Monday, February 15, 2010

When agendas collide

It dawned on me one morning that most parental-child friction occurs when agendas collide. Friction between adults usually has other sources, like different opinions or values. But with children an amazing amount of difficulty can be resolved if we stop and recognize our own agendas, and how they contribute to the problem.

This came to me as I stood on one side of the subway turnstile waiting for Snuggler, who couldn't find her transit pass. For once it didn't matter if we were late, so I was able to set aside my agenda (getting somewhere on time) and simply deal with hers. Being able to say, "Okay, I can wait" -- and then wait patiently while a train came and went -- put a spotlight on how often time limitations contribute to my handling of situations in a less than optimal way.

Getting kids out the door takes up a ridiculous amount of energy. It's particularly irritating because we parents have a mental list of 53 things to do before we leave, and all they have to do is find their shoes and put them on. But kids don't grasp the concept of time tradeoffs easily.

I made progress recently with Little Guy, who had been taking forever to do schoolwork and then bemoaning his lack of playtime, by using money as an analogy for time. "If you have a dollar and you spend it, it's gone. You have whatever you bought with it, and that might be something good, or it might be something worthless. But once it's gone, it's gone." It helped a lot to have something tangible to connect to an abstract idea. Now when I say, "Do you want to spend your time that way?" it has a different connection in his brain.

But the whole thing about having different agendas... well, it's a thing. It's not always possible to work around a kid's agenda, and it wouldn't be healthy, anyway. So perhaps the thing to do is to try to be more aware of our own agendas and tone them down a bit. Or else maybe back up our targeted departure time by five minutes, to provide a little more cushion.

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