The problem is....

It started about a week ago. Well, the phenomena obviously started before that but my noticing started last week.

"But Mooommmmm. The problem is....."

"*sigh* My problem is......"

"NO! I can't! The problem is....."

My kids were suddenly negative nellies, answering my every polite request and direct order with their own conflicting issues. You see, they can't really put their shoes away because their problem is that they are so tired and the shoe bin is super far away. They can't possibly eat their dinner because their problem is that they're only hungry for fruit and bread and cookies and the steak and rice and broccoli on their plate do not look or taste like fruit or bread or cookies.

It annoyed me to no end and after a particularly problem-filled dinner, CG told them to cut out every utterance of the phrase "the problem is."

They, being wily children, quickly adapted.

"My issue is....."

"I have a pr-...... sad thing."

It wouldn't be quite so annoying if it didn't immediately become clear where they got it from.

"I know you'd like to go the library AND the park. The problem is, we only have time for one of those two options."

"Hmmm. So you'd like to make a potion in your bedroom? Out of juice, food coloring and crayon shavings? Sounds like fun but the problem is, that would waste a lot of juice and possibly make a huge mess."

"Yes, I'd like to eat a popsicle now too. The problem is, it's actually bedtime."

As soon as the edict was issued that we needed to stop saying "the problem is," the person who has been struggling the most is ME.  It seems I am constantly harshing my kids' buzz, raining on their parade and just generally shutting them down. Both of them, but especially Z, regularly make outlandish plans that involve disproportionate mess and bending the spacetime continuum. I hate that it's my job to constantly deflect or redirect these requests. I would love to be able to say yes more often and be a more positive presence.

Since I have read my fair share of books with titles like "How to Exhaust Yourself in the Attempt at Playful Parenting," I did try to play along with their schemes for a while in an earnest attempt to reroute the conversation.

"I know! We can bring a book to the park! It'll be like the library IN the park!'

"Ooh! Great idea! We can make a potion in the KITCHEN with WATER!"

"Let's pretend your TOOTHBRUSH is a popsicle and you get to spread it all around your teeth!"

But both of my kids - again, especially Z - are literal-minded. They don't want to pretend to eat a popsicle thankyouverymuch, they'll take a cherry one with a glass of water and PRONTO. They found this style of parenting maddening and not in the least bit playful.

So I'm back to acknowledging their desire and subsequent frustration but still shutting them down, as gently as possible.

I know it seems as simple as just cutting out the offending phrase and using "but" instead. But, you see, the problem is.....


Therese said...

Well bless your soul for trying playful parenting...and that "yes I understand what you're saying and how you feel" approach.

Doing My Best said...

I hate feeling like I'm constantly squashing their dreams/creativity too, so I've started saying something like, "Oh, wouldn't it be fun/exciting/cool if we really COULD do that?! We would do this and this and that would happen...what a fun idea!" (depending on what we're talking about, sometimes I'll then say, "It's too bad that what would REALLY happen is this...") and by the time we finish talking about how cool that would be if we COULD do it, my little person is content, and I didn't have to rain on his parade. I hope this keeps working for me =)!

Anonymous said...

I like Doing My Best's approach of talking about how cool it could be, but adding what might really happen. I have done this with cool looking toy commercials on tv that my son says, "Ooo I want that!" to which I reply, but I suspect what would REALLY happen is xyz so it's probably a waste of money. He's 7 so I can analyze and negotiate like that with him.

If it's a cool enough idea worth revisiting, maybe you can write those ideas down on a slip of paper and put it in a jar for later. So when you DO have excess time to say, make some crazy messy concoction (in an appropriate place!), maybe you can pull a slip of paper from the spare time/rainy day suggestion jar...?

Stephanie said...

Oh, you've articulated this issue so well. Just the other day, I heard my eight-year-old say to my husband, "But mom always says 'not right now,' which means 'no.'" Stab to heart, etc. I think, just by being thoughtful about this issue, we're doing a good job teaching empathy and reality at the same time. Better, say, than if we just thoughtlessly said "no" all the time.

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