I am not going to lie; the majority of the time I prefer to be the indulgent parent in the bunch.
I fight the urge to show love with food, since achieving a healthier weight is a goal all four of us share. But the Italian in me wants to make the food, buy the ice cream and the toys. Show them my love with “things”. (It’s curious that I strongly resent being shown love with material things and yet that is what I default to with the kids). Bad habit.
This weekend our kids were not what I would call “polite” or “behaved”. There was a lot of the stuff that I have heard my friends lament about; those that have older children. There was sarcasm, lack of listening, stubbornness, arrogance and a general lack of respect for the adults in the family. Not just ourselves but Aunty, Uncle and Nana and Papaw. And since we had the kids four days in a row, it wore me down.
By Saturday night I was angry. Rather than yell at the kids or hurt their feelings, I decided to show them the consequence of upsetting me. By the end of the third full day of being the referee I was tired. So Saturday night I decided to watch television in my bedroom with the dogs, and have a quiet evening to myself.
To be clear, husband understood but was unhappy I was not in the living room with everyone else. And the kids? Generally speaking, they felt awkward and concerned to be “shut out” while their Step-Mom claimed space for herself. I created my own downtime as a healthy alternative to “losing my cool” with them and to demonstrate something important, that I hoped they would understand.
Kids do not rule our lives; we rule theirs. There is no lack of clarity about who the boss is in the house (with the kids around it’s both of us and when it’s just Kevin and I, he likes to think it’s him). [smirk] We have twins that have different needs. Logan is extroverted, very intelligent and is excellent at reading and writing. The kind of kid that most people think is “too smart” although I think that is a good thing. Even if it makes parenting strenuous.
Lucas is sincere, overly sensitive and very emotional. He is the introvert who is rarely given the opportunity to read (his brother reads faster) or practice games or other skills, because his brother is always hastening him. Logan is a leader; Lucas is a follower, but I see sometimes that the overshadowing needs to be controlled better for Lucas to thrive. He deserves to get good at Peggle. He deserves focused time where he can learn without his brother interrupting him.
The breakfast on Sunday morning was tense. I was quiet, polite but avoided eye contact with both of them because frankly, I was still tired and irritable about their behavior. There are things that they should have mastered by now, but haven’t and with a limited amount of time with them split between two households, it is so hard to work on these things. I asked Kevin to talk to their Mom Stephanie in a diplomatic way, to address the things that our kids need to nail before the summer is over. Behavior being one of them (for both kids).
Thankfully Stephanie knows that we do not come from a place of criticism for her, ever. And it can be uncomfortable to bring up certain things, worried that it might offend her or strain the relationship. We have a good one. We love her and care for their family and household too. Behavior, shoe tying and cutting with a fork and knife.
Being good company means that people want to be around you. I closed the door and myself off from the kids on Sunday morning to demonstrate something important to them. If you are not pleasant to be around, please learn that people will avoid being around you. There is a consequence to being unpleasant or rude. It (can) damage relationships temporarily or permanently. I felt this was a critical lesson this weekend.
When the twins came in to apologize, they had already asked their Father questions about my “distance” and he was frank with them. Cause and effect. As I was writing away at my desk, two very humble, slightly teary eyed young boys came into my office.
“LLori is it okay if we um… I mean can we talk to you?” said Logan.
“Yes boys, what is it?” I asked, turning my chair and looking at both of them.
“We didn’t mean to make you upset. We got excited and we forgot our manners and talking back is bad.” Lucas stammered his sentence, looking down at my flip flops.
“I love you both so much. I know you didn’t come out of my body, but do you know that I spend the days thinking about what to cook you, where we can go and what we can do for fun? I do this because I love you so much. I even count the days until you come back to visit…” I said.
[Insert both twins getting choked up further]
“But you know a Step-Mommy like me and a Step-Daddy like Josh… we don’t have easy jobs. The whole world tells us you aren’t our babies, but you are inside our hearts. It is just the same. And I am learning to be a Step-Mom and I really want to be a good one…”
“Ohh but you are a good one!!!” said Lucas emphatically, dropping his kleenex.
“That makes my heart happy to hear that. But when I tell you things about your manners, it is because I want you guys to be the boys I know you are. Cool, fun, polite and smart. I want people to always say “Oh look! Here comes Logan and Lucas, they are awesome!” rather than feel like you are going to make them angry, or tired or upset. ”
I checked their faces and it seemed to be sinking in.
“When you are polite and fun, I want to spend time with you. But to be honest, it totally sucks when I have to constantly say “no” or “timeout” or reprimand you over and over again for the same stuff. It makes my weekend the opposite of fun. Remember when we are telling you this stuff, its not because it is fun for us to give you trouble… it’s because it’s our job to make sure you are raised like proper, good men. The cool kind of dudes that everyone loves to be around.”
I am new at this, you know. But I think sometimes kids take “company” for granted. I spent many weekends sitting on my grandparents couch, unable to move, and getting in hell anytime we talked. Keeping company with adults when I was a kid was a luxury. Not that I agree with that kind of relationship either but they need to know… there are consequences to being a bit of a jerk.
The rest of the day was spent counting cash in their piggy banks and then a short shopping trip to the game store to get a new game. We had some burgers and headed home, and had a quiet afternoon of NASCAR and games, after spending two days in the sun and the pool.
Monday morning I was certain they would want to dash home to their Mom and get away from the “Manner Police” but they were still reluctant to leave. And I got the biggest bear hugs and sweet kisses as they headed out the door.
“Thursday right? We’re coming back on Thursday?” said Lucas.
“Yep. I’ll figure out something creative to burn for dinner…” said I.
“Hahaha… better let Daddy cook Lori” said Logan.
And I learned that consequence is a valuable, frequently underused tool for kids. But when used gently, the psychology works. Love is not about always saying “yes” to them or excusing (or making excuses for) the things that need work. But making them realize that it needs some work… worked. And I think they know how much I love them, to keep at them for the things that matter.