I have been blessed with 3 children, all extraordinary and crazy making in their own special ways. My first born daughter is 7, and I’m pretty sure she’s smarter than I am. I wouldn’t call her a genius; she doesn’t write symphonies or trade stocks, but this girl runs mental and emotional circles around me on a regular basis.
Always 10 steps ahead of the rest of us, she is a master manipulator (in the least malicious sense of the word). She is so skilled at reading and predicting the emotions of others that I often find myself, at the end of a day, wondering how my child hit me exactly where it hurts…again.
Case in Point
I’ve never been particularly great at housework; in fact, my husband does most of the cooking and is quite tenacious about keeping the house tidy. I, on the other hand, really enjoy eating and having a clean home, but I’d really prefer that anyone other than myself make these things so.
It is a weakness of mine that I am highly aware of, and while I’ve improved, I still hate cleaning up after myself. In fact, sometimes I just don’t. When I, like any mom trying to make good on teaching her child to be a functional member of society, instruct my daughter to clean up her things, she will sometimes say, “You didn’t even make your bed today,” or “Your books are everywhere. Why should I have to pick up mine?”
I stay at home with my 5-month-old son at the moment. Two months ago, my careful little instigator walked in the door after school and, seeing a box of Girl Scout Cookies on the coffee table, looked straight at me and commented, “You’ve been eating cookies and watching TV all day haven’t you?”
Most recently, I went on a tirade because she refused to hang up her towel after drying off from a shower. After explaining that she is getting older and should, therefore, be expected to take on more responsibility, I told her that lazy kids become lazy teenagers who become lazy grown-ups. “Daddy and I will not allow you to be a lazy teenager or a lazy grown up,” I said, “so you need to start doing more things for yourself.” She brazenly moved a little closer to me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, smirking, “You’re a lazy grown up!” My husband laughed hysterically when I recounted the whole story to him later. He’s right. It’s funny because, on some level, it’s true.
Guilty as charged
In most instances, I inform her for the trillionth time that talking back and being disrespectful are not behaviors that will end well for her. But she’s got me, usually, kind of backed into a corner, and I do have to admit to myself that she has a point. Now I’m not going to beat myself up for not having a job in order to care for my infant son or eating cookies and watching TV while he takes a nap (though I’m more careful now not to leave the evidence in clear view). However, I do find my child’s observation and bold willingness to call me out to be quite telling.
She’s watching me and she wants me to know it.
I know all too well that modeling the behaviors we want our children to have is the best way for them to learn. For better or worse, my kids will, in one way or another, become me. Right now, having slept no more than 5 hours in a row for the past 5 months, I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, so being “lazy” when it comes to domestic chores is entirely reasonable, and I can model flexibility and self-acceptance too.
But I do find that when I really listen to what my kids are trying to tell me, I learn something important.
This time the lesson is this: My kid knows I’m a hypocrite. She can’t distinguish yet that there are times in life when the rules don’t apply to some people, so if I don’t step up and start doing the same things I’m asking her to do, she may start to think that the rules don’t apply to her at all.
I’ll probably start stepping up by moving my books from the floor to the bookshelf and my shoes to the closet…while I watch TV.