Miles called me a “bully” the other day. I don’t actually think I’m a bully but it did get me thinking. I was thinking of adding another chapter to my parenting book as I move into my latest attempt to establish some form of authority and control in my household. You’ve heard of Tiger Mom? Well, this is Drill Sergeant Mother.
It was an idea born out of a single phrase, “just a minute.”
I am hearing “just a minute” after every request I give lately. I say (in my nicest voice I might add) “Hey, Henry pick up that shoe and put it in the basket.” A request that I make about 75 times a day. His response, “just a minute.” I say, with some urgency because I’ve been saying for a half an hour that we’re going out soon, “Hey guys we need to get going to class, it’s time to go.” and I hear, “just a minute.”
I’m sick to death of “just a minute.” By the 6 or 7th “just a minute” I completely lose it all over the kitchen floor and it ain’t pretty. I know where they get it. It’s an unintentional consequence of something I do and have done with some intention. I don’t get up and attend to their every need immediately. I did that on purpose in some attempt to teach patience. I didn’t realize of course that rather than teaching patience it’s basically taught the brush off.
So yesterday I changed my tactic. I turned into what is best described as a howling drill sergeant. I barked orders. When I heard “just a minute” I said, “no, now!” and unplugged whatever device they were using or took whatever book they were reading. I followed this with “go, go, go, go!” like any good drill sergeant would do.
I thought to myself, “yeah baby…this is what we need around here…” and then today I looked up the word, “sergeant” and that is always illuminating….and sometimes humbling.
The word was introduced c.1200 and comes from the Latin – (nom. serviens.) It is a derivative of “servant” or servientem “serving,” prp. of servire “to serve.”
Aw, crap….to serve.
This changed everything and of course, it should. If I try to teach patience with a brush off then of course I teach the brush off. If I teach respect with barking orders I’m only going to end up teaching barking orders. I see that now. Seeing the origin of the word gave me some real pause about the whole “do as I say, not as I do” thing and then something else occurred to me.
Somewhere along the line between attempting to teach patience and respect I stopped really being present. This makes sense to me. I’m overwhelmed and underpaid. With the exhaustion of parenting my four “spirited” children and of course the constant vigilance against danger that comes part and parcel with that, I somehow lost focus. I checked out on a number of fronts which means that my own patience dropped to zero and so I modeled that too. They are four chatterboxes, they always have something to say. Gee, I don’t know where they get it.
I don’t know if they feel as though I hear them. I wonder today if I do actually hear them. Rather than focusing on patience and authority…if I model listening and hearing, if I model being present to them I wonder if maybe that will teach patience and respect for authority in it’s wake.
It’s worth a shot…everything works for five minutes.