The First Hard Day

I wrote before that I recently became a stay-at-home dad for the second time, and I am totally loving it. Well, the honeymoon phase has worn off I think, because things are starting to get hard. The kids seemed very happy to have me home for the first couple of weeks, and were pretty much obedient. Over the last few days though, I have noticed a little more obstinance showing up. I was bracing myself for the explosion, and today it came.

My daughter hates cleaning up. It's a real point of contention for us, because it drives me crazy when kids don't want to clean up after themselves. I'm big on social responsibility, and realized that children don't often share my sentiment when my wife and I used to teach Sunday school for our old church. Getting fourth graders to clean up their crayons seems just about as hard as training a dog to make me a sandwich. So when my own daughter, a three year-old, shows signs of this same blatant disregard for responsibility, mixed with a healthy dose of laziness, I can't stand it. We are trying different techniques -- taking away toys and making her earn them back with chores mostly -- but nothing seems to be working fully.

Today was an all-time low. With several bins of toys already on the prison shelf, I gave her ample time to clean up before we did a craft. She piddled about and played her usual routine. I even offered to help a little and did help. No dice. When the timer was done, she lost about half her toys in a matter of minutes. Tears ensued. Meanwhile, the oblivious one year-old was prancing around needing her own level of attention, but I just didn't have it.

Fast forward to the park, where something was still just off. The girls were being a bit asocial and just wanted to swing. Eventually a ball made it into the picture along with a boy who wanted to play chase. Ellie wasn't having it. Waverly wanted to swing and, being the younger, needed a little extra help, but the older one was just feeling incredibly needy. Not able to split myself in two, I had to choose. It was pretty much lose lose, but I tried hard to balance the time.

And then there was lunch. The gate to the kitchen that usually allows me a peaceful preparation broke today somehow, so now they are able to take things out of the trash can, while also arguing because Ellie didn't want to share the two walkabout toys they have. That's another point of contention -- Ellie feels she doesn't need to share, but rightly deserves every toy in the house, whenever she wants it. "We share everything," I say over and over. Eventually the conflict leads to tears and a tantrum on the floor.

I'm sure this is just a normal day for most of you, or was when your kids were this age, or maybe will be when you have kids, but it was just difficult. Like I said, something has been off all day. I was even casting out evil spirits in Jesus' name during lunch, just trying to get this negativity out of here! It's only mid-day right now as I'm writing this, so I'm hoping things get better. Anyway, I wanted to write about it to kind of process, but also encourage you (and me) with some more positive thoughts...

First, even though this is a hard day, this is still the best job I have ever had. I'm sure of it. And I'm sure it's what I'm supposed to be doing right now. It reminds me of my years in searching for a perfect job that I would love every day of. "Find something you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life," as the saying goes. But reality taught me that even the "perfect" job will not always feel perfect. There will be tough days and tedious tasks. It doesn't make the job any less perfect, it just makes it a job.

Second, don't let the arguments turn personal. They are just kids testing you. Stand your ground and keep going, as calmly as possible. I learned that from my teacher wife, who really did a good job being the stay-at-home mom the past year-and-a-half. The tantrum now will turn into an "I love you Daddy" later. It's also important to remember that, even though my kid appears lazy or socially irresponsible now, she is only three and we are not done yet! Maturity is a process. Sometimes I fear the worst for my kids, but that shows little faith and will not lead to good places.

Another aside along the same lines is to not speak negativity into your kids life. I often hear parent say things like, "You're being such a brat" and "Why are you so lazy?" We are speaking titles and labels into our children's lives that they will learn to adopt as the years go on. Sure, the action is lazy and bratty, but their identity is not those things. Even if it feels that way, speaking it will only solidify it, which is the opposite of what we want.

Okay, TV time is almost done and we will see if the oldest wants to nap. Here we go...