“Am I a bad parent? Did I flunk parenting 101? Do I need a remedial parenting skills class?”
These are some of the thoughts that entered my mind as I dealt with a pre-teen house chore moment recently.
On the outside my parenting skills as a single father look OK. My thirteen year old daughter does great in school, asks for little, and is courteous and manner able. This is great right? Of course it is! However, all of this means little when an action, or lack thereof, is done so consistently that it reeks of something foul and sinister.
Until recently every morning without fail, my daughter and I engaged in the following discourse:
Me: “Make up your bed as soon as you get out of it.”
A half hour passes and right before I check to see if the bed has been made the discourse evolves into the following:
Me: “Did you make up your bed yet?”
Her: (With a slight bit of agitation) “Dad I heard you the first time!”
An hour elapses and before it is time for the both of us to depart for work and school I look into her room to discover a shocking thing. Her bed is in the same state it was when she woke up! Suddenly and without warning the conversation changes from an exchange between two people, into one in which I could be confused with a crazy person off the street. Instead of a dialogue between the two of us, I am now unaware that I am talking to myself.
Me: (With a slight bit of agitation while attempting to still treat her with dignity and respect) “Would You Make Up Your Bed? PLEASE!”
Her: Silence and no words come forth. What can be discerned are low murmured rumbling sounds reminiscent of an earthquake tremor. All the while, she makes her way into her room and throws the bed together as if it has now become the enemy from every nation fought in every world war combined.
Is it me or did I miss something? If I did not know better one could think that I had now become the enemy unaware and her bed was a punching bag replacement for me.
Although there have been slight variations of the dialogue, this discourse was a daily one for the last couple of years with one constant. Even saying PLEASE did not get the bed made promptly.
After awhile, self-reflection and introspection by me was in order. Maybe I was expecting too much from my daughter. Maybe my thought of her doing this task everyday without fail was asking a lot. Why should I think a child who regularly maintains a grade point average of 3.75- 4.0, reads a minimum of three books per month and is engaged in numerous extracurricular activities can handle such a task? “That’s it!” I thought. “It’s my expectations of her. They are too much! Making her bed every day was more than she could handle.”
To verify my revelation I contacted the supreme expert. My mother. Unfortunately for me somewhere over the last thirteen years what was once an unshakeable allegiance, my mother and I, was no longer in place. Now it was my daughter and my mother who had formed the ultimate alliance. Instead of my mother rallying around me she did the exact opposite. She had now sided with the enemy. In fact, she told me this was payback and karma for all of those times I didn’t make up my own bed when I was younger. Her exact words. “What goes around comes around.”
Although my mothers’ new alliance was not what I had in mind when I asked for her advice, it did help me see one thing. The more I expected my daughter to make her bed, the more she resisted. Not in an outright defiant way. She just never got around to doing it. A passive aggressive mode seemed to have taken over her. Then I would get upset and she would get upset, then we would both become very upset because of a bed!
Maybe I did need a remedial parenting skills class. I had learned previously that expecting something to happen provides the reason to get upset when that thing does not occur. Think about it. How can a person get upset unless they have first given themselves a reason? Until I developed the expectation that my daughter should make her bed daily, there were many days I didn’t even notice her bed. But once I expected her to make it I noticed it every day. Unfortunately for my daughter when she made her bed I said nothing. No positive reinforcement. Why say something when this is what she was supposed to do? When she did not make it though, I became upset and had no problem with letting her know about it.
But I had it backwards. I should have been reinforcing the positive action of making up her bed, and minimize the negative when she didn’t. This new response changed everything. When I started reinforcing her positive moments of making up her bed the strangest thing happened. The more she began making her bed! The more I minimized those moments when she didn’t make it, the more she made her bed! It was a win/win.
Reinforcing the positive was a direct result of letting go of my expectation. Now that I have released the expectation, the bed is made far more than it was when I had it. It has not become an everyday occurrence, but it is much better. Plus I no longer get frustrated or upset because I no longer have a reason to. Fortunately for me, the stress associated with the “Would you make up your bed please!” situations is now a thing of the past.