Thursday, July 29, 2010


Well...this second round of Do Nothing, Say Nothing didn't go quite the way I expected.

I was just sure that this week was going to be fabulous. The kids were going to rock our world, because we weren't going to do or say anything, and they were going to show us how far they have come in the last 6 months.

Umm...yeah. Right. That fantasy ended pretty quickly.

There were bright moments -- Dante made dinner of his own accord on the nights that he was supposed to (dinner was his contribution this week) and attempted to clean up the kitchen when he was done (the dinner person isn't supposed to leave a giant mess for the dishes person). The dinners were delicious, and even though he wasn't super successful at the cleanup, at least he tried!

Okay, that was one bright moment. I'm sure there had to have been another, I just can't think of it now, no matter how hard I rack my brain.

Again, Will and I haven't had time to formally talk about what we learned, but informally, we've discussed our observation that all four kids are spoiled (with money, toys, activities, you name it) and don't really take responsibility for or appreciate any of it. This is not their fault, but it's not a pretty reality. And, as I posted below, given the opportunity to play video games 24/7, they lose all interest in anything else.

Oh, and I learned that there's a good reason that I've been hesitant to use one of the Parenting on Track strategies, in which instead of telling the kid what to do, I say, "Would you be willing to....?" If they say "no," then I say, "What would you be willing to do?" If they say "nothing," then I get to decide how I will respond (hopefully parenting from my best!)

I planned to try this way back in week 11, but haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Control issues, much? However, I figured that since it's DNSN and I can't order them around or remind them to do stuff, I had nothing to lose.

We were having a dinner party on Tuesday (I know, what was I thinking, right?) and I had already decided that I was going to do what needed to be done so that I felt good about having people over, and that I wasn't going to be resentful of the fact that I probably wouldn't have much help from the kids.

So Tuesday afternoon I stepped in front of the television screen:
Me: "Hey guys, would you be willing to clean up your mess in the kitchen?"
Them: "Sure, can we just finish this song?"
Me: "It's up to you."
Them: {keep playing Rock Band for about 5 more songs}
Me: {silently go about my business in other parts of the house}
Them: "Hey mom, we're riding bikes to the store, okay"
Me: "Sure. See you in awhile!"
Me: {clean up their messes in the kitchen}
Them: {get home and don't notice that kitchen is clean or remember that they said they were willing to clean it}
Me: "Hey guys, would you be willing to hold your rats while I clean the tank?"
Boys: {settle back in front of the television screen} "No, I don't feel like it."
Girl: "I can't decide."
Me: "Well, you need to decide because I need to clean the tank."
Girl: "I hate to say this, but no, I am not willing to!"
Me: "Okay."
Them: {play video games}
Me: {put rats in rubbermaid tub and clean the tank}

I wasn't resentful, the kids had fun, the house was clean when the party started. And I must add here that am really grateful for good friends who are willing to at least act like they understand why we let two boys (ages 7 and 9) walk into the kitchen, grab a loaf of bread and take it down into the family room to eat while playing video games, completely ignoring the fact that we had a houseful of people and that dinner was literally being put on the table as they walked off with the bread.

I'm really thankful that Do Nothing, Say Nothing is over for another go-round.

And I'm feeling like many of the changes we've seen over the last six months (because honestly, there have been many, and almost all of them are changes for the better) are still being directed by the adults. Mostly I'm left with questions about giving the kids more ownership over themselves, their things, and the family.

And I'm really glad that we're starting the whole program over, because I can see it spiraling (yeah, you guys who teach Everyday Math are scoffing now, because we all know that the spiral doesn't really work :P but this is different, I swear!) and I do think that things will continue to improve over time. As our wise counselor told us last time we saw her, we're doing so many things right and it's still really hard.

do they still call it the boob tube?

The kids' reaction when I told them that we were doing DNSN again, and that the purpose was to observe how far we've come since the last time, and to see what we still need to work on: "Ooohhh, comes the moldy milk again!" (I don't remember this, but someone must have left a glass of milk out -- I'm guessing they remembered since they were the ones who cleaned up at the end of the week? Told you it wasn't pretty last time!)

I'm not going to break it down day by day, and Will and I haven't had a chance to sit down together and do a recap on the week, but here's the big thing as far as kid behavior goes (I'll hit adult behavior in another post)...

Screen time. Yuck. Huge issue still. No, really. Huge. And they've taken the opportunity to use DNSN to completely throw our family policy out the window and pretty much do nothing but play video games for the last 72 hours. So...this tells us that the family policy is really a parent policy, that the kids have no real buy-in.

FYI, the policy is that during the summer they get half an hour of screen time a day. Two kids play while the other two "chillax" in their rooms, then they switch. Honestly, Will and I thought this was brilliant, and, in our view, it's worked out well -- everyone gets a little siesta time in the heat of the day, four kids are not having to share the screens all at once, and most of the time the kids are playing, running around outside, and generally being creative.

Will and I actually talked to the kids about this yesterday, and basically they told us that their screen time is so limited that they felt the need to compensate for the fact that they normally get to play so little (yes, they did actually use the word "compensate" -- we must be doing something right, no?) by taking advantage of the fact that they knew we weren't going to stop them.

Still...yuck. So Will and I are contemplating something radical as a result. It goes back to the fact that I've had trouble keeping myself from staying up all night wasting time on the internets this summer, and the idea that we shouldn't be asking the kids to exercise more self control than their parents are capable of. Sorry I ended that sentence with a preposition. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 26, 2010

do nothing, say nothing recap

Well, it's been longer than I thought since the last time I posted. Oops! Life with four kids, three rats, two full-time jobs, a dog, and a snake is a little crazy! I actually meant to blog throughout our Parenting on Track journey, but one day stretched into twelve weeks, which stretched into six months without a single update...

The good news (?) is that we've found the program to be so valuable that we're doing it again. Yup. The whole twelve weeks. It's really rich and deep, and there's so much to learn and try, and we feel like our family has come a long way as a result of the conversations and actions brought about by doing the program. So we're doing it again, maybe this time really in twelve weeks instead of six months!

The first week is "Do Nothing, Say Nothing" week. This is where we stop using ineffective parenting techniques and "strategies" that hinder the relationships we would like to have with our kids. Instead, we do and say nothing, and observe them to learn what they can and will do without interference from us. We also observe ourselves to figure out when it is hard for us to exercise control over our reactions to situations or behavior.

The first time we did DNSN, it led to some hilarious (in retrospect) and horrifying moments.

Day one brought us a seven-year-old (Sebastian) who got up on his own, made himself breakfast, packed his lunch, and cheerfully loaded himself and his backpack into the car on time. Impressive! But Dante (age 12) didn't get out of bed and subsequently didn't go to school.

Day two was role reversal. Dante was totally happy and ready to go. Sebastian refused to go to school because, "It's stupid! I never learn anything! And if Dante doesn't have to go, I don't have to go!" Since he's not twelve, he got dumped at my mom's house while I left for work. My parents did such a good job ignoring him that, around 10:30 he announced, "This is boring! I'm going to school!"

Days three and four continued the pile-up of toys and dishes that had begun at the beginning of the week. Kids were responsible for their own breakfasts and lunches, but we had dinner as a family the way we usually do, except for the fact that we didn't have a formal setting or clearing of the table. I just announced when the food was ready. We also didn't put any limits on screen time, or enforce a bedtime. This meant that things were a little more - ahem - chaotic than usual around the house.

Day five was brutal. It culminated when Will and I left Subway because we were so humiliated at the behavior of all four kids. We just walked out and waited for them to eventually follow, because we couldn't handle staying in there AND staying silent. You name it, the kids did it.

Crawling on the floor? Yup! (Keep in mind that we are YEARS past the age at which this is developmentally appropriate.) Swinging from the railings? Yup! Playing a game in which every chair is an island and you can't touch the floor? Yup! (Keep in mind that this was a relatively busy night at a relatively busy restaurant.) Folding your bread into a paper airplane and zooming it around in the air? Yup! Stuffing an entire bag of chips into your mouth at once and then talking while it takes you almost 10 minutes to chew it up? Yup!

And that's just one example from each kid! Multiply what I just described by approximately 10, and maybe, just maybe, you'll have an inkling of what we put those poor Subway patrons through that night. This is what our kids did when we weren't nagging, reminding, and lecturing constantly about how they should behave. It was pretty clear to us that they had internalized pretty much nothing we have said over the last 7-12 years about table manners and restaurant behavior.

By the end of day six, we were DONE, and really, so were the kids. So why would we want to repeat it? Well, here's what we wrote down at the end of that first week about what we learned...

About ourselves -
We care what other people think about our kids and about us as parents.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
We do a ton of nagging and managing.
We do way too much work and baby them way too much.
Unknowingly, we created some of their problematic behaviors.
We don't enjoy being around our kids when they behave badly.

About our kids -
They are capable of more than they do.
It seems like they don't care if the house is a wreck.
They behave very badly in public when we're not actively directing them.
Their manners and cleaning up after themselves are the two biggest issues.
Some of the fighting the kids do is for our benefit.
Dante is developing a habit of being disrespectful.
They think they are good.
Trin (age 7) gets mileage out of being "the good one."
Most of their negative attention-seeking behavior (fighting, pouting) goes away when we ignore it.
They have no self-regulation when it comes to screen time -- they will choose screen time over just about anything else.

As difficult as DNSN week was, it was totally worth it to me in terms of the insights we gained into our family and our kids and ourselves. So even though I'm dreading this going in the second time, I'm excited to see what we will learn this time around.