A recent Friday afternoon conversation with my daughter went a little like this:
Me: "It's chore time! You need to clean your room, empty all the trash cans, and then set the table for dinner."
Her: "But I want to finish (reading, playing, coloring, dancing, staring out the window, anything but what you want me to do at this moment in time) first!"
Me: "And I want a million dollars, the return of my pre-baby abs AND boobs, and Matthew McConaughey for dinner, but that's not going to happen." (OK, OK, what I really said was more like, "Chores first, then playtime!" or something more along those lines.)
Her: "OK, Mom." (There may have been a sigh involved, but I was too busy heading to the other one's room to give her a chore list, too. My ears have become rather sigh-proofed, what with both of my daughters inheriting this lovely habit from their father.)
And then? And then she DID HER CHORES. No, I didn't have to tell her again. No, I didn't offer her a bribe. No, I didn't pay her for cleaning up her own toys and books and then setting the table so that our family could eat a meal that I had shopped for, lugged home, and prepared. I did thank her for being cooperative and helping our family; I did tell her that I appreciated how quickly she got her chores done without my having to remind her. But the bottom line is, she knows what she needs to do, she knows what will happen if she doesn't do it, and she knows that it's in her best interest to get it done quickly. Because I'm the mom, and I said so.
As one of many tools in my parenting arsenal, I'm definitely in favor of using incentives to induce desired outcomes. If I want the children to do something, I'm OK with offering something in exchange. For example, if they clean up their rooms, I will continue to let them sleep there. If they put away their toys, I won't donate them to charity. My kids have found notes on their beds that say, "Thanks for making your bed without being told!" or "All your laundry is put away! You must feel proud of yourself!" I may even take it a bit farther and say, "If you behave properly while I get my hair cut, I'll thank you by taking you out for ice cream afterwards" or even "If everyone manages to get a flu shot without Mommy losing either an eye or her sanity, or having to place anyone in a full prone containment restraint, we can stop at the book store on the way home." (And before anyone gets bent out of shape, I DO compliment them and I DO reward them. Just yesterday, these kids sat for nearly two hours while we had some car repairs handled, without complaining or bickering - so we drove directly to the craft store and picked out some new paints.)
At times, I'll offer the children an explanation for certain rules and requirements. For example, we hold hands in the parking lot so that no one gets run over; we get flu shots because we all have asthma, and the flu could be very dangerous for us. Or, you must do your homework to reinforce the skills you're working on in class, and homework happens before playtime so that we can fully relax and not have anything hanging over our heads. Or even, no, you cannot watch "Twilight" even if all your friends HAVE seen it, because if you do, you'll be totally freaked out and no one will sleep for approximately the next 125 days.
But I'm not above the use of those four little words used by our parents and grandparents and their grandparents before them. Yes, that's right. I'm talking about the infamous, often under-used, and all-encompassing "Because I Said So."
So many parents these days seem to think it's necessary to negotiate with their kids or give their kids input into every single decision that must be made. They ASK their kids to do chores. They ASK them what they want for dinner. They even ASK them if they feel like coming inside and taking a bath. Not this mom. I can tell you right now how my kids would answer those questions: "No, thanks, Mom, I'd rather NOT do chores today - or ever again. Dinner? Ice cream sundae, extra whipped cream. And I think I'll have it outside while I continue to play in the sandbox. I'm skipping the bath tonight."
So many kids have a terminal case of the "whys". Why do I have to come inside now? Why do I have to clean up my room? Why can't I have candy for breakfast? And too many parents try to answer those questions, thinking they are educating their kids, patiently explaining that breakfast should contain protein and fiber for optimal learning at school, or that toys should be put away so that no one trips over them in the night and we can find them again the next day. Seriously? Do any of us really think that kids above the age of 4 need the explanation AGAIN? Do we really not know that "why" is actually about stalling for time, trying to wear us down until we give in out of sheer exhaustion, that it's about trying to see exactly how far they can push us?
Nah, I TELL my kids to do their chores; I don't bark orders at them, but I don't ask them. And I don't always say please. (No, it's not rude. It's called parenting. I am not making a request, so I won't ask, "Can you make your bed now?" unless I'm prepared to hear, "Um, no. Maybe later.") In this house, we say, "It's time to make your bed now" or "Have you made your bed yet?" And then I MAKE SURE they do their chores, even if I have to stand over them, check back in a few minutes, take away privileges - in other words, even if it's inconvenient for me.
As for meals, this isn't a diner and I'm not a short-order cook. I cheerfully put a healthy dinner on the table every night, and there will be at least one food that each of them likes. They can eat it or not but I'm not begging, negotiating, or bribing. And I certainly do not ask IF they want a shower. I just tell them "It's shower time. Yes, now. You're going first tonight. And don't forget to wash your hair." What's the incentive? Do it and you won't get in trouble. Do it and Mommy might thank you for cooperating. Do it - wait for it - BECAUSE I SAID SO. I'm the mom; you're the kid. It's not rocket science. And it's definitely not a democracy, more like a benevolent dictatorship, one where I rule with absolute authority - because I love my subjects and will always want what is right for them.
So why do our kids think they are entitled to an explanation every single time we tell them to do anything at all? I'll tell you why: because we give them one. We over-explain things. Constantly. And why do we do it? Because we hated it when our parents said, "Because I said so!" to us. So we vowed NOT to say it to our kids. But here's the kicker: our parents said it because it works, because it's the truth.
I've discovered something in my years of being a mom: "because I said so" isn't about being bossy or demanding or failing to explain the rules to my kids. It actually means "because I am the mom, and I know best. I will keep you safe and healthy, and you can trust that the decisions I make for you are necessary and right. I will ALWAYS have your best interests at heart, and I will ALWAYS make decisions out of love, wisdom, and concern for your well-being. I am trying my best to teach you what you'll need to know to grow into a healthy, happy, productive member of society, and this thing that I'm asking of you right now, whether you know it or not, is part of that process." As my sister tells her daughter, "My job is to raise you right."
Slacker Mom Says... let's bring back "because I said so!" Not all the time; not for every single demand. Sometimes, kids need to hear the "why" behind our rules. Sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, it's just about respecting a parent's authority. Sometimes, it IS simply because I am the mom, and you are the child, and I TOLD YOU TO DO IT! Our job as parents is to make sure our kids go out into the world with all the skills they will need to be successful adults who contribute positively to their communities. When they have kids, they'll understand the why. Until then, it might just have to be "because I said so."