November is National Novel Writing Month: Write a 50,000 word novel by midnight the 30th. It’s not a contest, just an awesome opportunity to do more than talk about that book you want to write.
Inspired and egged on by my daughter and son (both professional writers) I began the challenge last Friday. Now all I have to do is write 1667 words per day every day for thirty days. And voila a first draft of a novel is born. No guarantee that every word will be brilliant or even spelled correctly, but I’m pushing ahead because a) I’m an overachiever, b) I’ve got a story squirreling around in my head and invading my dreams and c) it’s the only way I’ll ever get a good night’s sleep again.
So I’m plugging away at this novel and won’t post new blogs this month. But I will be treating all you lovely people to some seasonal golden oldies. Starting with:
Need Some Help, Mom?
The following essay is an excerpt from my book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People
Not too long ago I read a letter to Dear Abby from a distraught martyr . . . oops! I mean a mother who signed off as “Alone in the Kitchen.” She plaintively described how her adult daughters arrive for the holidays each year expecting the guest treatment. For some mysterious reason, these two able-bodied young women never think to offer dear old Mumsie any help with the annual banquet she produces for 20+ guests. Their work avoidance goes on for a day or two until Mom, frazzled and frantic, slumps to the linoleum and whimpers like a pathetic dog. At which point the princesses roll their eyes and deign to lift a sponge for a fleeting moment, before disappearing again.
As I read the column, my blood pressure spiked. But my target wasn’t the daughters as much Mom. I mean, really, where did she think her lovelies learned to act like guests at home? How in the world had they reached adulthood totally lacking the common courtesy to pitch in?
Abby called out Mom for overindulging, but I gave her answer a C+ because she neglected to offer the woman any suggestions for fixing the problem. If it had been my column, here’s what I would have said:
Dear Alone in the Kitchen,
Wondering where Drizella and Anastasia picked up their royal sense of entitlement? Look in the mirror because it’s self-reflection time. If you really want to change the dynamic in your family this holiday season and forevermore, start with an apology. I’m serious! You have failed to teach your children the first thing about being helpful. Instead, you’ve taught them that their job is to sit back and let you cater to their needs. You’ve also held them back from developing a cooperative spirit by rewarding them for being self-centered. Admit the ugly truth. Forgive yourself. Apologize. And move forward, quickly, because you’ve got a turkey to stuff!
There are always things that need to be done to make a home livable. (Of course, it’s our living in it that makes it messy, but we can’t get around that, can we?) Whether you’re prepping for a special family event or needing to dive into seasonal household chores, make a master task list. Gather the troops, post the document, and announce to your family, “Here’s what needs to get done. Which tasks are you taking responsibility for?” (Speak as assertively as possible. No shouting, asking, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.) If you have no confidence in someone’s promise to help (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, smile, and in your best coach voice say, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you.”
My personal, unscientific research clearly indicates that when we want something done, the chance of compliance drops to less than 20 percent when our request comes in the form of a spineless question like “Can someone please help me?” (“No thanks.”) “Can I ask you a favor?” (“Sure, but I’m not doing it.”) “Do you have a minute?” (“Not now.”) See what I mean? Instead, try this: “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” See? It’s a statement, not a question. Practice it on your own so there is no trace of pleading in your voice.
Breaking patterns isn’t easy, but it’s easier than breaking your back doing all the work with little or no cooperation from anyone. It’s also better for your soon-to-be young adults to learn to notice the needs of others—essential in teaching them to be good people.
As for any male or female martyrs within the sound of my voice, that would be anyone who believes if s/he doesn’t do it all single-handedly, s/he won’t be a “good” parent, nor be loved and appreciated: You are already loved, appreciated, and admired. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, if you do much more than your fair share, you may end up with a sore back and feelings of resentment, and where’s the holiday spirit in that?
So teach your children to help. Otherwise, how can they possibly learn to make a killer Thanksgiving dinner on their own some day? And how will they teach your future grandkids to be helpful people at home and out in the world?