Last week I learned a powerful lesson from my husband about how I needed to let go of control with my kids and let them be responsible for their own actions.
I never really thought of myself as a control freak. I usually like to be the person who defers to other people who actually like being in charge. In church service I’m more comfortable completing an assignment I was given, rather than delegate responsibilities to others. I hate making decisions. I’m always saying, “I don’t know, where do YOU want to eat?” And I let my kids have a lot of independence and they do a lot on their own.
But sometimes it’s just so hard to let go of control.
Last week I was going completely crazy trying to get my kids to complete their responsibilities every day. You know the drill. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to do ANYTHING. And yet there is so much to get done! Homework, showers, jobs (chores), read for 20 minutes, etc. It never seems to end. In reality, they could get it all (and I mean ALLLLLL) done in an hour and a half tops if they actually just did it. The problem is that they just don’t. I tell them to do their jobs and they say “OK!” and then disappear for 45 minutes. I tell them to sit down and finish their homework but their little booty pops up the moment it hits the chair. Every. Single. Time. I tell them to clean their room and they fall down on the floor and cry for 10 minutes because it will take “a thousand hours” to get it done. While they were busy crying it could have actually gotten done.
It’s impossible for me to stay on top of who is doing what and finding who disappeared to where while I am also caring for a toddler and trying to clean up the kitchen, make the dinner, and get it all done before rugby or gymnastics or scouts.
I spend so much of my very limited time and energy just trying to get my kids to freaking do what they already know they are supposed to do every single day. It’s exhausting and quite frankly, demoralizing.
Wednesday was the last straw.
At the end of a very long day, showers didn’t get taken, homework didn’t get done, and my entire existence seemed futile.
That night I vented to my husband and in true husband fashion, he skipped the empathy and went straight to the problem solving. I tried to tell him why all his suggestions were unhelpful (y’now, like you do when all you want is to complain), but eventually I started to see the wisdom in his logic and also started to see a light at the end of the very long tunnel.
His advice was this: more consequences, less reminding.
It made me feel mean at first, but I tried it.
After school on Thursday I decided to give them fair warning about what was to come. I told them there would be no more reminders and that they were responsible to remember all their responsibilities on their own and had to get them done before they did anything else. If they didn’t, they would have extra jobs to do. And if they didn’t do those, they would be sitting at the kitchen table all day until they decided to cooperate. All this was my husband’s idea BTW, and I thought it was genius. Also, keep in mind that these kids are 9 and 10. Old enough to be responsible for their own jobs but young enough that they need motivating. None of this applies to the toddler or my teenagers (although if they start being lazy it might apply to them too).
They didn’t even wait until my warning was over to start whining, “How can we remember by ourselves??? What if we forget???” I had them brainstorm ways they could remind themselves (make a list, ask me if they forgot anything) and after having a little snack, they miraculously started on their jobs. No whining. No complaining. No excuses. They just got to work with no prompting from me.
The hard part for me was when I did have to enforce a consequence.
Preemie wanted to come with me to take Princess to gymnastics but she hadn’t finished her homework yet. I told her she could do it at gymnastics, but just after we left, I discovered she didn’t have her homework packet. I turned around and took her back home so she could look for it. She was very sad. And I was devastated to have made her so sad.
But the irony is that giving her a consequence was nicer than what I normally would have done, which is huff and puff and say, “Ugh, why didn’t you bring your packet? Now you aren’t going to get your homework done.” I would have brought her to gymnastics anyway and then been snippy because we would be working on homework all night after gymnastics. It’s better for her and better for me to just take her home and give her the time she needed to finish her homework.
To me, handing out consequences feels mean and feels like I’m being overly controlling. But in reality, it’s a natural way for them to be accountable for their own actions. I usually try to control their behavior and MAKE them do their responsibilities. But it doesn’t work, and it’s not fair to them or me for me to try to do it that way. With consequences, I am letting go of control and giving them the respect to control themselves.
I have to know that they may not get their stuff done because I can’t physically sit on them and force them to do it. And so they may have unfortunate consequences (like missing out, or doing extra jobs, or sitting at the table), but they will be responsible to decide when they want to get moving again. I don’t want to give them consequences. I just want them to obey. But it gives them both more accountability and more freedom if I let them choose to do the jobs or take the consequence.
By letting go of the control, I was able to feel happier and more peaceful and calm, and so did they.
It’s early yet. It’s only been a few days since we started this. But I think this will be a new (more productive) phase for our very frazzled and stressed-out family. Wish me luck!