My girls never really went through the Terrible Twos. They were adorable, agreeable little kids. (No. Really!) It seems instead they saved it all up for the Non-cooperative Nines and the Temperamental Twelves. The result: I feel disrespected, unappreciated and, at times, entirely unwanted. Apparently, I'm not alone.
The internet (and even old-school print publications) are full of advice for parents of spoiled children, disrespectful children, demanding children. And from what I've read, unless there's a psychological disorder, chances are really good we, as parents, not our children are to blame. Anthropological studies of families from a variety of cultures show American children as a whole are the least respectful, most demanding, least helpful children on the planet. Sure, there are exceptions, but few, if any, compare with children from tribal nations where even the youngest members of the community are given responsibility for meaningful tasks early in life. This sense of importance carries on through childhood and into adulthood. The best article I've found on the topic is Elizabeth Kolbert's "Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?" printed here in The New Yorker.
As I look at what I'm doing for my children, I see that it's true that they are spoiled. As am I. This past winter, we moved to a spacious home in the country - a fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me. (I also thought it was my children's dream, but have learned a few things since the move.) My husband works diligently, day in and day out to help make this dream come true. I'm working more to help pay for the added expenses of living on property formerly left largely unmaintained, and for the extras like ballet for one daughter, a climbing gym membership for the other, and in no small part the fuel to get in and out of town for these activities.
And what do our children do to earn these honors? They wake in the morning. They breathe. They ask and, when we can, we provide. Their chores are limited to personal hygiene. In return, I expect (but don't receive) unconditional cooperation when I ask for help around the house. And while I've tried to instill a regular chore schedule with them, I've failed to be consistent with it because, I suppose, I'm just worn down. These sulky looks, these angry eyes, these long exasperating sighs and grunts - I let them all get to me at some point. And I'm the only "bad guy" in our house. I'm here all the time, so I'm the law. Doing projects with the law is no fun.
What would make this easier? Having only one child, for sure. It's difficult to ground one or punish one while also honoring the obligations of the other. Tomorrow, one girl is grounded but the other has a performance. I'm the only taxi driver. If one child is misbehaving and the other is golden, do we cancel our beach plans and punish the good child as well (and the beleaguered mother)? Again, the internet steps in to assure me I'm not alone here.
So what am I going to do about it? I'm going to return to our earlier days of shared responsibility in the kitchen and throughout the house. After the performance wraps up this weekend, no child will be signing up for extracurricular activities until we get priorities here at home straightened out. And I'm going to try to remember to keep my cool as they grunt and whine and carry on. It's for the good of us all.