How do I solve a problem like Meghan. 7 out of 10 mornings I drop my 10 year old daughter off at school either angry, crying or both because we fight in the car on the way to school. We fight about two things–what she is wearing (or not wearing in this case) and what she needs to remember for school. I’m almost always angry with her because she has forgotten or lost something. In the last month she has lost both of her winter jackets by leaving them at school. She insists they are not in the “lost and found”, so that means we have a thief at her school obsessed with jackets or she’s lying. In any case I’ve finally given up and I let her go to school shivering (because they make them wait outside until the bell rings and her hair is usually wet). Now before you accuse me of being a negligent mother realize that it was over 80 degrees yesterday and will be in the 70’s today. If I was still in PA, I couldn’t in good conscience let her go anywhere without a heavy winter coat regardless of what she wanted. In truth, even when she has a jacket, she holds it in her hand and refuses to wear it. So I’m angry that she lost it or won’t wear it.
In addition to forgetting her jackets, she forgets things she needs for school almost every day. This morning she forgot to bring a game to play (it’s a half-day, last day before Winter Break and they will be goofing off). What made me lose my shpadoinkle is that she said it was my fault that I should have remembered it for her. She is 10 1/2 years old. She should be able to remember to bring a stupid game to school.
The reason this drives me crazy is threefold. First, after I turned 7 years old and my oldest sister left home I took care of myself. And I mean my mother was gone to work and I had to get myself up, cook for myself, get myself ready for school, walk to school, etc, etc. There was no one to go over my homework to make sure it was done and done correctly. No one to remind me to put my homework in my backpack. No one to remind me to put on a coat and to bring it home. No one to make sure I was in bed on time, etc, etc. If I could do it at 7, she can do some of those things at 10. Second, I’ve got my own plate full. Working full-time with a 3 year old, a 10 year old, my boyfriend and occasionally his 11 year old son I’m very busy and I have too many things to remember. If it was just me and Meghan, I could remind her to do little things but I just can’t with my current situation. Third, her father’s/grandmother’s parenting style is the exact opposite of mine. I say grandmother here because she parents Meghan as much as her father does. She has become a substitute mother. Perhaps he should have married his own mother, but that’s another post. For the purposes of explaining his/her style, I will simply use “they”.
They look through her backpack every evening as soon as they get home. They see what assignments she has, cleans out any junk, puts stuff back where it should go and sometimes will actually fill out things for her (like her Reading Log). After she’s done her homework they will make sure that she put the right papers in the right folders. Strangely, they don’t help her with her math homework while she is doing it but they will go over her written assignments as if they are a New York Times Editor and frequently forces her to re-write things using their words, not her own. They have the school calendar notated and check the online grading site at least once a day. She takes a lot of medication twice a day. They prepare it, get out the pills, lay it all out on the counter and then stand over her while she takes the medication, and finally they clean up anything she leaves behind. And speaking of cleaning, they clean her room and bathroom spotless–she never has to do that. Up until a couple of years ago, one of them would actually go into the bathroom while she was showering and rinse the conditioner out of her hair because they didn’t feel she did it correctly. If Meghan leaves something at school or needs something retrieved he calls his Mother who will drop everything and run out to do it. If he needs a piece of clothing she doesn’t have, he calls his Mother who has two closets full of clothes from which she can provide a substitute. They even pick out her clothes. And for all of that, they don’t talk to her–they don’t interact with her on a personal level enough. They are always running her from one activity to another without any downtime to just talk or rest or goof off. She doesn’t tell them if she gets bullied. She doesn’t tell them about her crushes.
My style is the total opposite. I used to do the medication thing for her but not anymore. I remind her in a general way to do her homework, to get ready for bed, to clean her room but I don’t tell her how to do it and I don’t do it for her. I stay near her when she does her homework so she can ask questions. For her written assignments I will read drafts over and note problem areas or spelling mistakes but to correct her I use a Socratic method to pull out of her a different phrasing, different reasoning, etc. This frustrates her but it means that the words end up being her own and it means she’s thought about it more deeply than before. If she has anything to do with art she will ask me how to draw something and I draw an example but I do not do it for her. When we get a moment or two we will snuggle on the couch and watch something we mutually love. We will read the same books and talk about the stories. I know who she has a crush on and who she dislikes. I know if someone bullies her. If she forgets something, then she suffers the consequences at school. I don’t and can’t just walk out of work and run around fixing things for her. You are probably starting to get the picture…..
Well, the result is when she is at my house she is constantly forgetting things but she is nurtured emotionally. When she is at his house, her life is run like a clock but she is horribly lonely. Am I being unreasonable? Am I wrong in expecting her to remember basic things like her homework, her jacket? Are all 10 year old’s like this? Do I need to give her more structure and how the hell do I do that with my life the way it is? Should I stop talking to her about it–because no matter what tone I start out with, no matter how reasonable I try to be, she gets defensive and spirals into anger. And once she is angry, I cannot speak to her at all. She has a nasty temper and she won’t even look at me or let me touch her when she is in that state. One thing I do know is that I’m very tired of having the same fights over and over again without making any headway on the real problem, which is her taking more responsibility. Suggestions on Parenting 101 anyone?