It all began when I knit my 14 year old daughter a sweater. She’d accompanied me to the store to choose a soft, washable yarn in a neutral color she’d actually wear. During Covid I’ve picked up knitting again and found a healthy distraction in searching for patterns and scrumptious yarns. Because my grandmother taught me to knit when I was young, knitting sent a gentle signal to my brain, “Everything’s okay.”
A couple of weeks ago when I completed the sweater, I laid it on her bed so she’d see it when she got home. I imagined she’d try it on and show me how it fit. Over the past month I’d measured the length of her arms, inquired about how cropped she’d like it as that’s the current fashion and worked to tailor it just for her.
Because she never mentioned the sweater, I checked in with her in the afternoon, “Did you see the sweater? Please try it on — I’d love to see how it fits.”
She answered, “Not right now.”
Later I asked her again and she explained that she’d already changed into her pj’s but that she’d do it the next time she got dressed. The next day I decided to mention it one last time. My heart felt heavy. I didn’t want to get entangled in a power struggle with her over the sweater I’d made for her because I adore her. Needless to say, I never saw it on her.
Part II – The Pile
My daughter had recently cleaned out her room, placing all outgrown and unwanted items into a huge bag in the hall. Beside the bag was a loose pile of papers with a blue glue gun resting on top.
After a few days of watching the pile collect dust, I took a closer look and saw under the glue gun a photo storybook I’d created and given to her for her birthday some years ago.
This project, with a closeup of her soft two year old face on the cover looked to have seen better days. I picked it up and brought it into her room asking, “What’s happened to this?” She confirmed that she’d found it spoiled, likely because last fall she’d placed a little pumpkin from our garden on top of it, in a drawer. The pumpkin decomposed over the course of months.
I felt an anger rise in me and said, ‘You clearly don’t care about it.”
She answered, “I do care.”
I said, “If you cared you’d have come to me when you found it and asked what we could do.” I swore, “Just f***ing get rid of it then, but don’t leave it on the floor for me to take care of.”
Heart pounding, I retreated to my bedroom across the hall where I stood motionless, a little shocked that I’d spoken to her so harshly. Being the youngest child she was adept at avoiding conflict.
For a split second I thought, I’m going to ignore her, give her the cold shoulder. A memory flashed from the recesses of my mind of my dad ignoring me for two weeks after his feelings had been hurt because I’d been spending weekends at my friend Sharon’s house. I can remember him scolding me as we stood inside our front door, “You care more about her family than you do your own!” I was in 5th grade at the time and it was two weeks before he looked at or spoke to me again.
I decided I wasn’t going to ignore her, even though to hurt her back felt like the “natural” response.
Returning to her room, disintegrating storybook in hand I said, “I realize the reason I’m so upset is that my feelings are hurt. It’s becoming clear to me that you don’t care about things I’ve made for you.”
I was of course thinking about the unadorned sweater.
I repeated myself, “It’s becoming clear to me, and I’m speaking to myself now, that I need to focus less on you and more on myself.”
I felt my voice catch and tears well in my eyes.
Unlike 8 years ago, this time she said nothing. Through the uncared for storybook and forgotten sweater I was getting a message loud and clear, “Mom, get a life. While I need you to be there for me, I don’t need you the same way I used to and I’m not going to act in ways to please you. You haven’t trained me to take care of you and I’m not going to start now. My main concern right now is my friends and all the changes I’m going through. You can’t use me to feel good about yourself.”
I felt grounded when I turned to leave her room, closing the door quietly behind me.
I haven’t figured it all out yet.
It felt valuable to write about and share with you because it’s not spit spat all settled in me and tied up with a bow and maybe you’re having your own messy parenting moments. I’m sitting with a real life collision between my daughter’s age appropriate growth and what I’m gently naming my age appropriate stuckness, a slice of difficult wisdom.
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.
Does your pushing, coaxing and forcing your teen to clean up after herself fall on deaf ears?
When my son leaves a sluemesses in his wake it can be downright maddening!
When you spill milk, wipe up after yourself, who do you thinks going to do it? What’s the dirty laundry doing on the floor? It’s no wonder you can’t find any clean socks, your dirty ones are scattered throughout the house!
Unfortunately these “helpful reminders” do little to change his behavior.
My nagging is driven by two fears…
the fear that this kid will grow into an unemployed, slovenly 40 year old,
the fear that I’m raising an entitled kid who thinks, “why should I look for my socks when magically another pair will appear in my drawer?
In today’s story, Tammy, school principal, parenting educator, and parent, shares what she learned as a result of her battles with her perennially messy daughter.
My daughter Natasha has no issue with living in a messy room.
However, I do, so we made an agreement, years ago, that Sunday would be her cleanup day.
I found myself getting upset and refusing to enter her untidy room to say goodnight or even hangout with her.
She’d say, Mom, I’m internally organized so it doesn’t bother me to be a mess externally.
I told her it bothers me, and the rest of the family, so we need a plan to address the group’s desire for organization.
For the past four years, I’d go into Natasha’s room on Sunday mornings and ask her, what’s your plan for cleaning your room today?
Her response was usually, I’ll get to it eventually, or I’m on it. But there’d be no signs of movement.
On a good day I’d say something like, would you like me to help you get started? or I have faith in you to get it done.
She’d respond, I like doing it myself, or thanks for believing in me Mom. Five hours later she’d still be cleaning her room – looking pretty miserable.
On these so called “good” days while I wasn’t effective at motivating her, I wasn’t pushing her away.
On other days – let’s call them the bad days – I’d go into my mommy tirade and say things like, “how can you live in this pigsty?” “It’s disgusting in here!”
Here’s why her messy room was painful for our entire family.
My negative energy put the entire family on edge – they’d slink away into their own worlds for fear of crossing paths with my anger.
The unspoken truth was that my tornado of frustration and anger was far worse then her the physical mess.
One day it struck me that I was the one who needed to change. I couldn’t MAKE her do anything so I backed off as best I could.
Then it happened – one Sunday morning was different. She woke up, had breakfast, cleaned and organized her room in an hour and had the rest of the day to read, play, do homework, paint pumpkins, go with me to the market, etc. I hadn’t said a word to her because by the time I peeked into her room, she was already in motion.
It dawned on me that this is how growth happens – for me it was a slow process – for her it seemed to happen overnight!
First what changed was me and what followed was a chance for Natasha to grow, at her own pace. I would like to think that our positive communication, over the years, those good days, helped to motivate her to finally clean her room on her own but I’ll never know for sure.
Whatever clicked for Natasha wasn’t as important as what clicked for me: I can’t “make her” do anything, but I can certainly encourage her and maintain a respectful way of communicating while she learns. It’s the process in which she learned how to care for her own things that mattered not the urgency for her to learn on my time line.
Back on that day when I saw her room was clean, I was shocked to say the least but tried to play it cool. I looked at her with a knowing, loving smile and said, “I notice you got your room clean today…how’s it feel?”
She looked so proud of herself and said simply, “If feels great!”
When you find yourself freaking out that your teen is a slob and fear they’ll still be one at 64, remember Tammy’s story. Being human, Tammy reacted in anger sometimes AND sometimes she was able, through self-awareness, to step back.
To me, it’s a testament to having faith in our kids.
There’s no magic fairy dust to MAKE them adopt your priorities. Your most powerful tool is CONNECTION.
Recommendations to foster and maintain your connection with your teen:
Treat her with respect and when you don’t feel respected – as calmly as you can let her know you will speak with her at another time when she can be respectful – leave the room to give yourself breathing room.
Apologize when you’re off your game, modeling that even you make mistakes so she can more readily admit and take responsibility for her mistakes.
Create boundaries so that the mess is confined to your teens room.
Allow nature to take it’s course – don’t rescue her when items are lost, dirty, etc.
Take time to train your adolescent to do her own laundry – this way her entire clothing cycle is her responsibility and even better, you can have empathy when her favorite shirt is dirty.
Remember that your child has different priorities than you do and that that is a good thing!
When you do your best to model what you value; respect, connection, and in this case, tidiness and communication – you’ll more likely see these qualities bloom, in their own way and time, in your developing adolescent.
What power struggle are you currently having? Share in the comment section below what you learned here that will support you.
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!
Do you often feel CHALLENGED by your child? You’re not alone. If you’re like me, you’ve got a kid who will argue with or defy you at every turn. Can you say, “power struggle”?
Here’s the twist – I’ve grown to cherish this quality in my son, E. – he’s inspired me to teach Positive Discipline and grow in ways I never imagined.
In my last post I wrote about a time when I lost it with him.
Today, I want to introduce a powerful tool that will give you concrete, helpful responses to your child’s misbehavior based on… drum roll please – how YOU feel.
The end result? A child who’ll more likely cooperate, contribute, and act like a leader in the best sense.
Here’s my before-and-after story to illustrate how using this tool, and identifying my feelings, gave me the opportunity to have an AFTER to write home about!
I was cooking dinner one afternoon. My 12-year-old son was playing the piano in the other room. From the kitchen I could hear 8-year-old E.(enter our ‘hero’) join his brother at the piano and begin running his forearm up and down the keys, causing a cacophony.
My jaw clenched. I burst onto the scene and yelled at him, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! LEAVE YOUR BROTHER ALONE! GO UP TO YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW!”
Not my most inspired parenting moment but one I think many parents can relate to.
Later, I asked myself these questions:
What did my son learn from this interaction? “Mom is crazy, Mom is mean,” etc.
Do we feel harmonious and connected? No. I’m angry. He’s likely feeling indignant, hurt or both.
Now’s my chance to use that tool I mentioned earlier.
Don’t let this chart intimidate you! I use it to give me an idea of how to respond based on HOW I FEEL when E. bangs on the piano. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, but observe how it WORKS….
In my noisy example I’m feeling CHALLENGED. Based on the chart (see second row – misguided power), my son believes “I count or belong only when I’m boss, in control, or proving no one can boss me.” This rings true to me… how about for you?
Here’s what happens when I use the suggestion in the final column.
Piano cacophony starts: I say calmly, “E., I could use your help here in the kitchen. What do you think about using this sharp knife to chop these carrots for the soup?”
His eyes light up, and before I know it, we‘re working together, happily making dinner.
Giving E. work and/or responsibility is often right on the money when I start to feel provoked by him. This requires me to pause and have the presence of mind to respond rather than having my knee-jerk reaction.
Don’t try to memorize the chart. It’s simply a tool for guiding new responses based on how YOU feel when your child misbehaves. Hang it on your fridge or bathroom mirror so you can refer to it easily.
Positive Discipline isn’t about doing everything just right for your kids.
It’s more about the power of thinking ahead and the awareness that my child’s misbehavior is an opportunity to teach him what I value most – in this example: patience, creativity, and that the work it takes to create a yummy meal can be fun.
Utilize the chart and one day, when the scene is set for that familiar conflict, you’ll respond (instead of react), and out of the blue, experience the wonder of your child’s generous cooperation.
P.S. Carefully place a sharp knife into your toolkit and… magic!
Do you have an on-going dynamic with your child where you could see using this tool? How?
What’s the difference for you when you respond rather than react to your child or for that matter, anything in your life?
Share your thoughts below! It’s encouraging to know we’re not alone in this parenting journey!
My husband texted me “Just rode our first coaster – Colossus! [Crazy face emoji.]”
Little does he know I’ve been riding one at home and it’s not nearly as thrilling.
He’s taken E and two friends off to Magic Mountain to celebrate E’s 14th birthday.
I’m home with our newly hatched 1st grader and experiencing the breezy joys of the first day of summer!
After two late nights her eyes are at half mast and simply put, nothing is right.
She demands to go to the pool. I say, that’s not going to work today.
And the tirade begins – I’m sparing you many of the gruesome details but these quotes will give you the flavor.
[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#parent”]You’re the boringest in my whole entire family because you always mention boring things to me and I HATE YOU![/tweetthis]
I want daddy!
I wish I were dead!
(she repeats this last one several times I think because she’s startled that I’m not reacting)
I’m not as composed as I want to be. Being a parent educator can really inflame feelings of parental inadequacy. My self talk that thankfully doesn’t come out my mouth is, S you’re acting like a spoiled brat and
what have I done to create this monster? How can I possibly say I have any answers for parents when my kid is acting like this!
I successfully take it down a few notches, not perfect but better, when I say to her, you’re tired. Maybe you’re even sick because this is how you act when you’re sick. There’s not much sympathy in my voice as I say some other not so choice words that infuriate her.
On the upside, I bear lots of her rage and both of our discomfort. Bearing it is good. Breathing through it is great. I give breathing a try and it helps.
As far as I can tell, along with deep breathing, the following are key elements that finally shift the energy.
There’s no substitute for time. It feels like a good hour of our back and forth. She pleads, I ignore, she rages, I stop and give her some kind and firm attention, she storms off, I fold laundry, ignore and finally I ask for her help.
One my favorite Positive Discipline sayings is children do better when they feel better. When I ask her for help, I tap into her desire for significance and belonging. While we’re not always aware of it, all of us are looking for significance and belonging.
Notice how imperfectly I handle this yet how important it is that I persist.
First, I suggest she pick up her room – she says NO – (admittedly a knee jerk bound to fail request on my part).
Second, I suggest she help clear the living room of her toys – NO! That’s two strikes….
Third, I ASK how she’d like to help and I LISTEN when she says she wants to help in the kitchen. She gets a stool and I fill a basin with warm soapy water. Singing quietly, she scrubs dishes for a solid 15 minutes. (I’m in another room).
Like roller coasters inevitably do, it feels like this one is coming to a surprisingly smooth and sudden stop.
Now she’s done scrubbing and she’s disappeared.
I hear a harmonica in the distance.
Here’s your chance to support another parent! Share in the comment section below.
We ALL lose it as parents. On those days when you’re able to remain calm when your child presses your button, what’s different?
How will you make space for these calming features of life?
While I still offer parent coaching, I’m transitioning the focus of my work to holding writing circles. The circle offers the space for us to more deeply know and connect to our inner wisdom.