First, let’s remember that for over twenty years, I made a profession out of telling other people’s children what to do, so I have very few reservations when being assertive with my own children.
In an attempt to make our house a place where people can feel (and express) their feelings and also a place where complaining and whining do not threaten to choke the air from our lungs, it is a balance.
Here is where I draw the line.
Feelings are fine. Feel your feelings. Distaste is superb. Own your distaste.
But, if a task is necessary, if it is required (and I have a long list of things I consider to be “required” as a human living in a family on Earth) then continuing to express distaste for that job in a way that increases negativity toward the task more rapidly than progress toward its completion is a problem. It’s a big problem, not just for the task, not just for the other family members listening to the barrage of complaints, but for the complainer, and for establishing good habits in life.
Still, my boys whine. My boys complain. And, when they do, they get my listening ears for a moment or two. They get confirmation that I hear them.
Yup, I hear this thing is clearly not your favorite. Yup, I get it. Yup, when you are a grown-up you can decide if you are going to fold laundry or just live your life out of a pile of fabric on the floor. Yup, you can do that. But here we put laundry away neatly.
When you are a grown-up you can decide whether you will first complete your work projects or if you will start your day with video games. Yup, it will be your decision. But here we do our work before we play.
When you are a grown-up you can decide whether you will leave a dinner plate on the counter with food scraps. You may or may not have a dog that barks incessantly at said dinner plate with said food scraps. But in this house we put dishes in the dishwasher immediately.
If a precious child continues to complain I give them another job. Not as punishment, but because clearly they need more PRACTICE, more time on task learning that doing a job with a semi-positive attitude the first time is always easier than working themselves into a dark hole of despair.
If they have already become a human puddle of emotion on the floor (and especially if they are still little) I scoop up that puddle and take them to the task and that puddle sits and that puddle watches, as I complete it.
Friends, I’m not a total monster. I’m not above helping. I’m not above pretending to help when I am actually doing the whole damn thing (especially when they are little). Because, I believe the greatest factor in the ability to complete daunting tasks is the belief that you can.
It’s the confidence that yes, I have successfully conquered a basket of laundry that makes Everest quake, a list of school assignments more formidable than the requirements for a PhD, cleared a table with more Legos than a goddamn Lego factory. It’s the confidence that yes, the world in my coliseum and I am a gladiator.