It’s all about finding a balance, isn’t it? It’s awfully easy to provide the kindness…wouldn’t everyday be bliss if all we had to do was love and cuddle and play and joke and laugh? And we give directions to our kids and they say, “OK mom. Of course I’ll do that.”? And they jump right up to get it done? And we could exhibit nothing but kindness with our young children all the time?
Kindness is the easy part. It’s the manifestation of the closeness and connection that is the foundation of our relationship.
Firmness comes with some challenges. It becomes a challenge to parent with firmness while still maintaining the positive, loving, connected, kind interactions. But firmness is necessary for the balance in a thriving parent-child relationship.
Without firmness, there is no element of authority to balance the one of connection.
Yesterday, a cleaning-up incident called some firmness into play for us. I’ll transcribe how it went; I always appreciate examples of dialogue so I can decide if it might work for me. Or not.
Me: It’s time to pick up the living room, let’s all work together to get it done.
JJ: I don’t want to.
Me: It needs to get cleaned. We all have some stuff down here, and everyone is responsible for putting their own things away. I’ll do all the blankets, all the books, and all of my stuff. Then I’ll move to the kitchen.
[I start working.]
Me: When I find stuff that’s yours, I’m putting Elia’s in this chair, and JJ’s in this chair. Now it’s super easy to gather your toys and take them upstairs. When everyone’s stuff is put away, we’ll move on to doing something fun.
[Elia carries her things upstairs]
[I'm done in the living room, and I start cleaning the kitchen]
Elia: Mom will you play a game with me?
Me: I need to finish the kitchen. You get the game out and I’ll meet you in 5 minutes when I’m done.
JJ: I want to play!
Me: When your stuff is put away, feel free to join us.
JJ: NOOOO! I want to play! I think Elia should put my stuff away! Somebody should help me!
Me: You know where everything goes and nothing’s too heavy. You’re very capable of getting it done. I appreciate your help in keeping our house clean.
[JJ cries on the floor in front of his pile of toys.]
Me: Dinner will be ready in 8 minutes. Please come eat when your toys are put away.
JJ: I don’t like doing work!
Me: I know you don’t. It takes time away from the fun stuff . I wish I could have someone else do my work for me, too.
[We eat dinner; JJ sits on the couch.]
Me: I will wrap up your dinner and put it in the oven so it stays warm for you when you’re ready for it.
[JJ gets off the couch, bundles up his toys in a blanket and carries them upstairs.]
JJ: I’m hungry.
Me: I bet you are. Dad’s in the kitchen; he can get your plate out of the oven for you. Would you like milk or water to drink?
So about an hour-and-a-half after clean-up time, JJ puts his stuff away and has a still-hot dinner. After he finished, he cleared his plate, grabbed a book from the shelf and crawled up next to me to read.
And that was it. Too firm? I think a lot depends on context. On a daily basis, we work on helpful contributions and appropriate expectations. I know that my 5 1/2 year old is capable of carrying an armful of toys up to his room.
In our situation last night, the expectations were reasonable and set with kindness and firmness. JJ had his feelings about it and I accepted them with understanding. There was no yelling, no shaming, no threatening, no ultimatums. It took a while, but he got his contribution done. His dinner was there for him for when he was ready for it. We communicated our gratitude for JJ’s help with the family work.
Finding a comfort level of firmness and kindness is a challenge. It’s definitely a balance that is as unique as the family is.