Rosalind Wiseman understands kids. She is a parenting educator and best-selling author of books including “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” a look at high school social cliques that became the basis for the Tina Fey-written movie “Mean Girls.”
She has written a number of other books, including “Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads,” and a novel for young adults titled “Boys, Girls & Other Hazardous Materials.” She created the Owning Up Curriculum, a program that teaches kids and adults to take responsibility for unethical behavior whether they are bystanders, perpetrators or victims, and runs an organization she founded called Cultures of Dignity, which works with communities to direct conversations about the physical and emotional well-being of young people.
Wiseman sent this post after being struck by something an eighth-grade boy sent to her expressing his exhaustion from the pressure he said he feels from his parents to succeed. While this scenario obviously doesn’t apply to all kids, it does to plenty of them, and Wiseman wants parents who see themselves in this to take note. (The boy mentions the SSAT, which is the Secondary School Admissions Test, used by private schools for admissions.)
By Rosalind Wiseman
Adults often believe that kids have it relatively easy. No bills to pay. No job to go to. No horrible boss or complicated relationships to tolerate. All a child has to do is do well in school and not get into trouble. But things aren’t that simple. They never have been and never will be.
A few days ago an eighth-grade boy wrote me the following:
I had my SSAT coming up, actually today, on the 14th, and [my parents] are constantly telling me what to do but they have no idea of what I’m actually doing. When you want to just relax for an hour after seven straight hours of strenuous cognitive exercises, and your parent tells you to get off your ass and start doing something productive, you want to throw something at them, to yell at them to simply leave you alone for one straight hour. But you can’t, so you say: “Okay, sorry.” Then walk past them in the most respectful way possible, to your room, and start homework, or studying. Waiting, just hoping to whoever can help and will listen that you will be able to leave this place as soon as possible. Finally, though, you finish. So you start to go and do whatever you want to do at the time.
When you walk past your parent, they say: “Where do you think you’re going? You still have chores.” Then they will hold up a long, long list of things that you have to do. You move toward cover, so your parents won’t be able to see your hands curl into fists. But nothing is shown on your face, simply a benevolent smile that you hope seems genuine. After an hour, you finish everything, and again you walk past your parents. They greet you, and say: “You know what would be awesome? If you could do this, or that.” You die. Point blank, your excitement to relax just withers, and gasps its final breath. Because at this point by the time you finish this, dinner will arrive, then bed, and you have now spent an entire day wound up like a taut string. The only thing to make you snap is a breath of air. You haven’t even made it to dinner. Quietly, you think that all you have to do is get done with the next hour, and you are finished with this day. Dinner comes and goes, and the next morning the light greets you, telling you that you have to repeat the process five times a week. You then collapse onto your bed with happiness that manifests in a pitiful groan, served extra loud on Mondays. This is typically me at home.
Of course our kids need to do their chores and homework. But is it any wonder, when most of our interactions with our children are transactions, that some of our children don’t feel comfortable telling us what they really feel? Or, that they sometimes explode about something seemingly small, and we dismiss their behavior as hormones, moodiness, and immaturity?
I’m just asking that we take a step back and ask ourselves:
Do I ever take the time to just look at my child?
When I begin conversations with my child are they usually about something they haven’t done?
Do I know what makes my child want to get up in the morning and start the day?
Is there anything that I say that kills his/her spirit?
What do I do to make my child feel seen and heard?
So take a pause. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Take 10 minutes to answer the questions above. And then the next time you see your child, especially at the end of the day, don’t greet them with a thousand even well-intentioned questions. Just say you love them, and you’re grateful they’re in your life.
The list of chores and things they haven’t done can wait. Creating space for peace and warmth in our most important relationships can’t.