Mom: “Turn the bathroom light off, please.”
She-Twin (dismissively): “I didn’t turn it on.”
Mom: “I didn’t ask who did, if you see a light on that doesn’t need to be on, turn it off.”
She-Twin (exasperated): “I don’t just go around looking for helpful things to do, Mom.”
A quick little discourse (that could have just as easily happened with He-Twin), but one that got me thinking: as parents, how do we instill an innate desire—better yet, a reflex—to help, however minor?
Maybe more importantly, how do we unteach the knee-jerk assignation of accountability elsewhere?
Immediately, role modeling the sought-for behavior comes to mind. Everyday, when confronted with multiple instances to offer assistance, I lazily wait for someone else to take care of things that I’ve noted, but would rather not address personally.
In the coming days, this physician parent will attempt to heal herself. Instead of the all-too-easy “walk-by,” I plan to seek out ways to do the right thing. Taking She-Twin’s words as a mantra, I’ll “go around looking for helpful things to do”….and will encourage the kids to do the same. Without a Slurpee or extra screen time dangled, let’s see if they’ll maturely make an effort to tell me about their successes…with kindness as its own reward.
Halting the deflection of blame will be more challenging. Seems everyday, with every consequence doled for an inappropriate action, instead of an apology or even the slightest display of contrition, venomous words are hurled my way. “You just love taking away our privileges.” “Why are you being so mean?” “I’ve been at school all day, and now I can’t have TV/computer/Wii/(insert deprivation of choice here)?” Mommy is so mean. She derives incredible pleasure from crime and its punishment.
How thrilling it would be for a Newtonian moment of connection to occur, and to stick. Cause = effect. Hit your sister? No Wii. Use “sucks,” shut up,” or “idiot?” Your Tiger Beat magazine shifts from your nightstand to mom’s. Such an easy remedy solves the ever-mean Mommy—cessation of unsavory cause results in cessation of unsavory effect.
Maybe here more than ever is when role modeling might benefit us more than lectures. How often as adults do we spend time—within our children’s sightline and earshot—expressing disdain for others (at work, at church, in the neighborhood, online, in the news, in the White House or hoping to get there….) and their behaviors, all the while accepting minimal to no responsibility for ourselves and our actions?
Striking. Occupying. Uncivil unrest. In the scheme of things, all seem to accomplish little, except maybe give the media fodder for extended coverage to increase not only ratings, but a spirit of further argument and dissent.
Wouldn’t it be lovely instead of wantonly condemning and judging to willingly accept what’s genuinely out of our control and actively enact the goodness we can control? Instead of using our words to talk ill of others, let’s endeavor use our words strategically to guide our kids to more thoughtful thinking…by enthusiastically demonstrating it ourselves and reinforcing their adherence to the same.
Baby steps. Let’s all take a few.