Back in Control

I am the mom of least resistance.

This is to say, I’m pretty hands-off with my kids. I’m a bad helicopter. I embrace the philosophy of “free range” childhood.

Maybe to a fault.

(Bad Helicopter would be a kick-ass band name.)

I don’t think it became a fault until Michael was born, because then it became less “free range” and more “benign neglect”.

Three-on-one is hard, yo.

And that’s what it is most of the time.

But I’m tired of not being the one in charge. My older two children act without asking. On Saturday morning, that’s okay. I’ll take that extra half hour of sleep, thankyouverymuch. But every single day, especially in the evenings? And mornings? Oy, mornings are fusterclucks of the highest order.

(I gave up swearing for Lent. I vowed to put a $1 in the swear jar each time I uttered a curse word, including Lord’s Name In Vain, and I’m going to donate it to charity. So far Animal Friends is getting $12. Which I guess isn’t too bad — for me — but this Lenten sacrifice is making it hard to write this post.)

It’s just not cool anymore. I’m so tired of yelling — and I yell A LOT. So much so that Michael is learning to yell. Not good. So I am reconstructing boundaries, and installing schedules. This is a work in progress. Here are some of my goals.

1. To get Flora to calm down. Because I am such a reactive parent, she is a very reactive child. I need both of us to be able to step back and take a deep breath instead of losing our sh– I mean, crap. I, obviously, have to lead by example here because she’s 7.

2. To get into a groove. I have schedules for the girls, for mornings and evenings during the week. I typed them up months ago, and I showed them to the girls. And then they ended up in the piles of paper that spring up around my house. Dan dug them out and laminated them, and bought grease pencils. And they ended up in the arts & crafts drawer.

So they just got posted (on Wednesday), and as the girls do the steps, the they check off the boxes. Again, to be obvious, Kate needs a little assistance with this because she can’t quite read on her own yet. The thing is, though, Kate is actually a little better about these steps. Flora gets distracted. Easily.

3. Ask before they act. Flora knows how to turn on the TV, Wii, Blu-ray player, and even surf through streaming Netflix. She has a DSi that she enjoys. My children know where snacks are, how to open the refrigerator, and pour their own beverages. If they are getting a yogurt or some cheese for a before-dinner snack, that’s all fine. But when they are raiding the candy stash instead, it’s not fine. And the screen-time restrictions are tough, tough, tough to enforce. But Flora is not allowed to watch TV, play Wii, or play her DSi unless she is done with her homework.

4. A cleaner house. My children know how to clean up after themselves. They know how to make their beds, put away their toys, clear the table. They need to be reminded to do these things, quite often, but night time treats and/or TV time is on hold until they do them. Heck, they even had to help me sweep up the kitchen floor the other day, and then we went upstairs and read three books before bed. Honestly, they didn’t seem to mind.

5. Follow through. I have thrown out candy (because they didn’t ask), turned off the night time show (because they didn’t ask), and started bedtime early (because they aren’t listening). It is hard when they whine and cry because I don’t really like the whining and crying. It gets on my nerves. But they are (slowly) learning (again) that there are consequences to their impulsive actions and/or not listening to mommy.

Did you ever find yourself in a place where the lunatics were running the asylum? How did you retake the reins?

(Aside: I want to make clear I’m not here to disparage my husband or despair that he doesn’t do enough. He does plenty. Do I wish he were home some of the evenings he’s seeing patients until 8 p.m.? Sure, but that’s not the situation right now.)

Free Range Kids

Living next door to one’s in-laws has its perks. (If you’re me, anyway. I’m sure mileage varies.)

For example, my MIL makes sure the lawn guys cut our lawn, and she gives them our payments. She will sit with the baby while I take the girls to Flora’s soccer practice. Once a week, she comes over at 6:30 a.m. so I can get to work early. (This is especially helpful if I have to unexpectedly bolt early another day to take a child to the doctor or something.) And we all usually have dinner together once a week, at her place. Tadone sits with an under-the-weather Kate and keeps her entertained with YouTube videos of laughing babies so I don’t have to burn personal or vacation time.

Because of our arrangement, my children often feel free to go over to Bella and Tadone’s whenever they feel like it.

Unfortunately, this arrangement has blurred the boundaries when it comes to the rest of the world.

My children operate under the false assumption that if it’s okay to just go into Bella’s house, it’s okay to go into our other neighbors’ yards if not houses. Kate has, actually, walked into the house of the people who live across the street from us.

She wanted to play with their dog.

Mind you, we have attempted to instill in them boundaries. They have been expressly forbidden to go into anyone’s house, even if the person invites them. They are to come to us first. And we will, nine times out of ten say, “No. You cannot go into that person’s house without Mommy or Daddy.” (The tenth one had better be the ILs, otherwise it’s 10 out of 10.)

They are not even supposed to go into any yard except for ours or Bella’s. Again, unless I am with them, for example, on an evening walk.

The neighbors across the “street” — we’ll call them the Smiths, and they live across the driveway, really, not a street — are a couple the same age as Dan and I, but their children (a boy and a girl) are 20 and 17. They are done with the baby/toddler/childhood stages. They are very friendly, with Dan and me as well as with the children. They have never, ever called or taken me aside to say, “Please keep your children out of our yard.” Their daughter has babysat for us.

The time that Kate came into their house, they laughed it off. Mrs. Smith just said, “We just wanted you to know in case you were worried where she was.” Mr. Smith takes great delight in our Kate, actually, even enjoying my exasperation with her.

Now Dan and I have differing philosophies about children outside. My thinking is that a 6 year old and a 4 year old are fine outside, without direct adult supervision for up to half an hour at a time, for example. Dan thinks the children should be supervised at all times — this even goes for in the house. He wants them in sight, always.

I have clear rules for outside: They have to stay in our yard (or Bella’s). When I call, they have to come. They know these rules, and Flora, for one, follows them to the letter. (There is one other yard they are allowed in, with permission — they have to come ask — and they have to stay outside, and they are not allowed on the trampoline. If they go into this yard with the children who live there, I seldom let them stay longer than 15 or 20 minutes without me.)

Kate, not surprisingly, is another story, and is making me rethink my “free range kids” philosophy. She, clearly, is not abiding by the boundaries we have set. Lately, she has been asking to go outside with Flora, and when I hesitate, she says, quite seriously, “I will not go into Mr. Smith’s house.” Well, okay, kid, but there are larger issues here.

I am struggling with this, especially after such a long, rainy spring season. Children need to play outside — hence the backyard playset going up this weekend. Yet, I am not in a position to be outside with them every second. Sometimes I am stuck giving Michael his bottle or changing his diaper, or I am trying to get dinner to the table. I think letting them go outside while I do these things — with the rules outlined above — is reasonable.

Should I have different rules for Flora and Kate? Should I make Flora her sister’s keeper (i.e. she can’t do anything Kate can’t do)? Should I tell them they can’t go outside unless I am going with them — without exception?

We have also instituted another rule that I was very relaxed about until this week. When we come home, we are to get all of our stuff — purses, lunch bags, stuffed animals, what have you — out of the car and go directly into the house. For awhile, I was relaxed about it because if they didn’t go into my house, they went to Bella’s. But lately they have taken to roaming into the Smith’s yard (especially if they are outside in their garden), or looking for Kate’s friend “Lisa” who lives in a house below us. I can’t have that when I am juggling my stuff and the baby, and anxious to get dinner ready. So I’ve put the kibosh on that, and  now it’s “in the house until after dinner” for the most part. Seems to be working.

What do you do? Let your kids roam, or don’t let them out of sight? How do you balance it? What are your kids’ boundaries, and do they obey them?