how to talk so (future) kids will listen

Recently I reviewed How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk over at the library’s blog. I could say a lot more on about how much I liked this book (and I will).

But first I need to talk about another concept that has been ruling my life lately–in a good way.

My future self.

The idea is fairly simple–thinking about what you want to have accomplished in five years, ten years, or even six months from now, and work towards building that for your future self. It helps put things into perspective. If you don’t know what five years from now looks like, it can be hard to guess what future you will want. Regardless of what job you’ll have or house you’ll live in or strained family relations you’ll be forced to endure, one thing remains constant: you. You will be you. I will be me.

This kind of future-building was hard for me even a few years ago. I was so unorganized, I didn’t know what I wanted out of life, but most importantly, I didn’t know who I was. I probably still don’t know who I am, at least not the extent I will know in about ten years, but I have a better idea of what I’m not and what things will not ever be important to me, and what things have stayed important to me. And sometimes, that’s the battle.

Things have been hard lately. I recently lost a family member and the only reason I even mention it at all is to highlight how awful the month of January can be when depression hits the hardest, the whirlwind distraction of the holidays has passed, and there’s nowhere to hide from the grief.

I don’t feel like giving gifts to my future self. I don’t even care about her, honestly. It’s too hard.

If it were just me, I could probably keep cruising this month, surviving but not much else. It’s not just me, though. My kids are watching.

One of the tenets of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen is that long view thinking–modeling behavior so kids will adopt your own good habits. In the book they’re talking about table manners, conversations, and personal responsibility. I am taking this one step further and teaching Sweet Tea and Honey Bee to plan for their future selves.

How?

One thing we do… On Mondays we spend a couple of hours in the morning cleaning the house–deep cleaning–on top of the daily stuff we do to keep everything running. Let me be honest here, I haven’t felt like doing it. At all. What goads me on is that future self. I hate spring cleaning, and my gift to my future self is doing a bit of deep cleaning every week so that I never have to dedicate a whole weekend to the task.

I let Sweet Tea take full ownership in his jobs. Arguably, a four-year-old can’t remove each speck of dust underneath a piece of heavy furniture with the vacuum hose, but he is very proud of the work he does. As for me, I ignore the bulk of what he missed and offer one or at the most two suggestions. I don’t want to nag, but more importantly I also want to trust him, and give him the space to trust himself.

He’ll get better on his own, with practice. It’s less about doing it today, but about preparing him to do it tomorrow.

That’s kind of what this is–practicing to be the kind of person I want to be. The kind of person who doesn’t let the tub grow hard water deposits before she rolls up her sleeves. The kind of person who enjoys taking care of herself, of her children, and her house. The kind of person who can tackle even the largest of projects by taking them one piece at a time. The kind of person who keeps to a routine for intrinsic motivation and not because of shame or anyone wagging a finger at her.

Sweet Tea won’t always get so excited about our work days, but I have faith that even when it does become actual work, he’ll still help. He is competent. He is responsible. He can work for his own intrinsic motivation. He knows the satisfaction of a job well done. He creates his own good habits.

Maybe I occasionally reward us with some brownies. Today it’s cold and windy outside, so it’s the perfect day to have the oven going and enjoy the smell of super-chocolatey, gluten-free, dairy-free brownies making our nice, mostly-clean house even nicer.

I try to avoid the imperial ‘we’ for discipline. To me, saying ‘we don’t hit’ after a child has clearly just hit someone is the equivalent of pointing at the ottoman and saying ‘that’s a cow.’ But I do love imperial ‘we’ affirmations. We are responsible. We are generous. We take care of each other. We enjoy spending time together. We share this space; we share our lives.

We build today the foundation for relationships we need tomorrow. The work we do today, we reap next season. That’s the gift for my future children, and that’s how I’m talking now so my future children will listen.

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