There is a popular YouTube clip in which a comedian calls out the instructions to her kids for the day in 2 minutes, sounding increasingly exasperated and desperate – all sung at a terrifying pace to the music William Tell Overture – one can picture her doing so from beside the front door! It has an alarming familiarity.
It is so easy to end up standing there shouting instructions at anyone who may happen to pass, or – optimistically – to those who haven’t even got out of bed yet…
By doing so, do we end up micromanaging our children’s lives, getting stressed out keeping all the balls in the air, directing our families like the conductor of a poorly trained orchestra? Sending a constant stream of directions and commands, which then get tuned out by your kids, with no time left for fun and leaving you exhausted?
Your children won’t remember you fondly for your shiny kitchen surfaces or how well ironed their clothes were…
Sometimes we need to decide on priorities & let a few things slip – think “it can wait till later” or you can pass more responsibility to the kids (good for them and for you too!). This will inevitably involve more chaos, tables set with cutlery back to front and Cheerios ground into the floor – whatever! Whose problem is it? Sometimes we need to be able to live with them making a mess, not doing it ‘right’ or exactly as we like it, in order to start to hand over some responsibility. Think of them as ‘in training’ if it helps you feel more tolerant!
Don’t forget, children are hard wired to want to be “helpful”. They love to feel part of the family firm. This may mean a mess when washing up or that on feeding the dog much of it ends on the floor. Start young – give your child small meaningful, useful jobs from an early age, instead of shooing them out from under your feet. That way they have a chance to become competent. The more independent they are, the less you have to stand in the hall like a sergeant major, shouting commands.
By noticing their contribution, they are more likely to keep it up. You don’t even need to appreciate it every time – intermittent encouragement can be even more effective at creating habits!
So try cutting down on the stream of instructions. Ask yourself are they really necessary? Whose problem is it? Your child forgets their games kit or homework, then the teacher might have something to say about it. Children do want to fit in and get things right. Sometimes a nudge is enough. Even better, encourage them to sort things the night before, leaving the games kit by the door.
As a parent and colleague wrote recently,
“Having tried various strategies on the rest of the family, I have had to concede that, sadly, not everyone likes their surroundings as minimalist and tidy as I do. As the children rapidly grow older (my eldest has only 4 years left at home till Uni), I have started to change my perspective. Soon I will have a very tidy house, but an emptier one. So I have decided I would rather have the clutter than a pristine house with no life/children in it; in my own funny sort of way, I am able to kind of ‘enjoy’ the clutter for what it is now.”
In a blog by Paul Nyhan titled, “Work-Family balance is a joke”, he points out that “There is no sweet spot of work and family and soccer and violin and date nights that will leave every member of the family happy and energized at all times. Sometimes the best you can hope for is to embrace the chaos.” Be kind to yourself and live for the moment. It feels overwhelming at times. Cut yourself some slack. They grow up all too quickly – you can have a tidy house in a few years time. Your child probably won’t still be putting his trousers on back to front when he leaves school.
You CAN choose what to focus on and what to ignore – how often do we say, “I can clear it later” and sit down and have fun instead.
Tips to cope with a bit of chaos, sometimes…
- Learn to step over minor irritating things.
- Don’t do everything for them, encourage them to help, even if making their own sandwiches ends up with mayo everywhere (they gain confidence and it might save time in the long-run).
- Cut right down on instructions – they are less likely to tune out.
- Are you over scheduling your child? (or overscheduling yourself?) Children need down time to chill and potter about. Unscheduled time is important for them to be creative and to wind down, with few demands on them.
- Be flexible. When her kids were young, Jools Oliver liked to be very organised during the week, but at the weekend hand the reins over to Jamie – good food & chaos resulted, but she didn’t battle to change the way Jamie did things as he engaged with the kids and they had fun together.
You cannot possibly “win” the balance game. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Perhaps we need to review balance to move expectations more in line with reality?
If you can put kids to bed happy, maintain a kitchen floor clear of major obstacles and more or less muddle along with reasonably good humour, you are ahead of the curve! In any case, changes like these can be small but have a big impact on your relationship with your child. For more expert advice on how to raise your child with love and limits, and how to introduce such small but effective changes to make a better relationship with your child, sign up to our newsletter, or join our parenting community today.