I have a rule in my house that if we are cleaning and a child can’t figure out what to do next they should come ask for the next assignment instead of just sitting around or wondering off. They know they need to stay engaged until the job is done. This particular Saturday morning my kids thought they had a free day so my boys were asking if they could have their screen time. (In our home we allow gaming for 30 minutes each day, but school and chores need to be done before screen time.) I was working on other things for the day and was not prepared to call the family into a time of chores, but my husband knew I had things on my mental to-do list so he told the kids they needed to help me before they could get on screens. This created a little stress in me because I had to shift gears and rearrange my day if we were going to clean first. As I shared the list with the kids, they all ran off to do the things which honestly, didn’t really need 5 kids to do, so they kept coming back to me to ask what was next. My middle child, Simeon, was particularly enthusiastic, almost to the point of hounding me, in asking what was next. Because I felt pestered (and slightly stressed because of a thousand other things going on in my life that day), I snapped at him and yelled something about how much I hate screens and that I just want to get rid of all gaming devices, and that if the screens were that important to him, then he could just go do screens and then they would be done and out of the way for the day. (Real mature I know! “Go, if you want to go, just go.”)
I took his asking what was next as him not valuing what we were doing and just wanting to get it out of the way. I read wrong motivation into his words and assumed that he was helping with a begrudging attitude. All of which was not true, but because I was stressed and I didn’t want to be cleaning, and I was feeling overwhelmed and visionless, I projected some of those things onto him.
And my daughter called me out on it. She said, “Mom, you don’t know that that’s why he keeps coming and asking what’s next, you are assuming things about his motivation, and he never said he wanted to go on the screens, he just asked what to do.” At first I was a little defensive, because I did know that he wanted to be done so that he could have a screen. But my daughter stayed with it and said, but Mom, you are reading something into his motivation that isn’t there. You are accusing him of wanting the screens, but really he just wants to make sure the work is done. Then she reminded me that I am the one who has given the kids the rule, if you don’t know what to do next, don’t just sit there, come and ask me what to do. So then she said, “So what do you want, do you want him to do what you’ve asked him to do by coming and asking what’s next, or do you want him wonder around not helping?” And I was trapped. She was totally right. I did wrongly judge his motivation and his heart. And she was right to call me on it. She was respectful in her confrontation. She very clearly laid out her case, and she was right, and I was wrong. And I got to tell her that she was right and thank her for helping me see my error. And then I had to go make things right with my son, whom I had misjudged and hurt. In all fairness he did want to accomplish his work so that he could have his screen time, but he wasn’t asking because he was begrudging the work, he was asking because he was ready for his next task. I was reading motives into him that weren’t true. He actually has a really good heart that wants to help, and he had actually done many extra chores and cleaning earlier in the week, knowing that we had company coming.
I got to model humility for my children, and for that I’m grateful. I’m also grateful for the maturity and wisdom my daughter has. And I’m thankful that we’ve raised our kids in a way that allows them to feel safe to approach us when we have hurt them or when they notice that we are falling short of who God made us to be. In a way, it’s bittersweet to be corrected by your child. Bitter because I don’t like making mistakes, but sweet because I’m so proud of her wisdom, character, and integrity. It gives me great hope for the mama she’s going to be someday. And, while I screwed up this time, it was also a parenting win because we’ve done something right along the way that she knew my behavior was wrong. LOL.