In my last post, Picky Eater, I stated that my mother seemed to have become a lot smarter by the time I was sixteen than when I was five. Unfortunately for her children, she was not as easily manipulated as she gained more parenting experience (by the way-neither of my sisters, nor my mother, called me about that post-whew). Obviously, by this, I mean to say that my mother became very consistent in her discipline by not wavering once she doled it out.
By the time I was sixteen, we had ten people living under one roof (I’ll talk about that another time), so being consistent was very important to help make our household run smoothly. We did not receive an allowance for doing what was expected. My parents’ simply explained that it took everyone following the rules to make our home function smoothly. Once in a while, they would take us to Pace’s Dairy Ann for Rainbows (anyone who grew up in Bountiful, Utah, knows this place) as a treat for contributing to the household. Or, when we went on a vacation in the summer, they would tell us how much they appreciated what we did to contribute to the overall harmony in our very full home.
Part of the reality of growing up in our house is that there were very specific rules we were expected to follow. One of the rules in our house was that every bed was made every morning-no exceptions, no excuses. Generally, we understood that not following the rules was not an option. However, every once in a while, one of us would decide that a specific rule didn’t apply to her. When I was sixteen, I decided one day that I was exempt from the rule of making my bed.
A little context: the year I was sixteen, I was the Junior Class secretary and I was busy as one of the main people in charge of Junior Prom. I got up every morning at 5:30 to be at school by 6:00 to dance. After going to school all day, I worked at a daycare center. When I was finished with the daycare, I either went to a guitar class, a dance class, or back to school to work on various junior class projects. Often, I didn’t get home until around nine or ten o’clock at night. That’s when I would start my homework. I often would get to bed around midnight. One night, after keeping this schedule for several weeks, I went to bed-understandably exhausted! The next day, I decided I wasn’t going to make my bed. I mean, really, no one was going to be in my room all day and I was sure my younger sister didn’t care if my bed wasn’t made. After all, I was just going to get back in it that night, so why bother? Does any of this sound familiar?
Obviously, in my state of exhaustion, I apparently forgot just who ran the household (and that it wasn’t me). After doing all of the things I normally did in my jam-packed day, I went to get into bed at about 12:30 AM. My mother met me at my bed with a tall glass of ice cold water from the refrigerator that was filled to about one inch from the top. She held it over my bed and calmly and quietly said, “Jerilyn, there is a rule in our house that every bed is made every day.” On the whole, I was a pretty well-behaved teenager, but that night I went nuts. I yelled at her that I was tired and that it is a stupid rule and that “I’m not making my bed just so I can unmake it to get in it!”
My mother calmly tilted the glass of ice cold water just a little and quietly repeated, “Jerilyn, there is a rule in our house that every bed is made every day.” This time I wasn’t nearly as loud or cocky, but I did continue to argue with her telling her it was “stupid to make my bed just so I can get in it.” My mother again calmly tilted the glass of ice cold water until the water was almost coming out of the glass and quietly repeated, “Jerilyn, there is a rule in our house that every bed is made every day.” Then she added this caveat, “You have to the count of 30 to get your bed made.” And she started to count about as fast as she could count. I suddenly knew three things: 1) she wasn’t messing around 2) I was finished arguing and 3) I had better get my bed made before she hit 30 or that ice cold water would be all over my bed. I knew these things because my brother tried not making his bed once, only he didn’t stop arguing.
When my mother got to the count of 28, my bed was made and I was standing there feeling like I had beaten the clock in a very important race. She calmly lifted the glass upright, kissed me, and said, “Thank you for following the rules of our household. It makes everything easier when everyone does their jobs. I love you. Good Night.” As she walked out of the room, I was very relieved that I had a dry bed to sleep in and that I had done what I was supposed to do and that it had made my mother happy.
What my mother clearly understood by the time I was sixteen (but that she was still learning when I was five) was the difference between what things were reinforcing versus punishing to me were more important than what things were reinforcing and punishing in her mind. She calmly held her ground. She gave me two very clear choices (both of which with she could live). She made them time bound (read more in It’s About Time). She meant what she said and said what she meant. Hmm, maybe she should be called The No Bull Mother.
Summer break is coming, so this gives everyone time to think about how you are doling out reinforcements and punishments in your classroom and in your home. Is there anything can you do to be more effective? I believe we all can improve in this area (me included).
I usually write once in July and once in August while I’m on the summer break; however, I’m getting married on August 8th to my teenage sweetheart of 34 years ago, so I am going to be busy with the finishing of my wedding dress and with all of the final preparations for our BIG day!
I’ll be back the first week of September to write about the importance of establishing a routine.
Be kinder than necessary, be grateful, and create a peace-filled summer,