The other day I was at a child's birthday party. Halfway through the party, when the kids were in the thick of playing, one of the mothers turned to her 3 year old and said, "Aubrey, we are going to leave in a minute so you can go to dance, ok?" The child's face reddened and her eyes welled with tears. "You want to go to dance, don't you? It's your last class!"
Kids raced around the girl. "I don't know," she said. She looked around the room, looked at her mom, threw her little hands into the air, "I DON'T KNOW!" and stormed away.
Over the next 20 minutes, I watched them have this same conversation 3 more times (they didn't leave early).
Not long ago I read an article in a parenting magazine about parents' tendency to tack "ok?" at the end of statements. We do it to include the kids, or, most often, because we feel indecisive ourselves (when it is clearly time to go, we don't usually ask our children how they feel about it). But the "ok?" turns a our assertions into choices, which, though they may sound nicer, throws everyone into a noncommittal state -- the parent isn't firmly the parent, the child isn't simply the child, the plans are loose -- there are no rocks.
This all seemed pretty as I watched that woman at the party (easy to see things in other people, isn't it?) waffle between wanting to stay herself and feeling they should leave... So instead, no one decided, they stayed, and no one had fun.
Much of the day consists of decisions: Do I let Eden chew on those beads that were probably made in China? Do I let Silas have the cookie he's begging for? Do we walk to the park or drive to the library? Do I let Eden scream in her bed for 20 more minutes because she needs a nap or do I get her up because she's miserable? Do I sit Silas on the steps because he's knocked Eden on her face (once again) or come up with some other punishment? Do I take Silas to the museum with his friends and skip Eden's morning nap or stay home because she needs it? Do I pay for a babysitter and have a few hours to myself or have special time with Silas while Eden sleeps? Etc. And much of the time I don't know which choice is best (but definitely will later), or I know what is best but feel torn, myself, or bound by what I think I "should" do.
Whatever the reason, it's easy to pass the buck to the kid, even when (and especially when?) we have the best intentions.
So today I'm going to try to listen to myself, listen for that little friendly-sounding "ok?" and for snags of my own indecision that I need to square away first.
Now I'm off to make popcorn and go to the park with some kids from Silas's class. He's still lying in bed feeling grumpy and sleepy after waking up from his nap. I won't ask him if he wants to go...