Saturday, October 20, 2007

Real moms don't say okay...okay?

I was discussing parenting with a friend of ours the other day.

He related a story about getting some coaching – that’s a nice way to put it – from his wife back when their kids were younger about his communication style.

He learned from this bit of coaching that he tended to add “okay?” or “alright?” after instructions and that this subtly transformed what should be a directive into a negotiation. For example:

“I need to you put your shoes on, okay?”

“It’s not okay to hit your sister, alright?”

At the time, I remember thinking, “I guess I do that too.” But in the days that followed I realized, as I was listening to myself, that I do this all the time.

At first I told myself that I’m really doing it to ensure that he’s understood my instructions. Makes sense, right? I have a kid with receptive and expressive language delay and I’m checking for understanding.

Oh, how I wish that were true.

I catch myself saying “okay?” to Ben constantly. So much that now I feel like it’s an involuntary tic. I am driving myself crazy.

“It’s time for dinner. Get to the table and sit in your chair, okay?”

“Ten minutes until bath time, alright?”

Thankfully, I've noticed that I don't do it when there's safety issue at stake or in a serious discipline moment. But I attach "okay" or "alright" to the end of way too many of the dozens of banal and necessary prompts I give my son throughout the day.

Maybe it’s a Midwestern-Nice gene. Maybe it’s too many waitressing jobs such that even 20 years later I perpetually sound like I’m on a round of coffee refills.

But ultimately, I sound like I’m asking my 3 year old for permission, and that is the kind of parenting behavior that will get you a stern talking to on national TV from Dr. Phil or that British nanny: “You’re the Mom. You’re in charge. Act like it.”

So, propelled by overblown neurosis, I’m monitoring myself and trying to remember to sound more authoritative. A gentler spin is the Buddhist one: I’m engaged in the spiritual practice of paying attention.

Ben does not seem to be impressed by my spiritual practice or even notice one way or the other. But I’m driving myself a little less crazy.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Something I read in the Chronicle, I think: substitute "Got it?" for "Okay?"

"It's time to put your shirt on, got it?"

Then it's not a negotiation-- it's checking for comprehension-- which is what you want to do.