The water is 85 degrees but the air is cool. Parents line the pool deck with sweatshirts and towels draped tightly over their shoulders to cut the wind. None of the kids seem to notice as they giggle their way through swim practice. They're immune to cold at this age. A parent catches my attention as she begins to get a little loud in her attempts to usher her daughter to the dressing room to change clothes.
Mom: "Ava, put your shoes on."
Girl: Stares at her feet.
Mom: "Ava, look at me. I'm not messing around, put those flip flops on your feet right now.
Girl: Crosses her arms and continues to stare at her feet.
Mom: "Fine. I'm leaving and they're going to have to adopt you. You can sleep at the YWCA tonight." (Starts to walk toward the door).
At this point, they've caught my interest because I'm a family therapy geek. I want to watch the interaction as it unfolds, wondering which tactics she'll use to prompt the girl to action. Based on Frustrated Mama's red cheeks, I've placed my money on Ava. She stops walking to the door only to turn around and employ a new approach with her little darling.
"If you put your shoes on, I'll carry you all the way to the car." (Bribery).
"Little girl, get those shoes on. Right. Now." (Cue Darling's eye roll).
Giving up, Mama scoops her child into her arms and forces the shoes onto little feet. She disappears through the door and into the myriad of unknown battles she'll likely face with Miss Ava throughout the rest of the evening. I can faintly hear the murmur of a curse word as she mutters to herself, whizzing past my seat. It was a battle of wills and baby girl keeps score. Ava - 1. Mama - 0.
Deep breaths all around, so many of us have been there! So many of us are there...as in, to the end of our patience and gentle logic. That same day, standing alongside the water, I have an interesting conversation with one of the coaches. He briefly mentions that they've been interviewing new lifeguards but haven't found one yet. He reports that their top candidates aren't sure if they want to commit to a work schedule for the summer. "The alternative?", I ask. He snorts. "Not working."
Shaking his head, he shares that one of his good friends works for a pharmaceutical company up in New Jersey. As the lead in her department, she's interviewed exactly eleven college-educated, recent graduates in the past two weeks for an entry level position. Their number one concern when considering the job? It wasn't the benefits or the pay. It was the fact that they'd have to show up at 6:30am for work. It reminds me of one of my family's personal friends, who closed his auto repair shop after years and years of training workers, only to have them stop showing up for work.
We've got a problem! If they didn't work when they were young, my parents didn't eat because their parents couldn't afford to cover them. Nobody was scooping them up to pay their rent or to lend them a vehicle because they'd neglected their own.
On the bright side, today we have an opportunity to protect our kids while they're young: from the spirit of laziness, privilege, apathy, and ingratitude. Would you believe me if I suggested to you that it might start with the simplicity of putting on shoes? If I could've hugged Frustrated Mama right then and there, I would have. I would have whispered in her ear,
1. Make your request clear and concrete. If she doesn't respond the first time, explain the consequence of her disobedience. Explain to her in exact terms the privilege she will lose. Give her incentive to become responsible for her own clothing. Reward her later.
2. When she doesn't listen, enforce the consequence immediately - even if you're late, or it's inconvenient, or people might look at you.
3. Repeat. Over and over and over again, in all circumstances.
The younger generation isn't the enemy, it's just that they're getting away with what they're allowed to get away with! Sometimes it's much less about training them as it is that we're having to train ourselves to consistently follow through with responsible parenting - especially when we're tired, overwhelmed, or just don't feel like it. Our consistency sets a foundation for our kids' sense of security within boundaries.
Consistency also helps them to trust that we're willing to do the inconvenient or hard thing because it's the right thing.
People who do the right thing go to work. We give it our all. We show up. You can do this Moms and Dads, Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents and Friends!
And for the love of all things good, don't budge an inch until your little prince or princess puts their *&%# shoes on (or so Mama says). Stay the course. Don't give in. You'll be so thankful that you did when the issues become bigger than just shoes.
What are your "shoe issues" right now? Share below so that we can learn from one another!
With you and for you,
M.S. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Earns Crossfit participation trophies. Disaster cook. Enthusiastic wife. #Boymom. Clutches her faith, not her pearls.