I have always tried to be honest with my children and always encouraged them to be the same with me. In our house mistakes that are owned up to are met with understanding not anger and we work together to put right the mistakes we make. This policy has worked fairly well most of the time, except now and again with Gorgeous who seems to think that misbehaving and then immediately owning up means getting away with things, or occasionally with Little Man who is a people pleaser and doesn't like to disappoint me, so will not own up even if there is no prospect of punishment. For a child like him, losing approval or seeing disappointment in your parents’ eyes is the biggest punishment of all.
Because of this way of dealing with things, I have always tended to give the children the benefit of the doubt, if they tell me something I usually believe them and accept their story.
I used to think any parent would be foolish to trust a teenage child, especially knowing what my friends used to get up to and knowing that their parents never had a clue. I also think sometimes parents can be blind to their children’s faults – not willing to accept that their child is no longer a baby but being influenced by their peers and environment.
Personally I always felt that I knew my children well enough to gauge when they were being honest and if they are hiding something. Little Lady has never tended to lie, she is bold enough to tell the truth because she is always right and that’s it. Little Man will tell tall stories sometimes, sometimes to impress us and occasionally because he has done something he should not have and doesn't want us to be disappointed. This backfired when he organised a party for himself and told us he had invited his friends. We didn't believe him, went out and started getting phone calls from the mothers of his school friends who were standing outside out house with gifts, cake and balloons.
Gorgeous is brilliant. He can’t tell a lie to save his life. You know he is trying to fib, because he just can’t look you in the eye, will fidget and change the subject or try to distract you with his clowning. His attempts at denying he did something are ridiculously entertaining.
Knowing all this, I thought I was a step ahead of the kids. Recently I have felt more and more I have felt as if I my oldest two are either not listening, or trying to find ways round doing what I have asked. Things like sneaking off with the laptop after I have told them to shut it down or saying they have done ablutions for prayer, when I can clearly see tell they haven’t (we have a very noisy bathroom fan which is set off by the light switch, so I know when someone is in the bathroom, plus wet bathroom slippers, damp hair are give-aways). Having sweets or money I haven’t given them, or sneaking their tablet into their room so they can watch cartoons after bedtime (they still don’t know how I found out about that – their grandmother snitched on them J)
I have felt overwhelmed with both the babies, a busy household and trying to fulfil everyone’s needs. I felt as if sometimes they would tell me something not quite correct, knowing I wouldn't check because I don’t have the time. Or I'm tired, or stressed and harried. At one point, I explained to Little Lady and Little Man separately that I was not their enemy, I was on their side and that we had to be honest with each other so that I could help and support them. This didn't quite work.
I felt that the kids were getting online without my permission, not getting off of their PC or laptop when I told them to, trying to get out of prayers, moaning like it was the end of the world every time I asked for help with housework, reading story books instead of revising, dragging bedtime out to a silly time with squabbling and requests for a glass of water or the need to go toilet again.
The situation came to a head two weeks ago when we took them to a funday at a local park. They were treated to pizza and chips, allowed a fizzy drink and treated to fair rides by Shutterbug Sister. One of our family friends were there and on seeing the drinks, their son who is Little Man’s age exclaimed “wow you guys are lucky!” It was a reminder than many of our friends are young families who struggle financially and can’t always treat their kids. I reminded the kids of this and they didn't seem to think they were lucky. On the way home, they moaned that they didn't get to go on enough rides, didn't go on the scariest ride, had to follow me around whilst I looked at the clothing and jewellery stalls and whatever else came into their heads. I couldn't help but thinking they were becoming spoiled.
After listening to their Olympic moaning session all the way home, they finally found my limit. I lined up my oldest three and first let hubby engage in a good, severe, telling off. Once we had their undivided attention, I really went for it. Everything that had been bothering me was addressed in severe terms.
I happened to be getting through a big pile of ironing at the time, so had plenty of time to lecture my captive audience at length. They were left very clear about all of the small and big things that were concerning us and what was expected of them.
I realise now why parents like to lecture so much, it’s quite cathartic. After really going for it like a sergeant major at an army drill and seeing their worried faces, I felt much, much better.
To follow up and show we were serious, I confiscated and hid the tablet, mini PC and Games PSP (not one of which I have bought them by the way). I hid the chargers in a different place. The family PC is password protected (which they have been trying to crack for the last five years) and used for homework or the occasional treat time.
I confiscated all money and banned Little Lady from running her little business empire (selling bookmarks, fashion drawings, anime drawings and handmade bracelets) until after exams. She is also banned from visiting the sweet shop on the way home from school.
I have drawn up a daily revision plan with Little Lady for evenings and after fajr until her exams and instead of hiding in her room all evening, she is to study at my new desk downstairs. I have established a daily time for the boys to do some maths and English practice.
I am on their backs at every prayer time and will not let up until they have prayed.
Everyone is being roped into chores and moaning is not tolerated, with the exception of Gorgeous who still behaves like he is about to be crucified rather than asked to take a dish to the kitchen or put something away.
The difference is a massive relief. Bed time is earlier, I don’t spend my time trying to drag them off devices and I get help with the babies. Little Lady is on best behaviour and her attitude has improved since she realised I wouldn't tolerate anymore. I think this is what the kids in my neighbour call “under manners” in the local slang. I really like that description.
I think the problem was that I had taken my eye off the ball. I wasn't paying the older children as much attention and they knew it. When I asked them to do something and they didn't, I didn't follow up with a consequence as I always did when they were younger. When they were supposed to put devices away, they knew I wasn't going to come down and enforce my instruction quite yet because I was feeding the baby, or changing a nappy, or had the dinner on the stove. In addition Little Lady is coming to that age where she thinks that she is smarter than her mum, can run rings around me and do whatever she likes by quietly disappearing or avoiding the issue. She probably will be a lot smarter than her mum, but not yet.
So now I have my full undivided, focussed attention back on them. Enough to follow through on my instructions, physically steer people who are not listening, lay out clear consequences and enact them and check regularly where the kids are with revision, or a lesson or their prayers.
I am all for gentle parenting, but not when it is being used to lead me on a merry dance.
The whole situation has reminded me of why parent have to first and foremost parent and not be friends to their children. I am certainly in fierce mama bear mode at the moment and I think it has done them and me good.