Advice in parenting books works perfectly — but on paper

Sometimes as a parent it seems like my entire vocabulary consists of “I’m not your servant!” “Clean that up!” and “There will be consequences!” — especially during summer.

I know I’m not supposed to be like that. Parenting books always say to reframe negative commands into positive ones. For example “Thank you for keeping the bathroom clean,” is a lot better than “How many times do I have to ask you to flush the toilet?”

Still, if I read one more so-called expert tell me to say “Walk please,” instead of “Don’t run,” I’m going to scream. Oftentimes the books don’t work.

Right now, for example, spit-art is my daughter’s new favorite hobby. She’s 5 years old and entranced by the patterns spit makes when it hits dry pavement. It’s opening me up to judgment from total strangers.

Spectators probably think I’m guilty of not teaching my daughter any manners. But I don’t care. Part of me is just plain jealous of my daughter. I wish I was at a place in my life where spitting could make me happy.

So instead of saying, “Please keep the spittle inside your mouth,” I pass my daughter some water and say “Drink up.” At least I keep her hydrated. Parenting books tell you to do that, too.

It’s a similar situation with my 9-year-old son and tree climbing. I let him climb trees at the park all the time. But other moms look at me with horror. I understand where these parents are coming from. Concussions are a real and present danger.

Inside I’m screaming, “Don’t fall down,” because I know what it’s like to break bones, but I keep my mouth shut. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent.

Of course, for every time I take the permissive route, there are 10 times when I enforce limits. Being the bad guy is no fun. Banning television and video games is like a self-inflicted wound on my own sanity.

It’s no wonder that my loud voice slips out despite my best intentions. After all, I am the meanest mom in the world. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Summer has turned me into the household sheriff.

A typical day goes like this. I wake up in the morning with a lot of good intentions. I will be patient. I will be kind. I’ll remember everything that the parenting books say. My kids pour their own bowls of cereal, and I take that as a victory. I’m not raising entitled children, no sirree.

But by lunch things, start to degenerate. “Why are these cereal bowls still on the table?” Crunch. I step on Cheerios. Then I find half-eaten yogurt by the couch.

Uh, oh. Here it comes. I don’t think I can stop myself.

“How many times to I have to tell you? I’m not your servant! Clean this up right now.”

Or else.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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