Monday, May 5, 2008

Right, Mama? Right? Right?? RIGHT???

In my quest to become a better and better mother (I'm not looking for perfect, but I am kind of vying for the most improved award sometime in the next twenty years...), I think the principle that is most important to me when raising children is to treat them at all times with the same respect I would treat another adult. In short, treat them like real people.

I am amazed and awed by those who take this principle to the farthest extreme and practice non-coercive parenting all the way, those mothers who will simply not go anywhere if their toddler doesn't want to get into the carseat or who will let their kids choose what to eat and when from some kind of all-you-can-eat, always-available snack tray that the mother has painstakingly prepared and miraculously kept fully stocked. Seriously, there's gotta be some real harmony in those families.

I can't quite take it that far. For one thing, I am honestly somewhat of a control freak. I'm laid-back about things like the kids not needing to have a bath every single night and encouraging free exploratory play and (usually) not having too big of a hissy fit when the kids make huge messes. I do a great job of speaking to the kids in a way that isn't condescending, asking their opinions and letting them make decisions. (Granted, the 17-month-old does make some pretty questionable ones, like repeatedly eating handfuls of the sandbox dirt, but that's a whole 'nother blog entry, there!)

However, this evening as I was shoe shopping yet again, this time much more successfully with only The Jabberwock along, I realized that I seriously need to work on my listening skills. To be fair, he often asks about seven gazillion questions in a row, not leaving nearly enough time in between for adequate responding. And often, the questions are just plain bizarre. But there were about four times during our trip this evening where I noticed that Jabber was saying something like, "Right, Mama? Right? Right?" and finally he actually sighed in an exasperated imitation of me and said, "Are you even listening to me, Mama?"

I thought, good grief, would I treat an adult this way?

If my neighbor or a parent of one of my students or even my husband were asking me a question, no matter how inane and well, let's face it, boring, would I ever just tune that voice out simply because I'm entertaining a more interesting thought inside my head? Or because I was trying to listen to something really intriguing on NPR, for that matter? I have my social failings, but no, I'm pretty sure I would not.

David said once that something he liked about me was that there was always a whole lot going on inside my head, and it's true that it's pretty crazy in there. In this busy balancing act of mother, wife, teacher, accountant, housekeeper, and wishful writer, I do struggle with finding that time, that space to really enjoy my thoughts and reflections. But I need to remember that my children are people, too, and deserving of my attention. After all, better to answer a couple of questions (fifty million times in a row even) now than to face whatever they come up with later to get that attention another way.


Shana said...

I'm trying to be a better listener to my kids too. It is hard though when Regan is asking the bazillonth question about the weather in a row and I just need to let my mind think about something else!

As an outsider I think that you do an awesome job with non-coersive parenting. IMO some parents take it too far and I do not think that is good for the kids. Like with your example that some parents just won't go anywhere if their child will not get into the car seat. In my experience if a child doesn't want to get into a car seat it has nothing to do with the child not wanting to go anywhere. For example, Coen generally fights going into his seat as of late. He is doing it because he would rather sit with me, except him sitting with me is not safe and I want him to know that being in the car seat while in a vehicle is not debatable.

Basically, and this may not seem very AP or whatever, but sometimes we all have to do things that we don't want to do. I don't want my kids to grow up thinking that if they just whine a little they can get out of doing things and get their way. Or like with the food issue, it is one of our core family values that we sit and eat dinner every night, so I limit snacks because I want the kids to be hungry at dinner, and be willing to try new things.

We do need to respect our kids by listening to them (which you do very well from what I have seen), but we also need to teach them to respect us and our family values. Sometimes while I am in the middle of a conversation with Scott I will hear one of the kids saying "right, right, mama??" and I will realize that we just completely missed what they said. However, they did not speak to us in a respectful way because they were trying to talk over us, so I use that as a teaching experience. ("Gwen, please wait until mommy and daddy are done talking before you begin talking".) OTOH, if I inadvertently ignore a kid while I am typing a response in my friends blog, well then yeah, I need to be more aware of them.

I have no idea what my point is. It's early and I have only had one cup of coffee.

Oh, my point is that you are doing a good job, but I know that we all always feel we can do better. Also, don't worry about what other parents are doing, because frankly, I don't think that some of those parents who think they have it all figured out really don't. ;-)

elissajanine said...

Thanks for your vote of support! :)

Most of the time, the instances I'm thinking of are like when we were in the car and I was just in my own little world while he's talking away...and I realize I am not really paying any attention to him at all. The other day Elliot and I were upstairs, and David had Avery in the basement, and Elliot was sort of playing with toys at the table. I was sweeping the floor, lost in my own world. I *heard* Elliot talking, but I wasn't listening. All of a sudden I realized he was asking me a question, that he had repeated it like fifteen times already! Then, as I'm contemplating what he's even asking, I hear David answering him through the floor! And I felt bad that David was on a whole different level of the house and was giving Elliot more attention than I was in the same room with him!

And I *totally* agree with you about the family mealtimes, and honestly, I feel like, "Dude, you can eat with us. You can eat some of what we are eating. If you're not hungry right now, you can at least sit with us and have family time, and I suppose I'll make you some Rice Krispies later when you decide you are hungry after all." There are times when I try to be non-coercive and give my kids autonomy, and there are times when I feel that being an authority is just best for them, in fact.