I am a totally awesome parent. Possibly the very best around, in fact. I am consistent. I am firm but loving. I pick my battles, refuse to sweat the small stuff, and set up natural consequences. I have high expectations and foster an environment in which independence and success are the natural default.
All of this, of course, is IN MY HEAD. It’s philosophy and theory. And even the parts which I manage to put into practice never seem to have the results I expect, which is WEIRD, you know, because back before I became a mother I’m pretty sure I knew everything.
Damn these children and their individual personalities and pacts with the devil and whatnot. SHEESH.
One of the things I really love about having Otto along on this parenting adventure is that he really challenges me to examine my parenting decisions. We’re at a point now where he does nearly as much parenting as I do, but I am still the “final word” in discipline, so he runs his ideas past me and asks me to explain mine, and it’s all very cooperative and enlightening.
(It’s also a huge switch from the parenting relationship I share with the kids’ father, wherein if I stay out of it I am sabotaging their relationship and if I try to help I’m meddling. You know how I love a can’t win situation like that, particularly when it comes to the people I love best in the world. Hooboy! Good times!)
Anyway. This weekend we converted the kids’ allowance over to an online system with Google Docs, which I love beyond all healthy measure because 1) it removes any argument about how much money any child has at any given time, because THERE’S THE LOG, DUDE, 2) we can do the automatic formula to skim the charity and savings amounts right off the top, and 3) I never have cash, and when I do have cash I don’t have correct change, and this way all I have to do each week is go into the spreadsheet and plug in a number. Now, it’s true that we’d gotten rather lax (read: had forgotten to pay them for the entire summer) about allowance, so we went ahead and decreed a new pay scale (your age divided by two, each week, minus 10% to charity and 15% to savings) and then essentially paid them for several months in one fell swoop.
Otto asked—and it’s a valid question—whether allowance is tied to chores. I said no, because my philosophy is that you do chores because you’re a member of the family; no one pays ME to make dinner or do the dishes, so why would we pay them? Allowance is about learning to manage and budget their money, and letting the kids take responsibility for acquiring some “wants” that we aren’t going to provide. But at the same time, noncompliance with household responsibilities can mean your allowance gets docked, sure. Otto very gently asked me if that wasn’t the same thing as tying allowance to chores.
Which is about the time I stuck my fingers in my ears and started shouting LALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU. Because in my mind, PHILOSOPHICALLY, it’s not the same thing. But I’ll grant you that it’s a tenuous distinction. And probably not one the kids appreciate. So my clinging to it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The reality is that Monkey is a saver; nothing makes him happier than to know he’s got a chunk of cash saved up “just in case.” (He is apparently his mother’s son.) And Chickadee will doubtless be credited with the updating of the old-fashioned “burning a hole in your pocket” idiom to something like “burning a hole in your Google account.” The moment she has money she wants to spend it. The bottom line for both of them, though, is that they find cash hugely motivating.
So am I going to leverage their money-grubbing tendencies? You bet I am.
Chickadee washed cars yesterday for an extra $10. (She’s saving up for a new iPod, or so she says.) All was sudsy and happy.
In theory, the kids’ school morning responsibilities are crystal clear: They need to be up/washed/dressed/fed with their rooms picked up (read: no laundry on the floor, bed made) by a designated time. In Chickadee’s case—because she attends an early club at school—she needs to have everything done in order to get a ride to school with Otto, otherwise she has to take the bus and miss her club. IN THEORY, there is nothing confusing about these requirements. At all.
In reality, Monkey cheerfully talks my ear off every morning through breakfast, while his sister stomps and races around and barely makes it out on time. In reality, not only did my darling daughter neglect to pick up her room this morning, when warned to take care of it, she kicked a bunch of laundry under her bed and then tried to claim that she must’ve “accidentally knocked it” on her way to tidy up. (I am seriously considering putting a bumper sticker on my car that says TURNIP TRUCK. That way when she tells us this stuff, I can point to it and remind her that I didn’t just fall off that thing yesterday.) In reality, my tween’s reaction to being caught disobeying is to snarl and snipe at me and Otto rather than apologizing, and Otto finally gave up and told her he wasn’t giving her a ride. And Chickadee was being such a jerk to him, I totally supported his decision.
In theory, I’ve got these rules for good conduct all figured out.
In reality, Otto departed this morning and left me with a hysterically sobbing tween who INSISTED that if she missed drills this morning she would be ineligible for the upcoming math competition, and she was SO SO SORRY that she hadn’t UNDERSTOOD what she was supposed to do, and could I PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE drive her to school.
In reality, that felt an awful lot like a situation with no good solution.
In reality, after a stern talking-to about all the ways in which she’d mishandled the morning, I allowed my daughter to call mulligan (each child gets one “save” each school year; Chickadee has never made it out of September before using hers) AND I charged her $5 (more than she nets in a week), and I took her to school.
In reality, I don’t know that I made the “right” parenting choice. But as she cried on the way to school, Monkey piped up from the back seat that if she was sad about the money, he would happily loan her $5. Which makes it kind of hard for me to believe there’s a “right” answer, when I have two kids whose priorities and inclinations and choices are so very different.
In theory, I’m a totally awesome parent.
In reality, I’m a taxi driver with a guilty conscience.