I read a book recently on the subject of child training called Raising Godly Tomatoes, written by a mother of ten. While reading it, I alternated between thinking, "Wow, so I'm not crazy for doing that; it really does work for other people, not just me!" and thinking, "That's a really good point, I need to be doing that with my kids!" As with every book I've read on this particular subject, I took what I needed from it and left the rest, and a week ago today I "re-claimed my life and turned over some new leaves." (At least that's what my Facebook status said all week!) :)
The main concept of the book (also found online here) is that children are like tomato plants. While they are young and tender, they need to be staked so that when they are more mature they will be strong enough to stand on their own without support. While the author, L. Elizabeth Krueger, does not advocate literally tying your children to you like little plants, she does stress that in order to properly train your children to have right heart attitudes, and in order to teach them how they should behave in any given circumstance, a mother should be with her children throughout the entire day, not just in the same house. She gives some very practical ideas of how to handle different inappropriate attitudes, and when I finished the book, I was determined to change a few things around here, starting with me.
I began by re-claiming my life from the black hole that sucks time away from me every single day. The computer. It was a habit, and it was bad! I was always online. I would check email, Facebook, the news, and all my favorite blogs over and over again before breakfast, before school, during school, after school, before snack-time, before lunch, etc., and I was online the whole two hours of Isaak's nap. The cycle would repeat itself all afternoon and evening. Sometimes only five minutes would elapse between when I got off and when I got on again. I knew it was bad, and for a few days one week I exercised my self-discipline and stayed off the computer most of the day. Something HAD to change, and the something was ME!
Last Sunday night after I finished reading the book, I pushed my computer desk chair under the desk as far as it would go before I went to bed. The next morning, kneeling at the computer, I checked my email, etc., and then got up and left the room. I got the chair out at nap-time and caught up on research, emails, and a few other things, but as soon as I was done I placed the chair back under the desk, and wonder of wonders, I actually had time to read a book! The whole week was like that! I spent minimal time on the computer during the day, actually had time during the kids' naps to read books and walk on the treadmill, and miracle of miracles, I spent the rest of each day with my children!
Once I was doing what I needed to do for myself, I started re-training the kids. They are well-behaved kids ( I will admit that!) :) but the whining, back-talking, and fighting amongst themselves had reached epidemic proportions...or maybe it just felt like it! Even Princess Anya was re-earning her babyhood nickname of Tirana (Spanish for Tyrant). I was repeating instructions 4 or 5 times, and then having to stand over them to make sure they did what I asked, and Anya would melt into fits of crying and sobbing if she didn't want to do something, to the point where she couldn't stop sobbing even if she wanted. She had also mastered the dubious skill of manipulating her sisters, through tears and screaming, into doing what she wanted them to do. So I took a few of Elizabeth's suggestions, and turned over some new leaves on my little tomato plants.
We did everything together, for five days in a row. We cooked, cleaned, schooled, did laundry, ate, read, played, did chores, you-name-it, we did it. All. Together. I laid out the new rules for them up front, at the very beginning. Whining and talking back are unacceptable. Crying is only allowed in the corner, unless someone is grievously injured, of course! If someone doesn't obey me immediately and cheerfully the only time I ask them to do something, they will do it repeatedly until they can do it properly and cheerfully. If anyone starts to talk back to me when I tell them something, we back up and I give them the exact words they should use instead, and they practice saying those exact words as they follow instructions. Bad attitudes or tears earn time spent in the corner, until Mommy has determined that the attitude has changed.
The girls thought the whole thing was kind of fun (until it came time for each of them to visit the corner) and kept thanking me for letting them help with everything. It was hard for me, though. I had to remember to only say things once, and to catch them every time they started to talk back. It was mentally exhausting, but at the end of the first day, no one had gotten away with whining or crying, there was NO fighting, and everyone had smiles on their faces. By the end of the second day, Anya told me that she had had such a fun day that day, and when I asked her what was fun about it, she had to stop and think for a minute. The look on her face was priceless when she answered, "Mommy, I think it was so fun because I didn't even cry once!"
I like this new family of mine. They haven't had to change much, but they've changed just enough to make me want to keep doing what we're doing. The first day, Jaela and Macey saw the book sitting on my desk and asked me what it was about (it does have an interesting title!), and after I explained it to them, they have started to call themselves my little tomato plants. :)
And today they tried to plant themselves...at least that's what it looked like!
As Anya was showing Isaak how to dig his fingers into the muddy clay, she announced that she was teaching Isaak how to get dirty. Later, Jaela and Macey helped him smear mud all over his arms so that he could "be an Indian too." What a trooper!