Marty, who stomps through the world with a punk-like fierceness, nearly always challenges our daily routines around brushing teeth and giving it a go on the potty. Like a lot of kids, she saves her gold-star performance for her pre-K teacher, while pushing every imaginable boundary at home. So I was sure that without the structure of school, my days would be pure mayhem.
But I was wrong. In the first few weeks of remote learning, when the novelty of schooling me on how to school her was still fresh, she took charge like a CEO, instructing me on how to organize the day. She completed assignments with almost uninterrupted discipline, traced letters and numbers with surprising gusto, created fun games around her learning and even heeded my calls for bathroom breaks. Who was this person?
I’d never met this version of her before, because my interactions with her had largely been a series of fits and starts; I’d rarely gotten long stretches of time with her to see how she manages her moment-by-moment existence. Looking at her behavior over a larger expanse of time, I now realize she’s not as temperamental and contrary as I’d thought. But it took some adjustments on my part to help bring out her best self and mine. Here’s how we’re making it work together.
Parent the child you have
I once read a quote from the CEO of Sleep Number, Shelly Ibach, about how effective leaders adapt their management style to the individuals on their teams, and it stayed with me. Rather than minding my pre-established beliefs about how children should behave and how to make them conform to this idea of good behavior, I realized that I needed to start tailoring my parenting style to the child I have, who does not respond well to rigid rules or full-throated commands. Instead of firmly declaring my dictates (my usual, old-school modus operandi), I started to express my wishes via a furry, green puppet monster we named Scraggy.
If Marty resists a trip to the bathroom, I’ll tell her that Scraggy is not potty trained and needs to learn from a big girl like her. If she isn’t eating her food, I say that for every bite she takes, she’s feeding Scraggy’s starving belly. It works much more effectively than what I’d really like to say, which is, “Dammit, sit down and eat your broccoli!”