A few days ago our three-legged cat (yup, only 3), reacted to a thunderstorm as he always does- run and take cover in the nearest, smallest, most-enclosed spot imaginable and do not (repeat, do not) come out until there is absolutely no hint of rain, lightening or crashing of clouds. He came to us already three-legged (a rescue cat from the SPCA), and I am convinced it was a bolt of lightening that mangled his lost leg and forever scarred him emotionally.
I tell you this because in our 1 ½ hour frantic search for Kizmo (boy #2 named him), we finally located him huddled deep under our oldest son’s bed. Finding him was a relief, but seeing what was under said bed was enough to land us on an episode of Hoarders. Plastic bottles, soda cans, dirty socks, bags and wrappers of long-ago consumed snacks were piled on top of more of the same. The first question that popped into my head was, “So all of those times I said ‘clean your room’, this was what that meant to you?” And then, like a creature instinctually emerging from the murky depths of the unknown, the nag came bubbling up, red hot.
“So, how long did you think the underneath side of your bed would sustain this trash heap?”
“At what point did you think this was an acceptable form of cleaning your room?”
“As you rolled up your last empty bag of chips and stuffed it amongst these soda cans, did it ever dawn on you that this probably would be frowned upon in this establishment?”
“And for God’s sake, how many times do I have to tell you that socks do not go in your underwear drawer!”
But, alas, oldest son wasn’t home to bare the brunt of my nagging, so I had no option but to keep it locked inside. An eye roll was going to have to do.
And then I got to thinking- at what point is nagging just another burden I must endure, and its effectiveness is about as much as flogging a dead horse? Is all nagging completely unnecessary? Or are there shades of gray when nagging is ok and possibly helpful? What follows is my mostly unscientific take on nagging (but experience matters, don’t you think?).
To nag or not to nag- that is today’s question:
Teenage rooms- questionable area of nagging. Think back to your teenage years? Did you rival Mr. Clean in the bedroom department? I doubt it. So, unless there is a real hygiene issue (creepy, crawly bugs comes to mind), overlook this one, because Lord knows you’ll need reserve nagging for other areas. Occasionally offer to clean their room, for a nominal fee, when they are busy doing something else, I guarantee you they’ll clean it up (at least half a$$’d), in order that you not go through their stuff. Close the door and keep the rest of the house clean. Someday, when they leave, you’ll have fun ripping up stained carpet and creating your perfect yoga/sewing/craft/meditation room.
Homework- Try nagging, but have a back up plan. My son actually taught me this one. I nagged him daily about doing his homework. My rule was to do homework first thing off the bus. He wanted to eat a snack and unwind in front of the TV first. We went round and round about how I saw this as a poor decision on his part, and I felt completely in the right because I was teaching him that wonderful lesson about not-putting-off-‘til-tomorrow-what-you-could-do-today crap (I’m currently facing down a pile of laundry from three days ago that still needs folded).
Finally, he looked at me and said, “Mom, do you trust me?”
“Yes, son, but I see no relevance here.”
“Mom, then trust me to get my homework done on my own time.”
“But…but…ok, we’ll try it your way.” (Secretly, I knew this was never going to work, but it freed up some time to consider other areas of weakness that would need my nagging attention.
That was winter, and by golly he finished the school year with only one missing math assignment, from which he learned a very valuable lesson that I did not have to teach with my nagging skills. The kid is brilliant. He gets that from me.
Manners-questionable area of nagging. Sure we want our kids to be polite, eat more like a human and less like a starving hyena, and shut the heck up when we are talking. But I have found nagging in this area only makes them angry and hell-bent to do whatever it is more. Suddenly, my nagging resembles an awful lot like their crude manners I am attempting to stop.
How they dress- Nagging will produce the opposite intended affect. When my kids were younger, I always imagined an idyllic scene in which each of them was dressed in firmly creased clothes (white was always the color of choice in my mind), perfectly groomed hair, shiny white teeth and brand new Dockers. Then they started dressing themselves, and it was painful. Wrinkled t-shirts stuffed carelessly in the shorts drawer (clearly, they never listened when I told them everything has its place), gym shorts of some sort of unmatched color to the shirt, mismatched socks and uncombed hair would often greet me in the kitchen (mind you, this was January). This was clearly an area that deserved concentrated and deliberate nagging. But, much to my chagrin, I found over and over again that the more I nagged, the more each of them found the ugliest, most wrinkled, most hideous article of clothing to slop on and throw in my nagging face. Folks, if there is any area that deserves the least (meaning none) amount of nagging, it’s in the clothing department. Imagine someone telling you in aisle 6 of the grocery store that your yoga pants and sweatshirt are wildly unacceptable in a civilized world? Of course, you already know this. We all make clothing faux pas, some more than others. Let them learn on their own that crisp white really is the way to go.
Hair- see How they dress. Nothing more needs to be said here. It’s their hair, let it be. They really are less of a reflection of you than you think. Let them have their stringy, greasy, unkempt hair, because sooner or later they will figure out that cool hair is a required necessity in attracting the opposite sex, and believe me, that will become their top priority at some point.
Let’s just stop now. I could go on to other topics such as hygiene (someone is going to point out that their pits smell, you won’t need to), brushing their teeth (again, someone is going to not-so-politely tell them their breath smells like an elephant who just licked another elephant’s a$$, and they’ll start brushing), and showering (my son still requires gentle nudging in this area, especially after say day 4 or 5), but the point here is this- nagging almost always never works. It might work one time, it might work sometimes, but it is never a long-term corrector of behavior, and it always, always causes you more stress than it ever does the kids.
This doesn’t mean that you no longer have expectations for your kiddos. It doesn’t mean your house becomes a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies. It simply means that we’ve got to see nagging as what it really is-
It’s mostly about you.
Parents, we nag because we want our kids to turn out ok, we want other parents to think our kids are turning out ok, we nag because we irrationally envision benign misbehaviors like procrastinating on homework as automatically meaning they’ll become lazy bums with cardboard signs at the entrance to Wal-Mart.
Bottom line- nagging rarely works, so stop doing it and find an alternative. We have to let them mess up. Don’t rob them of these valuable learning experiences. Your nagging prevents them from ever making their own mistakes. Because when they mess up after being nagged by you, then you become the reason they messed up in the first place. In their eyes, you obviously didn’t nag enough and they are guilty of nothing. Let them forget a homework assignment and get a (gasp) B- it won’t ruin their chances at Harvard (newsflash, they don’t have a chance at Harvard). Let them live in a messy room for awhile, but occasionally announce a tech-free day until the entire house is cleaned up (they do their part, you do yours). Give them choices, and make sure at least one of them is the right one-
“You want a mohawk? Well, I want dresser drawers that are color-coded according to type, length, fabric and design. You’ll get your mohawk when you rearrange your drawers and keep them that way for 1 month.” (this is how my 16 year old got a belly button piercing- which went against every rational neuron in my body, but it was her pain and her money, and I survived it).
And back to that messy floor under the bed scene that led me to these realizations- it’s still messy. I texted him my demand. He hasn’t listened (yet). But I refuse to nag. So, if it isn’t cleaned…oh…by midnight tonight, then I’ll charge him $20 for my cleaning services. Money always speaks louder than nag. And they should learn sooner rather than later, that almost everything in this world has a price tag.