Thursday, September 28, 2006

Love, Logic & Spiderman Shoes

Last summer our friends who live about five blocks away went out of town and we took on the task of feeding their goldfish (singular). The kids took great joy in getting to be in Zip's house when she wasn't there and would have rifled through her drawers if allowed. Each day fight erupted when it came to who actually got to administer the flakes. Again, it was one measly goldfish, so there was no chance of everybody doing a little bit. Only one kid per day got to feed the fish.

On the last day of our fish feeding Mo really wanted the job, but alas, it was not his day. So when I handed the fish food can to whichever sibling's turn it was, Moses stormed out of the house. And I mean straight out of the house, down the driveway, and onto the sidewalk stomping toward home.

That's a gut check moment for a mom. Do I do what I want to do, which is leave the other two kids in the house go running and hollering after him, pick him up and drag him back into the house? In other words, exactly what he wants me to? Or do I stop and remind myself that he is five--not two, this is a quiet street, it's a good two city blocks before he reaches an intersection and by the time he gets there he'll be settled down and will wait for us? In an uncommon moment of mental clarity I chose the latter. We fed the fish, locked up the house, and headed toward home about a block behind Mo.

He became aware of us behind him and chose to show his displeasure in this way: he stopped, pulled of his tennis shoes, threw them down on the sidewalk and kept walking in his stocking feet. How weird is that?

I will interrupt myself here and tell you that I am no parenting guru, but I have one. Our director of family life ministries, Vicki, teaches fantastic parenting classes. She has trained at the Love & Logic Institute and now teaches Love & Logic classes open to the community and incorporates it into adult Sunday School and Sunday School teacher training. Founded by Jim Fay and Foster Cline, Love & Logic's approach to parenting and classroom management has literally changed my life and the way I raise my kids. I can't recommend them enough. Here is how they describe their philosophy:
Children learn the best lessons when they're given a task and allowed to make their own choices (and fail) when the cost of failure is still small. Children's failures must be coupled with love and empathy from their parents and teachers.

So, a big Love & Logic thing is not to yell and lecture, but as they say, demonstrate empathy, while allowing a decision’s natural consequences to occur. And sometimes that is very very hard, because I can lay on a lecture as good as the next crummy parent. And it is very hard for ME to verbalize empathy in these situations without sounding sarcastic, which is totally unhelpful and unempathetic and is absolutely my natural tendency.

So, I checked my temper. I took a deep breath. I kept walking until I got to those stinky, worn down, shoes that needed replacement anyway and half formulated a plan. The first step being to step over the shoes and say nothing. I used the rest of the walk to figure out my next step, and the rest of the afternoon to sort out it out completely. That’s another thing I appreciate about Love & Logic -- AND -- about my kids getting older. I don’t have to know what I’m doing all the time; consequences don’t have to be immediate. My kids are old enough to remember what happened a couple of hours ago which gives me time to formulate a consequence (if one doesn’t happen 100% organically--but sometimes it does). The trouble is you have to think a lot, to make sure the consequence actually suits the choice (how would being sent to his room get his shoes back?). And you have to stifle the urge to solve all your child’s problems for them.

Moses did wait for us at the intersection. We crossed together and he ran ahead again but waited for us at the next intersection, which is one door down from our house. It was there that I said in my calmest voice, “It’s too bad you left your shoes back there.” Moses scowled. “I don’t think they’ll let you into wrestling camp without tennis shoes on. Man, that would be sad if you had to miss wrestling camp” We had signed Mo up for a two day wrestling camp at theYMCA, which he was desperately looking forward to. He stared blankly at me for a moment. “Well, I’ll go back and get them,” he said, still with a hateful edge to his voice. I kind of laughed and told him we couldn’t go back now, it was too late, those shoes were blocks away. “Well, then I’ll get them tomorrow when we go feed the fish.” He still sounded mad, but only slightly. I held my cards close to my chest and bided my time until we walked through the front door, safely in the house, and said as convincingly as I could, as though I'd just thought of it “Oh, no! The Johnsons are coming home tomorrow. Today was our last day to feed the fish!”

By now the anger was completely out of his voice as he asked, “What am I going to do?!” I told him I didn’t know but I was sure we could think of something and left it at that for a couple of hours, in part so he could sweat it out and also because I didn’t know exactly where this was going.

Later, I asked Moses if he had any money to buy new shoes. “No.” I asked him how people earned money to buy things. “Jobs.” I proposed giving him jobs to earn a new pair of tennis shoes. He’s only five so money doesn’t really mean much to him -- calculating the cost of shoes and a pay schedule seemed a bit much. Instead we decided that he would complete ten jobs without complaining or being nagged by the day before wrestling camp started and then we'd get him new shoes. So over the next week he picked up sticks in the yard, he unloaded the dishwasher, he cleaned up the basement--stuff like that. He did great. He completed his mission. He picked out some awful Spiderman shoes, that, were I spending my own hard-earned-money I would have avoided, but they were his hard-earned shoes, so Spiderman it was.

Flash forward two months to yesterday.

We’ve been having a hard time getting out the door on time. We’re never late. It’s not life or death, but I really, really don’t like the last minute dash and scuffle. I give a fifteen minute warning. I give a ten minute warning. Everyone is sitting around playing legos or picking their noses or whatever and then I say, “It’s 8:00! Time to go!” And the kids start running around and screaming, “But I don’t have my shoes on! “ or “But I don’t know where my backpack is!” It just doesn’t have to be that way.

So I instituted this rule: At 8:00 we go out the door, regardless of the state you are in.

That is very Love & Logic. There are simple, predictable natural consequences.

A few days passed without incident. Then yesterday Moses was very involved in building a lego dragon. He ignored my 15 and 10 minute warnings. I gave the “It’s 8:00! Time to go!” Phoebe, Ollie, and our neighbor Annie who walks to school with us, filed out into the yard. Moses ran into the living room, aforementioned Spiderman shoes in hand, laces still tied in double knots from when he yanked them off his feet (my pet peeve, by the way--not untying laces) and said, “But I need to put my shoes on! You need to tie my shoes!”

I bolstered myself for the wrath which was to come and said, “It’s time to go. I guess you’ll just have to take them with you and we’ll put them on when we get to school.” He looked at me with disbelief until I walked out of the house. He came pattering behind in his socks saying “I can’t walk to school without my shoes on!” “Sure you can!” Boy, was he mad at me. He growled. He stomped (rather ineffective in just socks.) He ignored my cheerful questions like, ‘Aren’t you lucky it’s not raining today?!” And, “Boy, what a good deal! This could have happened on a snowy day!” We got to school. He sat down on a bench and we got his shoes on. He ran and got in line. I tried to hug him, no dice. Paul & I waved goodbye to him and he turned his back on us.

Love & Logic is not for the thin-skinned, but it really works. Today Moses was the first to get ready and was waiting out in the yard at five till eight. Will that happen everyday? Absolutely not. Next week he may have to carry his shoes again, but he’s learning. And given the choice between being pissed that his shoes aren’t on and begrudgingly cramming his little feet in, grumbling while all the other kids wait and then having it happen again tomorrow -- OR -- letting him have one bad morning, but learning what happens when you're late….it's a no brainer.

If only I can keep that presence of mind when, in barefeet, I step on that prickly lego dragon that is left on the floor, or when they flatly refuse to go to bed…I guess we’re all learning….


Melly said...

that's great stuff. i really love natural consequences with kids...real world preparation, i think. it is so much harder than screaming and lecturing and nagging...but when i can manage to do it, i dont feel like such a demonmother afterwards. and that is worth a lot in my world....

Carey M. said...

I applaud you. I understand that it's harder in the short-term. My mom occasionally muttered (as I struggled with learning how to live in the world) that she wished that she had not allowed me to learn to read -- actually, she still regrets that sometimes, I think.

emdunbar said...

I too, at times, lament that my daughter is such a good reader--no more spelling out things we don't want her to understand. We tried spelling backwards for a while, but neither Paul nor I were smart enough to pull it off.

My fear is that I come off like a know-it-all in this post. That's the crazy thing about parenting--it's all an experiment and you don't see the end results for...well..maybe you don't...

Melly said...

You don't sound like a know-it-all at all. I love hearing you wrestle with parenting dilemmas and how your own stuff comes into play. I really think it's precious that you let people see into your thought process about parenting. It seems like so many parents feel the need to be experts themselves, to do things the BEST way and want to tell the world about it (as if to relieve their insecurity about perhaps not doing things the BEST way?), and I love the model of struggling through it together - learning and trying and succeeding and failing. It is so comforting and helpful to me. I wish more parents were comfortable being so transparent. Anyway, keep at it. It's good stuff.

Benjamin C. Squires said...

I'm stealing this story for my new Website,, that I'm offering as a non-threatening Jesus connection for the public school Love & Logic course I'm attending (Redeemer is just hosting, but school district guys are leading the class. It's a nice way to open up our doors to the community). Thanks for the encouragement as I'm just really beginning to understand what it means to use Love & Logic along with other techniques like Bite Tongue & Swallow Sarcasm, Strangling is Not a Natural Consequence, Letting Matchbox Cars Collect in the Heat Register and Then Make a Big Deal Out of What a Tough Job It is To Retrieve Them.

emdunbar said...

Thanks, Mel. I'm so glad you keep reading this blog!

Very cool, Ben! That's exactly what we do at Faith--host the classes open to the community. I will keep checking back at the new site.

If only Mo's spiderman shoes had a zipper!