A thought occurred to me yesterday while I was in the middle of my usual routine with my kids of nagging and goading and reminding. That thought was what would happen if I just, for one day, shut up already? In the middle of all the annoying sound (which was generated mostly by myself and our nanny) I felt like a jack hammer outside the window when you’re trying to sleep. Not loud enough to really wake you up but just really really annoying.
So I walked up to the nanny and said “I want to try something. Tomorrow there are no rules.” She looked at me like I was mad so I elaborated. I said “I don’t mean we tell the kids there are no rules and you’re free to do what ever you want. We just simply don’t give them any instructions.” So she said “We don’t?” I said “Yes. We don’t. We just let them get on with it from when they get home from school till bed time.” Because my kids will stay up till 3 am and never shower again if we leave it up to them so I draw a line at that.
What really pushed me to the decision to conduct this experiment was the fact that dinner because such a stressful time of the day. From the second we sit down its the same things said over and over “Elbows! Napkins! Where’s the protein on your plate? You didn’t eat any greens!! CLOSE YOUR MOUTH!…etc etc”. I actually said to them on Saturday that I hate dinner time (Very Very Mature of me I know). But I told them it was horrible because I hate hearing myself repeat myself as much as they do and I hate not getting anywhere!
So we made a pact to shut up and stop nagging and see what will happen. I wasn’t sure what to expect to tell you the truth. I wasn’t sure if any homework would get done. I wasn’t sure they would sit down to dinner. And if they did sit down I wasn’t sure if they were going to just have macaroni and cheese or if they would also have the chicken and the steamed vegetables? And most importantly (and here is the part I was afraid of) I wasn’t sure if they would do ANYTHING without asking me or the nanny. I was so afraid they would be so used to us telling them what to do and what to eat and when to stop eating that they would sit there waiting for instruction.
Our nanny was so excited about the whole things she kept bursting out laughing every time she thought about it. I was neither here nor there. I just was desperate to stop hearing my damn voice complaining and badgering and nagging them every night! But I still went to sleep thinking maybe tomorrow was not the right day to start this and maybe it’s a stupid idea all together and any excuse not to find out what would happen.
The day started out like normal and the kids went to school. I picked S up for an appointment and we arrived a bit early and the first thing out of my mouth was “Start your homework while we’re waiting”.He was a bit hesitant and I told him to start it now since we’re waiting anyway. Then I remembered and caught myself but too late, I had already got him started. I texted our nanny to admit that I was the first to break my own rules and I don’t think she was at all surprised.
He did some of it then decided to leave the rest for later which I didn’t say anything about. When we got home J wanted a snack and she decided on mango but wanted to prepare it herself which was all totally fine. S surprisingly didn’t ask for anything although he always wants a snack when he gets home. He sat at the table and started working on something. When I looked closer he was sketching characters from a book of his.
About a half hour later he started doing the rest of his homework. He was doing division using “counters” to figure out the answer. His counters were colored pencils which he spread out on the dining room table and got to work. A few minutes later he was sat ON the table, where we eat, with his feet and everything on the table WHERE WE EAT and working on his math. I had to seriously look away because I just wanted to shout at him to get off!!! But I shut up and he finished his math with the only answer I managed to see being the wrong one. During this time J was outside playing with the dog. She said she wanted to give him a bath but thank God got caught up playing something else and didn’t.
S then moved on to his Arabic. He had dictation. The way we usually do this is I read out the paragraph and he writes it down and I check the mistakes. If there are any, which there usually are, I underline them and he gets to figure out what he did wrong. he gave me the book and said “Mama, you know what I know and what I don’t know. I have an idea. You read out only the words you think I don’t know and I’m not going to write them out I will spell them out to you and you tell me if they are wrong”. So that is what we did and it killed me every second as I really think he has to physically write it down to remember it! But that’s not what the experiment is about so I shut up.
The part that truly killed me was when I reminded him of the research paper, which he had a week to do and didn’t start yet and was due on Wednesday, and he said “I’ll do it tomorrow.” I broke my rules a little and tried to convince him to do it today and he decided against it. This is where I felt like maybe I’m now being a bad mother…. but in the end if it takes him a long time tomorrow then he will have to skip his art class to finish the paper he refused to do today. I am secretly hoping this will happen… does that make me even more horrible?
S then ran out and played with J for a while. They fought and we ignored them and then they made up and spent the rest of the day playing relatively nicely. i did intervene when J started making her aggressive sounds and I knew that it will end in a physical fight but even then all I did was stick my head out the door and say “Sit down and hold hands!” and it was over in 5 minutes.
When dinner was ready and being set on the table we discussed whether we should call them to dinner or not. We decided we’d tell them it’s ready and leave it at that. S saw it being set and ran in to wash his hands. J was still outside but just when we were about to call her she was heading back. She ran in and sat at the table and I was about to tell her she has to wash up because this is another thing I draw the line at but she got up on her own and went to wash.
They sat on the chairs on their knees and started grabbing for the food. Then S said “Mama, we’re gonna try and be our best at dinner today” probably as a result of my very mature behavior on Saturday at dinner time. They sat nicely after that with napkins on their laps and each reminded the other of basic table manners. There were elbows on the table and sticky fingers and chewing with mouths open but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it usually is (or as I imagine it is usually).
What really surprised me was what they chose to eat! Dinner was steamed vegetables, macaroni and cheese, grilled chicken with sauce and a salad. J took a big serving of macaroni while S started with the vegetables. We usually make him start with what he likes the least because he’s the picky eater so that’s how he started. He then asked for some macaroni. When they finished that they both had some chicken and salad! The J asked for a third portion of macaroni, which she finished. and then they got up and washed up and that was that.
The most peaceful dinner we have had in as long as I can remember. Throughout the nanny and I kept exchanging looks of surprise and after we had to acknowledge that at least for the last couple of weeks the biggest annoyance at dinner was probably her and I.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we nagged for no reason. I just think we over did the nagging. I think if you’re not careful then you get into a pattern or nagging for the sake of nagging and risk turning into background sound and being totally ineffective. On the contrary, I think this shows that we have done something right and that they have listened. We just need to shut up now!
We will continue this experiment for the next week or so and see if the results are consistent or if they deteriorate. But they never once asked us if they could or if they couldn’t. They made their decisions and knew why they were choosing what they were. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Do you nag too much? Would you do the same experiment with which ever part of the day you find most stressful? Try it with bath time, homework, chores and see what happens and tell me!