Last week's parenting problems were mostly the result of my lack of using two basic parenting skills: routine and consistency.
I haven't done a good job making the transition to staying at home. What routine we have had has not been enough for OC to ease into or feel comfortable. While I knew I was having trouble figuring out what I should do each day, it never occurred to me that she would have trouble adjusting to our new life at home. Can you believe that? Now that I think of it, it seems obvious, but it never crossed my mind.
She's a good kid, well-behaved but relatively easy to correct when you know the right thing to do. There's not a lot of misbehavior going on. The worst thing she does is lie, and the most annoying thing is when she doesn't listen to me.
I know it's normal for kids to try lying, but it was driving me nuts and I had to do something to stop it. I didn't have anyone there during the day to help, so that was also frustrating. During our days, she would come outside not half an hour after I started working to tell me she was hurt. She overplayed it and acted like she was hurt worse than she was. After not knowing what to do for several days I finally told her that if she was hurt that bad she'd better go in her room and lie down, that she couldn't play if she was really hurt. When I responded that way it produced instant healing, the likes of which would rival the laying on of hands by the big JC. Which of course meant she was faking it. Lying. AHHHH!!!! If she really was hurt, then I would know and could help her and comfort her. KInowing she was faking it but not knowing what to do about it was the worst feeling. I wanted to be sympathetic if she really was hurt, and also to the fact that she was feeling like she wanted to be with me, but I also didn't want to be made a fool. I'm a parent; who am I kidding, that has already happened.
After many weeks of feeling exasperated and being overwhelmed by the push and pull to get things done at home while also satisfying OC's need for my attention, I found an answer.
It all happened on the Friday before last...
I dropped her off for another three hour preschool friday at her gymnastics academy and went to the nearest library branch.
The library, as you may know, has appropriated a slice of the Dewey Decimal system - precisely a one hundredth - filled with books on the topic of parenting. If you have a problem or a question, you can go there and get books that might help. For free.
The information brought forth from a book by the Supernanny saved my ass. I kid you not, Supernanny! The branch I visited had a smaaaaaall selection, but still. I love the Supernanny so I didn't really care. That woman whips chaotic, multi-kid families into shape in an hour, think of what I could learn from her! I flipped through the book and it looked like it contained reasonable advice so I checked it out and took it home.
The result? I tried things, they worked.
I made a chart filled with tasks OC could do to earn a reward. What seemed logical was play time at the park. I included her in the brainstorming. We came up with things like watering certain smaller parts of the garden and picking cherry tomatoes. We also talked about things that will reduce her park time earned, things like lying (park time wiped out! Because it's that bad) and not listening, among other minor things.
Her face lit up when she heard that she could determine what tasks she did, how much park time she could earn, and when during the day she could do those jobs. It helped her to be much more willing to go out and help in the garden because it wasn't like she was doing it because she had to; there was a reward involved. And she should get a reward for her hard work. This also meant she could go outside and have a purpose, and I could get things done, too.
After we made the chart, we put it up on the fridge where we can all see it. Then, we talked about what will happen when she gets into trouble, and what to expect each day, etc.
There's no mystery in what is expected of her. There's also no hesitation or confusion on my part when it comes correcting, teaching, or punishing appropriately for the problem behavior. I don't have to sit there and think, "Great, what do I do now?" while sorting through what would be appropriate for something like not listening to me, again, for the 12th time that day. It's frustrating, too, because it's my fault that she's gotten away with 11 other times of not listening, and there's no one to blame but myself for the 12th instance.
I needed a more reliable routine, clear expectations, and consequences. The basics of parenting, I know. I thought I had them, but I had noticed I was feeling unsure about what to do many times, and expectations were less clear to OC that way.
An important outcome of this new routine is that she gets more of my attention now, which was obviously what all the acting had been about. It's working out great for both of us. This week has been remarkably, noticeably better. OC is happier in general, she's excited about going outside, she hasn't pretended to be hurt, and we've spent some time at the park already.
I'll take that glass of wine now.