Some days I feel like all I do is criticize my kids.
“You forgot to put your breakfast plate in the sink.”
“Slow down while you’re brushing your teeth.”
“If you don’t clean up the playroom, you’re going to be punished!”
It’s a constant critique of their usually forgetful and occasionally malevolent behavior. As parents we’re trying to bend our children’s behavior to the will of our household rules, rules that were established to make all of our lives easier and to teach our children how to behave. That’s our job as parents — to mold and shape tour kids into successful, well-adjusted adults who can make good decisions and live rewarding lives. When you’re dealing with a 6- and 4-year-old, their job is to push back against those rules. My kids — like all kids — are driven purely by their impulse and desire. They want to play with their toys instead of washing their hands and coming to the dinner table, so be it. They want to get up from the table while eating and run around the dinner table 15 times with their sibling, so be it. It’s this type of behavior that happens day after day, no matter how often my wife and I try to police it. There are moments where it feels like one criticism after another about what they’re doing, what they’ve done and what they need to do.
Mind you, these are good kids. They pay attention in school, do their schoolwork and are respectful and kind to others (except not to each other, on most occasions). We know that inside them beats the heart of a thoughtful, caring child. Plus, we are a very tight-knot, loving, laughing family. There’s a lot of joy and support in our home, with our kids enjoying positive experiences and positive affirmation.
But when my wife and I talk to them about their behavior, it seems like they oftentimes tune us out. “Oh, Dad, is telling me to do something,” they probably think. “Mom is criticizing me again,” they might consider.
In fact, my oldest recently told me that he feels like Mommy & I are constantly harping on him and making him feel bad. I understood what he was saying because as a kid, I often felt the same way from my dad. From my younger years, I remember my father as a disciplinarian; someone who oversaw my homework with a critical eye and routinely put demands on me for my actions and behaviors. I was often nervous around him. When I turned 17 and my dad started taking college visit trips, I began to see a different side of him and saw the pride he had in me. I also realized that his lessons, while they seemed overbearing at the time, actually taught me how to work, how to prepare for eventualities and how to handle myself in various situations. In others, his parenting made me a better person.
That’s what I want for my kids. However, it’s painful going through this part of the process. We’ve been trying to figure out how to teach them to do things on their own and to give them responsibilities and rewards. A therapist recommended making a list of 3 things they need to accomplish each morning before school and 3 things they need to accomplish after school. Once they’re done, they can have the free time that they cherish. We’re going to try to put that into practice, but the follow-through can be a challenge sometimes.
No one becomes a parent and plans on criticizing their kids all the time. I want to have a healthy, open relationship with my kids and I want them to understand that the rules we’ve set in place are not onerous or meant to disrupt their lives, Rather, they are meant to instill them in a routine and help them navigate the demands of our collective day. I realize that there are times I can lay off the negative words and try instead to reinforce positive elements of their behavior. I suppose, like everything else in life, my parenting is a work in progress.