Hooray for Mountain Mike!
Great news. Mountain Mike’s advice has been working great this week. I told you my kids have been spontaneously helping around the house and otherwise acting like model children *much* of the time. Here is the full story, as promised. (And Michelle, how much cooler would it be to have a guest post by Mountian Mike himself? I wonder what he would think about writing on my girlie blog. I might have to ask.)
I am a planner. I am very good at planning things. I love to plan stacks of brilliant books I’m going to read. I like to plan the wholesome and interesting meals I will feed my family. Last Christmas I planned a perfectly calm, reflective holiday season.
Yes, I have the perfect life planned. In the end, you can probably guess that not too many of my plans turn out exactly as I picture them. Real life can be so uncooperative sometimes.
Well, I have great plans for my children to be delightful, cooperative, contributing teenagers. Stop laughing. I’m serious about this one. The only problem before last week was, I’d watch the way they thought they were going to die when I ask them to carry in groceries (the older two are 5 and 7), and I wasn’t sure how we were going to arrive there. Until Mountain Mike.
Mountain Mike’s words. So I mentioned we came across a gold nugget of parenting advice while having a cow slaughtered, of all times. The big, burly, and wonderful Mountain Mike said in a conversation with my husband, “Teenagers are great. I just don’t have to do as much around the house. They’re always mowing the lawn or picking up around the house.”
With a little prodding, Mountain Mike shared his big secret. And the big secret, in brief, was that “They just know I’ll let them do things if they’ve actually been contributing members the house.”
When Brent reported this to me, a few lights went off in my head. Light one, kids always want things. Light two, it’s okay to expect kids to spontaneously help around the house and otherwise be delightful children.
The key idea. So on a particularly difficult day, I sort of built a whole behavioral program around this. I thought about what really motivates my kids (other than Mario Cart). My kids really like having attention from me, and my kids love to feel like they are being taken seriously and allowed to control their own little lives.
We based everything around this phrase, “If you make good choices, you are responsible enough to make your own choices. If you make bad choices, that makes me the more responsible party, so I’ll go ahead and make your choices for you.”
And what makes a good choice? I would have never been brave enough to set the bar so high, but after Mountain Mike’s brief but life-changing speech, I was bold. I never told my kids, but I decided that a good choice meant my kids would (1) be prudent and wise, (2) be delightful to hang out with, (3) be observant, (4)be self-managing, and (5) generally add value to our house and home.
So any time any of my children asks for anything all day long, I go into one of two modes. In mode one I say “of course, do whatever you’d like, you’ve made such good choices, you’re free to do what you decide is best.” I try to say it super cooly and casually, like I’m talking to another adult. They love that. Or, mode two, without warning I mention that their choices haven’t been so good and I micromanage them and otherwise find ways to be obtrusive and, well, bossy.
Wahoo. It worked! I swear my kids have gotten practically drunk off the idea of managing themselves. They love that feeling of empowerment. The first time I tried it was hilarious. It was when my daughter said, “mom, how clean does my room need to be for me to play Club Penguin?” And I told her she could make good choices, that was up for her to decide. She looked at me like I’d just asked if she wanted to move to Disneyland. And guess what, her room got really clean (!!!)
Taking the time to check in and drop hints. I’ve found the only trick is that I have to really anticipate, to make my expectations obvious. So every half hour or so after school, I’ll casually sit down by my daughter and spend a minute or two and say things like, “hmm, how long until bed time? and what were you hoping to get done before then?” Sometimes this takes more patience than I can muster, but mostly it’s great, because it has totally replaced my need to nag.
Occasionally I have to drop hints. I find hints much more effective, and much more polite really, than the direct requests I used to make. So I’ll occasionally wonder aloud, “Hmm, I wonder if it’s a good choice to be grumpy right now.” Or “Hmm. There are crumbs all over the floor, I wonder what a good choice would be right now.” But the result is astounding. It’s almost as if I’ve cast a magic spell on my kids, and when I say the words “good choice” they suddenly, cheerfully, spring into action. Really, most of the time, it’s something to see.
On days when I’m good about this, I haven’t enforced bedtimes, I haven’t set timers for the kids to get off the computer or anything. Because, after all, choosing to stay up too late or play Club Penguin too long would be a bad choice, and then I would have to turn into bossy mom. Most of the time, it’s great.
The rewards. I’ve definitely had my moments of exhaustion. But the moment when my daughter approached me to consult about what a good violin practice might sound like, and then went off and practiced without a word from me, that was a good moment. And when my son, who has never cleaned his room without insane amounts of nagging, decided to go clean his room all of a sudden, that was a good moment. The best is using this trick secretly in front of other parents. And when it works and your children spontaneously act responsible and angelic, you just smile and try to act like it’s natural.
So, what do you think? I’m curious to hear if you try this. I don’t have teenagers, and am not quite sure how the teenager version would go, but I’d love to hear. I really think the big key is setting the bar high. Expecting a lot is sort of its own compliment. Showing your kids that you know they can handle it. And if your kids are younger, say toddlers and preschoolers, it may be a little complex. Though I have to say I feel like this goes right along with a favorite young child parenting book of mine. And if you have any other words of advice that go along with this, about getting chores done or raising teens, lay them on me. Believe me, I’m listening. Good luck! And if you get a chance, let me know how it goes!