Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Life Instructions: Mundane Included

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In my upcoming book "Living Happily Ever After with Your Daughter Today," I talk a lot about Bob, the main character in the movie "My Life."

Bob is dying. His wife is having a baby. Bob, realizing he’s going to miss raising his child altogether, decides to videotape life lessons.

He talks about a wide assortment of topics ranging from significant life events such as instructions for picking a mate to mundane ones including how to enter a room.

I liked the idea of gathering a list of topics I thought important for my daughter Addy to know. I pledged to start immediately.

By the following morning, I found the first one—and let’s just say it fit the mundane category.

“Heavens, I’ll just do it myself.” I was mumbling to an empty house.
“Oh no, you don’t!” the voice inside my head barked. “How will she learn?”
“I know. I know.” I put Addy’s clothes back on the floor. “But I can’t stare at this pile of clothes all day long.”
“You can and you must.”

Seven hours later I heard the bus.

“What first?” I asked myself. As a parent, I had so many things to harp about. “Be careful. Tread lightly. Don’t overdo it. Being a constant nag won’t help either of us.”
The door opened. My daughter was home.

One night after fussing for a solid thirty minutes about all the things gone wrong in the previous hour, I had suddenly felt it was time to go the other direction for a little while. I started thinking about how important it is to continually remind my daughter there is a point to my instruction. My mission is to help her grow up to be productive, happy and competent. That was Bob’s point, and it’s mine, too!

What she perceives as pestering isn’t designed to tear her down. Mentioning love is a good strategy. Praise is good, too. Reminding her of her goodness. Talking about her strengths.
That evening I wanted her to know I was not disappointed in her. My anger and impatience had resulted from her actions—actions like not cleaning up her clothes and leaving her book bag and shoes in the middle of the floor.

I told her what I loved about her. Then I asked her what she enjoyed doing. We talked about her life.

Not too long ago, I read something written by a freelance writer suggesting giving your children a job or two that plays up their strengths. This suggestion intrigued me. I hadn’t really thought about my daughter’s strengths and how they might relate to chores. I decided to let Addy decide what she would enjoy doing around the house.

Addy picked cleaning windows. She already had a weekly clothes assignment and room detail. And let’s not forgot her dog poop duty, which of course she didn’t like and would tell you definitely played up her weaknesses!

By the time we turned the lights out we had a better understanding. Addy understood my role and why I played house police. She pledged to remember her jobs. She was fired up about her new household job (well, we’ll see how long that lasts) and she realized she was just like most people—great at some things, good at others and bad at some things too.

In the movie, Bob will communicate to his son via video. In my life I am the lucky one. Whether it’s about her future or the importance of picking up her own clothes off the floor, I can talk to Addy in person.

Allyn Evans
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