See that pink straw-cup from which the precocious Miss E. is sipping? A year ago, if it was in the other room or in the fridge, and she wanted it, and asked me to get it for her, I might have done so. Because a year ago, at just shy of three, Elsa was still clueless enough that she probably wouldn’t have been able to find it by herself. She certainly hadn’t mastered the opening-the-fridge-door thing. (Which she now has, for better and for worse.) And she probably would have whined and kvetched and cried if I’d asked her to go get it herself.
But times have changed. Not only are the girls more capable of doing things for themselves; I’m confident enough to insist that they do it. And I’m less afraid of the fit they might pitch as a result.
And whaddya know? They’re pitching fewer fits as a result. Maybe I should write my own parenting advice book.
My phrase of choice these days in such situations — in addition to that old chestnut, “What, are your legs broken?” — is “That’s not my job.” So, when they ask me to carry their lunchbox for them? Take their shoes off when we get inside the house? Clean up their toys? Fetch them anything whatsoever, unless it’s physically beyond their reach? Yep. That’s not my job. Or, actually, to put it in a more empowering way (which I often do) “That’s your job!”
Because Lord knows, the girls love having “jobs.” When they come home from preschool, they eagerly report what their “job” for the day was: line leader, fish feeder, napkin passer….um….electrician, etc. So I’m happy to keep the job thing going at home, too.
I’ve also found it useful to employ the converse: “That’s my job.” As in, “You need to let me look at and wash that boo-boo, because it’s my job to keep you healthy.” Or “It’s my job to do the dishes, so I can’t play with you right now, but I will play with you afterward.” Again, it doesn’t always go over without a hitch. But I still find it useful as a way to remind not only them but myself what I do and don’t need to do, and who is ultimately in charge.
Because — confession — while I’m a pretty confident person when it comes to work, interpersonal relations, etc. I can’t say that I’m the most confident parent. In fact, from the time the girls were around eighteen months old (when the tantrums, whining and other charming toddlerisms began) until very recently, I felt like I was fumbling and bumbling my way through the whole thing. I never felt like I was quite in control.
I still don’t feel like I’m in control — far from it. But I do feel like I’m managing the chaos a bit more effectively. And even taming it from time to time. Granted, a major factor is the girls themselves. Now that they’re almost four, they have the verbal and emotional ability to better articulate their needs, process their emotions, and understand that they’re not going to get their way all the time. They’re not the writhing little balls of id that they were for so long.
But I honestly believe that part of the improvement lies with me. I am learning to do my job better.
Photo: Elena Clamen