Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Big Bowl of Complaints

Lately, the kids have been loading me down with complaints about each other and the fights they have. From the moment I get out of bed (sometimes even before I can get out of bed), someone meets me with teary eyes or an angry face. This goes on and on throughout the day.

Today I had enough. There are the "normal" squabbles that you expect from five children, and then there are just bad habits. None of the lectures seemed to work. None of the punishments or positive reinforcements. (Sorry, there is a time for positive reinforcements and times that just don't work for positive reinforcements, and this was one of those times!)

I normally do catechism with the kids on Sundays. Today, I decided to teach them one lesson: a little "visual" of much they complain!

So I asked the kids to write down on pieces of paper all of the problems they came to me with today. For the little kids, we just talked about it and I wrote down their complaints for them. It was funny how honest they were about telling on themselves! ("I whined about juice!" "I complained about not having any candy!")

For the older kids, it was harder for them to be so honest. I helped them remember though, don't worry.

Pretty soon our bowl was very full.

A bowl full of one days complaints!
I then had the kids pass the bowl around and read each complaint. From their expressions, I could see that they were beginning to see some of the pettiness of their complaints. They even found some of them pretty funny. Some of the complaints were pretty silly.

If only the complaints didn't follow with crying and a tantrum afterwards, perhaps I could get through it. Or if people would just take "no for an answer" instead of me having to repeat it ten more times later. ("The answer is no...the answer is still no...if you keep asking me, you will lose ( that privilege) completely.")

The weird thing was, they all seemed genuinely sorry for their complaining. Even Henry. I was very surprised that he understood the lesson so well. I think that seeing the number of complaints, to see them filling up a bowl, to hear them read out loud (we did not put names on the complaints--the complainers knew what complaints they had), helped the kids realize that by their own admission, they complained a lot. Heck, if I wrote out the complaints I got today, I would have filled two bowls, but this was about them taking responsibility for it themselves.

Well, believe it or not, it worked. I'm not saying that there wasn't the occasional complaint, but all the kids really thought about what was worth complaining about and what wasn't. Even the younger kids, and that is hard for them.

Sometimes I hesitate to tell people about my way of teaching my kids manners--I have been told by too many well-meaning people that I can be too harsh and then given much advice on how to do things differently. Women are great that way, aren't they? Always handing out advice like it's chocolate or something. And then calling it charity. I like to call it "charity on a stick", just like the State Fair food. It's always there, right in front of you to munch on, and so convenient too.

Anyhoo...back to the subject...

The truth is, I am terrible about being patient. God knows how often I confess this sin both at bedtime in confession. I am convinced that it is through my children that I have to eventually learn how to be patient or die trying. But I am not shy about asking for help with my weaknesses, especially from my kids. Anything to help me will help you, I often tell them.

So it is through these little "visuals" that I try to teach my kids some things that they do that bog me down as a parent. And yes, I felt a little like a complainer myself, by bringing all this up in such a way. Also true, I worried that perhaps I might go a little too far in my lesson and bring about discouragement. Nobody is perfect, and I sure to don't want to put that burden on anyone.

But it seems like my kids learn best this way. They were able to see how many complaints I receive in one day alone. They actually empathized with me. And I needn't have worried about discouragement; God didn't make kids resilient for nothing! As soon as the little lecture was over, they bounced up already talking about what they were going to play next without even an extra glance at the bowl.

The biggest thing was, they stopped complaining. Well, sort of. There were still complaints and whining but it was at a pace I could handle. They were showing some restraint, which I appreciated. And more than that, it showed me that they learned something!

This is what I love about parenting. There are days when I feel I am terrible at it and just can't do it. And then there are other days I helped my kids make a connection and I just have to give myself a high five.

Parenting is hard enough; that's why we come in pairs. So turn to your spouse and high five each other before you go to bed today---because tomorrow you'll have to do it all over again.

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