Dear Dave

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Trying not to freak

Dear Dave,

A couple of weeks back, you asked about any differences I'd noticed between the way housedads and housemums bring up children. I told you how my priorities sometimes seem to vary from the mums I meet. I'll often hold off in teaching the kids new skills, such as using cutlery, until a time when I think they'll learn quickly rather than pushing them to develop sooner simply because 'they're the right age'. I pass this off as being laid back but it's really just an attempt to keep my socks clean.

Having thought about it further, I've realised that there is another category of activities to be considered. These are the things which they can do fine but I won't let them do because I don't trust them to pay full attention to the task.

To be fair, I usually have good reason for this lack of faith. Take our recent visit to the dentist as an example. Fraser has been brushing his own teeth since he turned seven, nearly a year ago. I supervised to begin with but he got on OK and I left him to it. By last week, when we went for our check up, I hadn't watched him do it for months and I assumed he was still being careful.

Big mistake.

The dentist scraped around inside his mouth for mere moments before pulling out a partly-chewed chocolate raisin, three Rice Crispies, a car number plate and the lost Ark of the Covenant. I'm back to brushing his teeth half the time again just to make certain.

I don't even trust the children to walk along the street without micro-management. Coming back home with all three of them yesterday, I said, "There's some dog poo in the middle of the pavement up ahead."

"I remember," said Lewis. "We saw it on the way to school. It's really squidgy."

"Yep, that's the one," I replied and that should have been enough warning. Still, when we got closer, I couldn't resist saying, "The dog poo's here. Watch out."

Marie appeared oblivious to my words, so I grabbed her hand to guide her past. She immediately stopped right next to it and started screaming that she didn't want her hand held. I had to concentrate on preventing her from throwing herself to the ground in a tantrum and rolling in the poo. Fraser walked right into us. Then he made as if to step sideways to go round us. "Watch out for the dog poo!" I shouted. I grabbed Fraser but then ran out of hands. Lewis ignored what was happening entirely and ploughed straight through the middle of the swampy puddle.

Honestly, I might as well not have spoken. In fact, things might have gone better if I hadn't.

This constant intervention on my part is much more of a problem than letting them develop at their own pace. It doesn't matter to me what method the kids use to eat their food as long as, when they head off to play, they have clean hands and I have clean socks. I'm sure that some day they'll decide forks are a good idea and take to using them on a regular basis. I could be yelling at them to avoid the dog poo forever, though. I can't be doing with that and I don't want to be brushing Fraser's teeth on the night before his wedding. At some point I have to let them work it out themselves.

This is difficult. Say I were to let the boys navigate their own way along the pavement, would I trust them to clean their own shoes if they got it wrong? Probably not, which leaves some very unpleasant work for me. I'm likely to be pointing out potential squidgy disaster for a while yet. The kids shouldn't always expect me to predict and preempt catastrophe for them, however. I can't be ready for everything. On a trip at the weekend, Lewis spilt a sticky drink made from slush and concentrated evil over himself. I wished I had a change of clothes for him with me but I didn't because he's six. If I carry around spare clothes for a six-year-old, when am I going to stop? He needs to learn to hold the cup when he uses a straw. Hopefully, having had to wear ice-cold trousers for a bit and then sit on the toilet for five minutes while I toasted them under a hand-dryer will have taught him that lesson.

Fat chance, I know, but maybe one day...

I'm working on it - I'm trying to let the kids act for themselves. If the boys aren't prepared to take their gloves with them, then they have to live with that decision. I'm not going to spend time persuading them to look out of the window before making those kinds of choices any more. It's up to them. I've also started Fraser on applying his own eczema cream. I suspect sometimes as much goes on the carpet as on him but he's getting there. I try not to watch and I keep clean socks handy.

My natural tendency if the kids are struggling or making poor choices, is to step in and do the job for them. They'll get on better in the long run if I'm clear about what needs to be done and the consequences of failure and then trust them to get on with it. At some point a line has to be drawn. It becomes time to say, 'You're another human being, you know what you have to do and it's your responsibility to do it.'

Wish me luck. This is hard enough to do with adults... and they get to clean their own shoes.

Yours in a woman's world,



Anonymous said...

Maybe we could track down those irresponsible dog owners and make them clean the kids shoes? :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm with Mum. Hunt down the Poo Offenders.

I'm also a let them figure it out kinda parent. So, my socks are often dirty but I get to sit on the couch and watch the chaos occur a lot more than if I tried to do it for them. It's a trade off, really.

DadsDinner said...

Excellent idea. I'll put Scary Karen on the case right away ;-)