room.  I’ll have to get back to you on how this all unfolds. The author swears that it only takes a week to have a new kid. That in a week’s time, they will be surprising you with their cooperation, thoughtfulness and responsibility.

Of course, there is a chance that they won’t clean up at all — this is still a very new type of “mommy” they’re dealing with!  But should that happen, I will simply clean the house myself and then brace for the outcry tomorrow when I make them fork over their entire allowance to pay me for cleaning up their mess (another tip from the book).  Ouch!

But hey, I haven’t once yelled, nagged, or cleaned up after their mess this morning.  That alone has gotta be worth something!

Domestically Yours,
Natasha Kay

10 thoughts on “A Parenting Thought: Let Reality Be The Teacher

  1. Vanessa says:

    I’m very curious to see how it all goes! I think it sounds like a good concept. Because really, does the nagging thing actually work? Certainly not 100% and it can get old saying the same thing again and again. I applaud you for trying something new. Can’t wait to hear how tomorrow goes!

    • Natasha says:

      Not only does nagging not work well, it also prevents your child from making those mental connections on their own (and then serving them well once nagging/enabling mom is no longer in the picture). So instead of nagging to make their bed until they do it (or you do), you just ask his brother to make his bed and then take a buck from his allowance to give to the bro. So now, that kid will remember that he has a consequence if he doesn’t make his bed on his own. No more nagging!

      • Natalie B says:

        May I say, that as a high school teacher, I wish EVERY parent looked at things the way you are. I can totally tell which of my students have accountability and responsibility at home, and which ones have parents who just let things slide. I am really interested to hear how your experiment turns out. And kudoos to you for making such a committment! I can only imagine that it must be tough standing your ground with two of them sometimes.

        • Natasha says:

          Thanks Nat! It’s great to hear from someone who has a tough job spending all day with everyone’s kids. 🙂

          Stay tuned for the outcome of this mishap! It’s awesome!

  2. Tracey says:

    Hey Tasha,

    I didn’t know there was a book about that! That is what Steve and I do already.
    People are always amazed that when we tell all 3 of our kids to get their shoe’s and coat and get in the car they do it with no fooling around and in record time. If you asked Mairin and Kai how many movies or fun things they have missed because they didn’t respect our time they would say a few. It only took a few times of Steve or I asking them to get ready and the chaos of three kids not listening for us to decide to drop everything and sit down and just choose not to go anywhere. Same with dishes. If they don’t do dishes one night they are usually on their own for the next nights meal. And if all Jari has for dinner is a PB and J sandwich because that is all he can cook then I am okay with that. I sure don’t have to ask twice for dishes to get done the next time. All our kids have chores. They do get an allowance but the fun activities or extra’s are usually dependent on wether they do their chores with out being asked twice. Now as you know, my kids are far from perfect and we do have relapses(often), but I have been told by a few of their teachers that they have a mature sense of responsibility. Keep it up! They do see the light! Stay strong against the big baby browns!


    • Natasha says:

      That is so awesome Tracey! It didn’t surprise me at all to read your comments because I know you two run a tight ship and your amazing kids are proof of that. I think you’ve done a great job of teaching them that they have to be responsible for their actions (and I’m sure their teachers are very appreciative)!

  3. milleniumfury says:

    I think we’ve talked about this book before. Oh man, Tash – you are a super-hero because in all honesty, if the mess was in the main part of my house…my OCD would kick into overdrive and I’d just clean up the mess myself. Granted the rest of the the principles I am COMPLETELY on board for…but I would have to clean the house…maybe just take all Gwen’s stuff and throw it all over *her* room (tit for tat)…I mean the mess isn’t any bigger just more contained.

    Yes…I want to see this play out. I hate hitting the repeat button on my momminess.

    • Natasha says:

      I think you’re right about throwing all her toys into her room. The book talks about “say it once” and then deliver the consequence so if you’ve asked once to clean it up, then the next logical step would be, “ok, you can keep your mess but it’s not going to be in our shared areas”. Sounds like the same idea, I’d say!

      The author was explaining that we shouldn’t be task-masters, like, our kids might genuinely forget to walk the dog, and we have to have grace for them. But if something is happening over and over, that’s when you act swiftly. One example he used was a mother who’s son was forgetting to take out the garbage. The first few weeks, she did it for him and gently reminded him. But when it happened a third week in a row, she waited until he went to school, took all the garbage from the week and put it in his room! LOL! It sat there all day stinking to high heaven and when he came home (with a girl!!), he found a literal dump in his bedroom! He never forgot again — and in fact, the mother said he would wake up early on Mondays just to make sure he could get it out in time! LOL.

      Watch for the update coming soon…it was awesome!

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