Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No More Wire Hangers

Diagram of the currents feeding the Pacific Trash Vortex.

(If you don't want to know how depressing the PTV is, don't click on the image.)

Discovering the PTV this morning cheered me up because it is far more depressing than what I'm struggling with at the moment, though eerily relevant.

My parental irresponsibility is coming back to bite me in the ass.

My daughter's room is an appalling mess, and has been so for pretty much her entire life. So is her understanding of respect and responsibility. We are once again tackling the messy room issue, and simultaneously tackling at least one larger issue, that of respectful compliance when we ask her to do something.
It is excruciatingly painful for all of us. We have created a monster, and to subdue it we have to become monsters. The only effective tactic at the moment is taking away stuff she loves, really, really loves, which is genuinely excruciating for her even though her reactions secretly amuse us sometimes. Which makes me feel like even more of a monster.

Worse than feeling like a monster is the misery of knowing that all of it boils down to my failures as a parent. The Pacific Gyre driving all of the crap into one big, painful, toxic mess -- both material and emotional -- is my total lack of consistency.

These are some of the things I've failed to do consistently:
  • Define expectations.
  • Articulate expectations.
  • Define the relative priority of said expectations
  • Demonstrate the contexts that determine the priority
  • Notice that things aren't being done
  • Care that things are or aren't being done
  • Enforce expected behavior
  • Continue enforcing over time
  • Use consistent tactics and intensity of enforcement, whether reward or punishment
  • Model the desired behavior myself
  • Model the desired behavior myself [see Surface Detail, April 7 2009. Q.E.D.]
  • Model the desired behavior myself....

Do not, I repeat do not, tell me that all parents have to grapple with this.
Eye rolling.
Disrespectful, sneering expression.

I would very much like to play the Crazy card. Because after all, its a really good card, it trumps everything but cancer and death, and it explains all of these failures.
Except that it doesn't excuse them. Parenting is my job, and good parenting is 1 part love to 450 parts consistency. And I haven't done it. I have to do it whether I'm good at it or not, whether I want to or not, whether its rewarding or not, when it hurts me, when it hurts her, whether I'm sure its right or not, whether other people criticize me or not.

As I have to tell my daughter with frustrating regularity: it sucks, and it's hard, but you still have to do it.

Now! Missy.

Right NOW.
Every single time.
Or else.

Now I need to call Greenpeace and discuss her room. I'm hoping they have some tips.


  1. Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Man, I thought this was going to be your latest novel. The Pacific Trash Vortex! Idk. It sounds good when you say it. Here's what I know. The earth will correct itself.
    "Too many nasty people acting like pigs? Ah, give them all the swine flu. Now there's poetic justice. Then, let's be done with them!"
    And consistency... yes, you're right. I don't think anything else can be said. Except... (I always have an "except") that personality does come into play too. E., my easy child, will do what I ask post haste. K, my more willful child, will do what I ask if I'm looking. Then when I complain, it's "Sorreeeeeeeeeeeee." Maybe it's a mother/daughter thing. Have two women ever gotten along without the added benefit of sexual tension? It's just that we play the sexual tension card so very well and... with other females, it just doesn't exist. Even sons understand... yes, mom is a woman. We must do the thing the woman says or we will get nothing we crave and want in return. That can be anything from money for a new basketball to clothes FROM THE MALL AND NOT KMART, OK? But the daughter... when we tell her to do something the thought that comes into her head is... 'What does the b***h want now?' Therefore, the solution is clear, it seems to me. One of you needs a sex change operation.

  3. The up side is eventually they really do move out. Eventually.
    I'm getting paroled in August when Dani leaves for college.

  4. The great thing is - despite all our failings, most of the time they turn out pretty good! So relax and just enjoy her. A messy room doesn't even register on the scale of "things to worry about".

  5. Six thoughts.

    1) Scott Peck in The Road Less Travelled said something that always stuck with me. Loving your child makes up for almost everything else. If the child knows they are loved, then they will have the resilience to deal with the rest.

    2) Who cares whether her room is messy or not?! Yes, it is your role to harrass her about it and her role to be subversive - "workers of the world unite! You have only your chains to lose." The point is that conflict is, by definition, part of the parent-child relationship. There will always be something. Or to put it another way, would you want a completely compliant, perfect child? I love that Alexandra is fiesty, fights back, tries to wiggle out of doing chores, argues that she should get her allowance despite not clearing the table, etc., etc. She has spirit, as, from what you've told me, does Julia. Celebrate it as you prepare for battle. Also remember, the worse outcome is when she gets older and goes through the sullen and uncommunicative phase.

    3) In the ongoing battle with your child, the bad news is that in the long run, the child always wins. Always. They grow up and will do exactly what they want. The only silver lining is that they don't know they are going to win until they are in their mid-teens and even then it is only an instinct they have. Your job as a parent is to run a holding action, a well-ordered retreat. Fight the good fight. If you realize you are going to lose this war anyway, the individual defeats won't seem so catastrophic.

    4) Of course you should laugh at your child! It is one of the great pleasures of being a parent. (No, I am not saying ridicule them, but laughing when they get all haughty and indignant is perfectly fine.)

    5) What is all this perfectionist crap?! I used to do it with writing (still do) and all it does is lead to frustration and self-loathing. Yes, try to improve. But don't get down at yourself because you are not perfect. In that vein, I want to introduce my theory which I call...

    6) Don't Diet in a Donut Shop! Now, I love donuts. And if I worked in a donut shop, I know I would snack all day, and gain a lot of weight. In an effort to lose that weight, I would tell myself that I need to be disciplined and not snack. Of course donuts, being the heroin of the sugar world, would overcome my efforts, and I would continue to gain weight. As a result, I would feel very down on myself about both my weight and my complete lack of discipline. Every day I would show up for work, eat donuts, and get more and more depressed that I can't stop myself from eating donuts. What kind of loser am I?!?! But the solution is simple; quit my job and go to work in the Brussel Sprouts and Eggplant factory!

    The morals of the story are many. a) You don't have to fight and win every battle (i.e. you don't have to be perfect). Removing yourself from the situation can be a victory. Know yourself and choose your battles. b) The outcome can be more important than the process. No I would never have the discipline to not eat the donuts but by working around Brussel Sprouts I would instantly lose weight and the outcome would be better. c) Donuts are the devil's plaything and as mere mortals, who are we to resist their siren song?

    Well, this comment is probably longer than your entry so I'll stop here.

  6. Rod --
    A. I've worked in a donut shop. Means nothing in re your metaphor, just thought I'd toss that in.
    B. Yeah. But at some point you have to hold yourself responsible as a parent. That's all I was saying. And indignant I can laugh at, but rudeness, not so much. And she has been resorting to "sullen and uncommunicative contempt" since about the age of two.