I have a genetic predisposition to nag. This, coupled with control freak tendencies, is a recipe for catastrophe.
My resolve in resisting this impulse was successful until our family moved, and remodeled our new home while we inhabited the construction zone. Over a period of months, this living arrangement resulted in the disintegration of order and responsibility.
When we said, “good-bye,” to the contractors, I undertook the daunting task of returning our family to the normal function it enjoyed before the move. Though my kids are remarkable in many ways, they also possess a lazy gene. Stern guidance was imperative to pull them from the couch, but I was exhausted holding our kids accountable at a level that would produce order in our house.
My epiphany came one morning, while I stood in slippers and 4 inches of snow, yelling across the yard to my seven-year-old son. I reminded him, for the fifth time that morning, to find the only mismatched gloves remaining from the three pairs he had in November. He ignored me, also for the fifth time, so I turned to my snow-shoveling husband and asked wrinkle-browed, “Why isn’t he looking?”
He paused, then as gingerly as he could muster, replied, “You tell him to do things all the time. I don’t think he hears you anymore.”
This stung. Translation: “You are Mommy, Queen of Nags.”
The calendar indicated it was February 1, and I decided this would be a month of positive change for our family.
I licked my wounds and told my kids we needed to make some changes. “Because I give so many reminders, you don’t seem to listen to any of them,” I explained. “I know you can be responsible, so from now on I will let you meet expectations on your own.” Excited cheers met my assertion that both Deena and Curtis would receive an allowance of two dollars per week for following certain guidelines.
Here’s the kicker.
“I will no longer remind you.”
Vacant stares answered this declaration.
“And if you don’t take care of your responsibilities, I will do them myself and garnish your allowance at the rate of 10 cents per item.”
They pondered this, but jumped aboard. Money talks.
The kids named our month-long project “February RULES!” (i.e., February Rocks, is Awesome, the Coolest, etc.) I listed four basic principles Nanny 911-style on neon-yellow tag board.
Without being reminded, I will do my best at:
- Putting my stuff where it goes
- Cleaning my room
Then I asked them to brainstorm clarifiers and list them under each expectation — do homework, put homework in backpack, don’t yell, don’t lie, put toys away, put dirty plate in sink, make bed, pick up stuff on floor, put dirty clothes in laundry basket.
“Great! We will start tomorrow,” I said.
After dinner I called downstairs on our intercom, “This is your last freebie reminder. Your dirty plates are still on the table.”
I nearly severed my tongue within the first hour of our experiment, but was successful in skipping reminders. An important question still hung – how long should I wait before I complete the chore myself and garnish the allowance? I tested a half-day grace period.
Next morning, Deena (age 9) bounded up the steps and raced to the counter, relieved that I had not discovered her abandoned Polly Pockets. Patience is a virtue.
Later, while Curt devoured his after school snack, I walked past with his dinner plate from the night before, scraped it, and placed it in the sink. Then I silently grabbed a pen and wrote the garnishment on his chart. His audible groan screamed, “message sent” without my speaking a word.
The rules worked.
On February 1, I delivered at least ten ignored reminders by 4:00 PM. On February 2 — none.
We christened Friday as “payday” and celebrated it with a family meeting at the dinner table. Deena scrutinized Mom’s allowance deductions and Curt counted his change, while we discussed the results of the past week’s experiment.
“How come you and Dad don’t have rules?” Curtis asked.
“We follow the same ones you do,” I defended.
“But what if you DON’T?” he pressed.
Hmmmm. We were not getting an allowance, so a “wet-willy” was about the only consequence that came to mind.
“How about you have to add a quarter to the trip jar?” Deena suggested.
“Okay, that sounds fair,” I agreed.
“And I think we should add ‘no bad words’ to the February RULES list,” she snickered.
We still modify the RULES periodically, and our family dynamics benefit each time. Habitual demonstration of responsibility could result in additional duties, and a raise — something they desperately crave. In the future, I may even trust the process enough to relinquish my sacred nags — safety, health and timelines — giving bonuses for consistent reliability without reminders. We are all transforming.
Our February RULES experiment was a success. Although our home still peaks out at organized pandemonium, my children are stakeholders. Shifts occur because our kids offer solutions — it’s their dime. They check the “Mom did your job” chart and when they notice additions, they ask for clarification. I am happy to explain, because in this system, they hear me.
I earn enough change for a latté now and then, and during busy weeks, I pitch in to help without charge. After all, they offer to assist me sometimes as well. That’s what families do.
Nagging erupts in various ways — a mutiny of reminders, advice gone AWOL or fear that others will judge you based on your child’s behavior, the mother of them all. My affliction was a bit of each, but February RULES threw us a buoy that rescued personal control. I tossed my haphazard and emotionally charged enforcement so my children could experience logical, predetermined consequences. The kingdom self-governs.
Queen Mommy went freelance.