Something short of a miracle has happened in our household.
My 10-year-old actually made his bed and brushed his teeth without any nagging from me. He’s been on a roll now for almost two weeks.
Recently, he called out from the bathroom sink, “I said my ABC’s…” Sounds elementary, I know, but I told him that was a good indicator he’d brushed thoroughly, not the two-second brush-off.
On Day 1 of our miracle, when my husband spotted the covers neatly pulled up and the pillows arranged on our son’s bed, he was sure I was responsible. “Nope, wasn’t me!” I called out. We were both baffled. Then we just stared at each other and laughed. Could it be true?
My oldest has made his bed religiously since he was like two. My middle child is pretty good about it, too, but for some reason my years of nagging, pleading, bargaining, guilt-tripping and reasoning weren’t sinking in with number three. So I usually just straightened up his bed myself and voice my disgruntlement later. But then I glimpsed an open window for change.
Thank you Apple, for inventing the iTouch. My son treasures his new Touch so much that he carries a shammy cloth around to keep the screen gleaming. But when I caught him playing apps while his room was a mess and homework unfinished, I made a pact with him. The iTouch was his only if he held up his end of the bargain: room clean, bed made, teeth brushed, homework done. Every day. No questions asked. And no reminders from me.
Now, I had tried this tactic before. But this time I had resolve. And expectation of progress.
I kept his iTouch in a top-secret location for longer than he (or I) anticipated. Some days he did a few things on his list, but not all. Every day he asked for his iTouch and I reminded him he’d have it the minute he held up all of his bargain. “You have to do these things for you, not for me,” I reminded him, holding my ground firmly but calmly.
During this time there was less tension in our home. I’d stopped nagging!
Then, on that miracle day when we discovered his bed made, his teeth brushed before school, and his rainforest research project well on its way to completion, the iTouch was reunited with the shammy cloth. One happy Mom, one happy son.
With three kids it’s easy to feel like a been-there-done-that kinda mom. Everything comes in threes, at which point it’s easy to think, “I’m so through with that lesson.”
Let me just say that to keep my sanity I’ve had to discipline myself to look for the spiritual lesson behind the lesson. The difference in my approach this time was not just withholding something good from my son, but holding onto the good I know is already in him. I expected progress–and then made a point of praising him for his efforts every day.
True, doing mundane daily tasks like making one’s bed, brushing teeth and finishing homework seems like small stuff, but they’re indicators of self-discipline that spill into other corners of life. I wanted to see my child not as lazy and unmotivated, but as someone who wanted to progress, was self-motivated, and responsive to good. I think that all adds up to a healthy self-concept, one I want to foster in all of my kids.
The other thing I added to my son’s list of daily do’s? Learning a Psalm to say before he went to bed so he has spiritual tools at the ready. Imagine my delight when he bounded into my room one night reciting the first few verses of the 91st Psalm.
Something I’ve learned about prayer is that each day is new. Whatever problem I prayed about the day before isn’t the same. Prayer has taught me to expect to find a new angle, a fresh way to approach the problem so a solution doesn’t seem so unreachable. Because God’s thoughts are always new. Just the expectation that there will be a change for the better is enough to get the ball rolling.
And then one day the problem is gone.
So if you’re praying about something–even if it seems like it’s been hanging around for years–keep it up. Go ahead and expect a miracle.
p.s. As of this posting, my son still hasn’t skipped a day of making his bed and brushing his teeth. When I commented on this, he casually said, “Yeah, it’s a habit now.” I tried not to let him see how giddy this made me feel as I wrapped my arms around him and said, “I’m so proud of you.” I’m crossing this lesson off my list.
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Ingrid lives in Framingham where she and her husband manage three busy kids, a Lab who's sniffed every trail at Callahan and a ragdoll cat. She blogs on spirituality and health and is also a Christian Science practitioner. You can see more on her website "Breaking Bread" at masshealthblog.com.