Week 2, Day 1

pancakes

Fenner gets a quick pancake lesson

Easter Sunday — what a great day to celebrate our accomplishments from week 1! Easter baskets, and waffles and pancakes a-la-dad for everyone! Not only that, but I heard Fenner offer to help Charlotte try on her new shirt she got, and Ellen didn’t complain one  bit when Charlotte took her favorite seat at the table! (A source of much past contention.) “Girls, job well done this week,” I said. “Daddy and I learned a lot about what you’re capable of and where we need to back off. Fenner and Ellen, you got yourselves to school four times with zero help–zero!” And Charlotte, on Thursday you got yourself to school right on time even without an alarm clock, and you made your own lunch three times! Now this morning we’re going to enjoy Easter and go to Nana and Papa’s for lunch, and then after that, we’ll talk about what’s next.”

There was only one bit of trouble at Nana and Papa’s (my parents’). In the background through all of this is a basic shift in our strategy with Charlotte (really with all three girls, but the biggest change is in our response to Charlotte). We have committed to behaving as though we do not notice any of her negative behavior. While she’s doing it–clinging, whining, pestering, interrupting–we give no verbal engagement, no eye contact, and whenever necessary, we calmly and quietly separate ourselves from her physically until the behavior stops.

Well, Vicki warned us that it would get worse before it gets better. And with Charlotte not getting the usual response from us, she has kicked things up a notch. She sat across from me at Easter lunch and I could feel it–that feeling I get that as soon as I open my mouth to join in the adult conversation, Charlotte will do something to vie for my attention. I find myself eating quietly and barely listening to the conversation because it’s easier than dealing with Charlotte’s demands. Even so, after a little while, I try talking. “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy! I have to tell you something! Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me!” I could feel my whole body tense up and without thinking about it, I looked at her. She stared at me and then spoke. “When is dessert?” I looked down at my plate, and said softly, “I don’t know.” Instantly, I felt drained and deflated. Then someone asked me a question, and I tried to answer. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Each time the volume increased a bit more. I stopped talking but forced myself not to look at her. And then I noticed that I felt on the verge of tears. My six-year-old had my number big time. And her modus operandi was not going to go down without a fight.

Back at home, Jerry and I talked privately about next steps. Together we realized that for all these years, we had been neglecting some basic life skills training. “Honey, these are basic habits that they haven’t formed. We’re not even talking about household chores to help the family. This is just self-care stuff!” He and I talked through what approaches we thought would work for our girls. We knew that in order to prepare for the time when we introduce more family chores, we needed to start right away with some basics, and we wrote it all down:

responsibilities1

Then it was time to talk with the girls. We invited them to come sit at the table while I showed them what we wrote and talked about it. It took a little time for them to settle, and I said, “When you’re sitting and quiet, I’ll start.” And I looked at the floor. Eventually  they got quiet, and I began.

“Ok, girls, it’s week 2 of our parenting class and first I’m going to tell you about my and daddy’s homework.” “Finally, you guys have homework, instead of us!” said Fenner. “Yes!” I said. “So, you know at school, sometimes the teachers talk about telling the difference between big problems and small problems and how you should save your big reactions for big problems?” “No,” said Fenner, and then added, “But there’s this boy in my class and he tripped over a chair and said all this stuff and totally overreacted.” “Ok, good example. And Charlotte, doesn’t your teacher talk about some kind of little man that gets into your head and makes you overreact and you have to pull him out of your ear and toss him away?” (I know that sounds weird, but it’s exactly what she told me the other day.) “Yeah! That’s Glass Man!” “Glass Man?” I asked. “Yeah! ‘Cause he breaks easily and then you might step on him and he cuts your foot and then you yell and makes you overreact.” “Uh, ok, so this week, Mommy and Daddy are supposed to notice when we overreact to certain problems and think about why we do that sometimes. And we want you to help. So this week, if you think we’re overreacting to something, say ‘Glass Man!’ That’ll be our code-word and Daddy and I promise to consider that and think about it.” Ok, everyone seemed on board with that, so we moved on to talk about what we had written for the girls.

Then the trouble began. Everytime I started to talk, Charlotte would start making loud noises or pestering Ellen who was sitting in front of her. Each time, I stopped talking and looked at the floor. And each time it got quiet again, I resumed just as I had before — no anger, no acknowledgement of her behavior. However, it got worse and worse until she was interrupting me before I could even get my first word out. Jerry had to leave the room and Fenner was becoming extremely frustrated. “Ok, Fenner, Ellen and Daddy, please come into my office.” We all went in and closed the door and I brought up the documents on my computer instead. We continued, while Charlotte yelled “Da, da, da, da!!!!” at the top of her lungs outside the door, and then moved around to the window in my office that looks into the living room. I had the shade down, and she started banging on the window. “Fenner and Ellen, we’re going to finish here with you and then when Charlotte’s ready, we’ll review with her.”

So we continued and then Charlotte got quiet and came back around to the door and said in a small voice, “Mom? I’m ready to listen.” I opened the door and she joined us, but a few minutes later, she was interrupting again. We all walked out of my office, and continued talking and Charlotte followed and continued interrupting, and so we all walked back in my office again and closed the door …. again.

Fenner and Ellen finished asking all their questions and we opened the door. I stayed at my computer to do a few things. Then I heard, “Hi mom,” behind me. “Hi Charlotte, if you’re ready to listen you can come sit on my lap.” She did, and this time she did listen all the way through, and asked good questions, and we got it done. Phew. At one point she teared up and said, “But I can’t be on time because I always wake up too late and Fenner and Ellen get mad.” “Hey, how about tonight I help you set up that new alarm clock I’ve been saving for you. I’ll show you how it works, and it will help you wake up.” “Ok,” she said.

That evening, Jerry and I sat down for dinner just as the girls came in from the living room (no, we are not good about making family dinners happen–it’s on our list for change). Fenner said, “Oh, I’m too late to ask for a quesadilla.” So Jerry said, “Why don’t you get all the stuff ready for me and then I’ll make it when I’m done eating.” She did and then I noticed she started to actually make it herself. Wow, I thought to myself. This is definitely something new. Jerry glanced over at her and then he started talking: “Whoa, Fenner, Fenner, Fenner the burner’s not on turn it … no all the way until it clicks … ok now turn it back to medium … wait, put a little oil in the pan … or the spray … it’s got the red top … oh, well, it’s a lot easier to put the cheese on in the pan, but if you can manage to move it over without spilling any cheese … ok, now, yup put the top on, and now, Fenner, the thing about cooking is that you have to be patient. It takes time, so just be patient and let it cook and just don’t do anything … yeah because if you try to flip it before the cheese melts onto the top it won’t work … ok, does it look done?  Here, let me show you…” He got up from the table and stood beside her. “No, no, now Fenner, you can’t just know how to flip it like that right away, it took me years to get that right … so, get your plate ready and watch this.” He took the pan from her and attempted to flip it out of the pan to a perfect flat landing on the cutting board.

As I watched all of this I thought–Note to self: remind Jerry not to micromanage when they try new things. I can be guilty of this too. But we need to remind ourselves that our way is not the only way, and that letting them try and fail and try again is not only a great way to learn, but is the surest way for them to build confidence in themselves.

Now it became the witching hour and the energy in the house became chaotic. We moved ourselves into the living room for the 10 minutes there was left until bedtime, but the chaos followed us. Jerry’s level of irritation was rising. “It’s ok, honey, I think our plan is going to work,” I said. Earlier together we had come up with a whole new plan for bedtime. What would it take, we asked ourselves, for them to choose to go to bed on time? What did they care about? Certainly not brushing their teeth and getting enough sleep. What they cared about was time with us. So we explained that we would be available each night for books and bedtime visits between 8:30 and 9pm (actually, first we said 8:45 to 9, but Ellen asked if they got ready earlier, could they have more time — great idea, we said, and expanded the window) So then it works like this: if all three are in their bedrooms at 8:30, then they each get 10 minutes with mom, and 10 with dad. If they get in their rooms after 8:30 we divide whatever time is left before 9 between the three of them. Now it was obvious that if we stayed in the living room, they would just stay with us, because that’s just as much fun for them as a bedtime visit. So Jerry and I adjourned to our bedroom and closed the door. We sat by the door in case anyone tried to open it, and listened to the action just outside: “Hey, where’s my tooth brush … don’t do that! … Move over! … Guys, stop fighting so we’ll get more time … ok, are you almost ready?  … Heeeeey I can’t open …. oh! Thanks! … Here, Charlotte, what else do you need? Come on, I’ll turn on your music on for you…. ok…Mooooom, Daaaaad, we’re all ready!”

We looked at each other in amazement. There was 20 minutes left until 9:00. Jerry went to Charlotte, and I went to Ellen. As I passed by Fenner’s door I said, “One of us will be there in about seven minutes!” “Ok!” she said. “Ok, Ellen, it’s 8:40 so we’ve got about seven minutes together!” She said, “We did it, and I’m proud because now I get more time with you.”

At 9:00 Jerry and I walked downstairs together, and Jerry said, “That was the most pleasant bedtime we’ve ever had.” As Fenner would say, yay us!

Explore posts in the same categories: Week 2: Buttons? What buttons?

9 Comments on “Week 2, Day 1”

  1. Jennifer Seiler Says:

    Catha,
    Kudos to you! I can’t stop reading your blog. It’s like an addictive novel…only better because I know the characters. This is a nice journal for even the girls to look back on. Good luck and thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Cheryl SP Says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading the past few days. We just started Parenting On Track. What a great bedtime idea! I hope you don’t mind if we borrow once we get past week one!

  3. DeBran Says:

    Hi! I have just finished Vicki’s book and am now engrossing myself in all these fabulous real parent blogs and trying to gather my courage and sanity to embark on this journey. My question is though, I am a little confused as to what I should be expecting from my youngest kids. My kids are 6, 5, 3 and 1. Obviously the one year old can’t do much, she’s not even walking. And obviously my 6 and 5 year olds are the ones that are fully capable of going through all this and learning so much. But my 3 year old is the one sending my brain spinning. Do you really do and say nothing for a 3 year old for a week? Or even a day? I guess this sounds so silly to ask, but I just can’t figure out some of these little details. haha….and I would just lump him in with the baby, but he’s my most difficult child right now. Constantly screaming at everyone, knocking everyone’s things over, hitting, just acting like a crazy man all the time. But he obviously can’t pull out the pancake griddle or even reach his clothes in his closet. Just feeling a little torn and confused. What do you think?

    • flockmother Says:

      Ah, those pesky details. They can be paralyzing to say the least. Whenever I start of feel bogged down by the details, I go back to big picture: I want to raise independent, resilient, thinking kids with whom I have a close, connected relationship. I always go back to that, and if I still don’t know what to do, then I just don’t do anything for a while. Let it sit. Percolate. Be thoughtful and intentional about my next move, whatever it may be.

      Now, for the do-nothing-say-nothing week in particular (possibly the most powerful part of this program) the only hard rule is to keep them and others physically safe. Outside of that, it’s up to you to decide the strength of your intention. The less you interfere, the more you’ll learn about your child. It might be, “For the next week, I’m willing to wait a full 30 seconds before I say what I usually say, just to see what happens.” Or, “Even with my 3-yr-old, I’m willing to literally wear duct tape on my mouth and resort to frantic gesturing only when absolutely necessary.” Or, “For one week, I will ignore all tantrums and fights and calmly leave the room whenever things begin to escalate.”

      Only you know your child and your goals and values and where you’re willing to apply this new information. I’ll just leave you with this: Give your 3-year-old some space, and he *will* surprise you. I promise.


  4. Thank you so much for your help. Wish me luck! 😉

  5. thoughtful reader Says:

    I am currently reading Duct Tape Parenting with skepticism. I am glad that Vicki listed your blog so I can see what it’s -really- like. I am also glad that you have somewhat older children. Mine are 14 & 15 and I feel like our family is beyond hope. I also liked your entry on Charlotte because she sounds like my daughter…a challenge. A weakness of the book is that it doesn’t really address how to deal with an oppositional child. I liked how you conducted your family meeting even though one kid was uncooperative. I can totally relate. Thank you for your authenticity and candor!

    • flockmother Says:

      You’re welcome! I’m glad our experience is helpful. Feel free to ask questions anytime. I know that feeling of ‘maybe it’s too late for us,’ but even now your family can still get a big benefit from this program.


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