Our latest parenting strategy involves raising our children’s level of anxiety. But just a little.
Ever since the girls were infants, we’ve focused on establishing a culture of mutual respect and open communication with them. We’ve made a conscious choice to steer away from spanking, yelling, and shaming in our parenting. We even avoid punishments generally, preferring training in consequences. We certainly don’t let the children boss us around (for I am the Mama!), but our methods in achieving compliance, etiquette, and appropriate behavior are more on the side of invitations and incentives than laying down the law.
Click photo to enlarge.
(I know not everyone makes these same choices about parenting, but this is what we do, and maybe we’ll talk about why some other time.)
However, I’ve been feeling lately that things are occasionally a little bit too comfortable for our girls. Example: spilling milk. This happens to everyone, right? We even have a proverb in our culture, “There’s no need to cry over spilled milk.” And this is true: you shouldn’t feel as if you have to cry if milk is spilled.
But it sure is nice of you to say, “Oh, goodness! I’m so sorry I spilled that milk. Here, let me get a rag and help you clean it up.” We are noticing that we need to train the girls to respond in this way, instead of:
- studying patterns in the streams of milk flowing off the table (as interesting as they are!)
- staring silently while we clean it up
Lately, I’ve been telling them, “Everyone spills milk sometimes — but I want you to be a little bit worried about spilling your milk and to learn to be extra-helpful when it’s time to clean up a spill like this.”
Our wise friend and therapist the Rev. Dr. Christopher Miller has been saying this kind of thing to me for years, namely that a certain amount of shame and anxiety is good. It helps you to take a shower, put on deodorant in the morning, and get your work done by the deadline. A little bit of shame helps us function in community, and we definitely want that for our girls.
We’re finding lots of areas where a little bit of worrying can be useful:
- remembering to use the bathroom (“I want you to be a little bit worried about peeing in your underpants”)
- thinking ahead about cleaning up (“I want you to be a little bit worried about how, when the time comes, you’ll clean up all the toys you want to dump out on the floor”)
- taking good care of possessions (“I want you to be a little bit worried about ink soaking through your drawing onto the table”)
- being conscious of safety (“I want you to be a little bit worried about falling on your head when you’re swinging from the trapeze by your knees”)
For my sake, I’m appreciating thinking about being just a little bit worried about my concerns. In my own life, I can sometimes go overboard with my expectations of how clean our house should be, how much work I should be getting done, or what our meals should taste like. So last night, as I found myself worrying about the work I need to do for our homeschooling co-op, I thought, “Maybe I should just be a little bit worried about this, but not so much that it keeps me awake.” And that’s just what I did!
And now that I’m done being a little bit worried about finding time to write this post, I think I’ll go make myself a cup of tea.