I sat in a turquoise saucer chair and stared indifferently at the kaleidoscope of colors that is my daughter’s room decor.
In a rare-for-me, think-before-you-speak moment, I contemplated what to do after I uttered the words downstairs twenty minutes prior:
“Little CEO, I’m going upstairs to check on how you cleaned your room. Since you lied about cleaning it yesterday, trust me when I say that if it’s not clean now, I will be ruthless in my punishment.”
She saw that I meant business and had run upstairs a second time to check her own work before I could conduct my inspection.
I turned my focus from her fuzzy rainbow rug to the things that she missed in her quality control check; the same things she always misses: books strewn across the floor, stuff put haphazardly on a shelf (now falling off said shelf), 5 or 6 Things The Dog Will Chew not in their proper place.
My daily orders to her are few. Simple. Clear to understand: Make your bed. Organize your stuffed animals. Get everything off the floor and in or on the drawer/box/shelf/purse where they belong. Get dressed. Brush your hair.
These have been the orders every day for the last 3.5 years. I don’t ever forget to give them. I’m the quintessential scratched-up broken record.
Today’s attempts are good by her standards, but yesterday I asked her to put away four things that she had left downstairs. I gave her specific instructions to not leave them on the bed or on the floor. She said, “Yes, ma’am” and went upstairs. When she came back down, I asked: “Did you put everything away where it belongs?” “Yes,” was her reply. It was only when I tucked her in that I saw that she had not put away the items and that she had lied to me about it.
I have grown weary of this dance we do, she and I. I am becoming less tolerant with each day. In fact, my expectations of her grow in inverse relation to the number of times she fails to do what I’ve asked. I cut her fewer and fewer breaks. I get angry, she cries. She says I’m sorry, and I believe that means she intends to change. She doesn’t change, or can’t, and I feel helpless and baffled.
I stare at her green polka-dotted quilt, the bed where she escapes into storyland each night, buried under a stack of books, and I have an internal Jekyl-and-Hyde with myself:
I’m too hard on her. But she should do what I ask.
How clean her room is should not be that important. It’s critical that she know how to clean up after herself and learn to take care of things responsibly. Besides, it’s not just about her room.
I don’t want to be ruthless in my punishment- who even says that. I have to follow up with the consequences that I threaten.
She is a creative free spirit and she’s thinking about other things. Focus on her strengths. She still needs to follow simple rules.
I decide if I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t want her to remember me as ruthless. I come downstairs and ask her to come into my office. I shut the door. I tell her that I am disappointed. That I feel disrespected. That I feel like giving up. I exact no punishment today.
She cries and gives me a hug and says, “I’m sorry.”
Here comes the dance again. I think she is sorry – sorry that she got busted. I am sorry that I don’t trust her. I am sorry that I don’t think she’s sincere. I am sorry that I have no confidence that tomorrow’s outcome will be any different than today’s. I only rest my hopes on having spoken plainly to her instead of yelling or talking about reward charts or cancelling a play date: maybe she will surprise me.
Two hours later, I go upstairs. She has not returned to her room to fix any of the things that were wrong. This technique has not worked either. I add it to the list of Failed Strategies For Getting My Daughter To Respect Me.
My heart sinks as I sit back down on her saucer chair. I fear for my relationship with my daughter. I’m scared for what will happen as she ages and we have bigger things to face than “clean your room.”
And I wonder what to do.