Tuesday, January 24, 2012

checklist mom-ing

Porter wears a given outfit (usually a sleeper, but apparently not always a sleeper) for 24 hours. He can often be found in this pose.

I think that I have overall improved as a parent over the last six years (poor Andrew!). My expectations for everyone and everything have become more realistic, for one, which has been huge for me. I am more realistic about how much sleep to expect (for myself), how much time it will take to do things, what is developmentally appropriate for each age and stage (no more being embarrassed that my 20 month old will occasionally strike me about the face or trunk or frustrated/worried about tantrums or other behaviors I used to think were a) unique to my emotionally disturbed or undisciplined kid and b) permanent. It doesn't make me crazy that the house is just going to be sorta messy during the day, and overnight here and there. I learned that an hour of happiness in front of the tv is so worth avoiding the parental tantrums that might ensue without it every once in a while, and that weekly field trips to museums were more of a pain than a payout. I know you all want me to go on to paint a clearer picture, but that will have to do.

But I also realized this week that while my stress level has gone down with my expectations, so have a few other things that were good and worthy. I basically used to live my life as if I were running a preschool. We had lessons, did a daily craft, went to the park to blow of steam. Every day. The kids were happier and my life was easier to live. Now that Andrew is in school and we are in the middle of making some good progress with Will at the dinner table, we have more constraints on our time that leave us more homebound, and somehow I am have become less preschooly. With Andrew in full day school, our center of gravity has moved up to the next level, even though I still have a toddler who could really use the home=preschool schedule. It doesn't help that there are three instead of one or two, now. Poor Porter definitely gets read to less often than the other boys. (Our bedtime reading is Harry Potter, for goodness sakes.) Yesterday I pulled out the crafts for some cutting and gluing, and I realized it had been almost a month since our last such session. I resolved to be better.

This morning I listened to this Freakonomics podcast and it reminded me of two books I read that were supposed to change my life but instead turned into mental shadows that scold me on occasion: Better and The Checklist Manifesto.
It also reminded me not to be lazy about enforcing pre-meal hand-washing, another detail that has unjustly slipped when our axis turned toward the elementary level of parenting (mostly because Andrew is now faithful at it on his own?). It also reminded me of the lesson I have learned from our issues Will, which is that eyeballing and estimating can yield grossly incorrect assessments. You have got to write everything down and do the math.

So I decided to make a list of things to check off each day for myself. I have a Mom Chart to go right next to the Boys' Chore Chart (which I hope ends up on the floor less often than their does). Living this way is not really my personality. My personality is much more laid-back and lax (the positive spin--or can I say "side"?) to being a bit sloppy. I need a bit of a report card over my shoulder to keep my accountable, to show me that even when I feel like I haven't done things well enough because I have been in bad temper or whatever millions of ways I misstep every day, I can at least see that I have met my realistic goals. I am not worried about losing the forest through the trees, or becoming too letter of the law while losing the spirit of it. I am definitely a spirit of the law person by nature, and I need some built-in letters to make sure I stay on track ("You can't understand the spirit of the law until you have lived the letter, Elder," wrote the wise dad of a fellow idiotic missionary).

I shouldn't publicize, because it just shows how much I have lowered the bar. Also I don't feel like taking a photo and going through the whole rigamarole of uploading it. Trust me, you probably already do all these things.

Gotta, go--Porter's nap time is passing me by!


terrah said...

I love the idea! I'll have to brainstorm up one of my own. I think it would be nice to see a list of what minimal things I accomplished rather than getting bogged down... or forgetting altogether... the things I missed at the end of the day.

A year or two ago I started a cleaning checklist spreadsheet for myself. I will almost never clean my whole house in one day (except when guests come). But it does help to see what day I did which task last, either to make me feel better that it hasn't been as long as it seems, or induce a little guilt that the counter really should be cleaned off more than once a week. It's been so helpful for me.

Sarah said...

You are a wonderful mother, Alexandra. I've always thought so. And I am thoroughly impressed by your old schedule- crafting every day?! It is interesting, the things you let go (by necessity or laziness or whatever) when you have more than one child. I think in our family, Peter has it the worst, as far as lazy parenting goes. He kind of just gets lumped in with Benjamin. I love the Mom list idea! I may have to try that out.

melissa said...

It seems strange to comment as I am fortunate enough to speak with you almost every day. Andrew, Will, and Porter are so lucky.
I have gotten far worse as a mom the more kids I have and I so appreciate the inspiration you have given me to be better, as always.

Lyndsay said...

Maybe I'm missing the point, but I'm totally impressed that you were per-schooly at any point, so the fact that you've scaled it back still puts you at a parenting level much above mine. I've been thinking about parenting a lot now thr I have two kids and the road ahead seems daunting.

alexandra said...

Lyndsay, I only did what I had to to keep everyone from going crazy. I think it was mainly for Andrew. Ever since he left all day, we just hang out and play in pajamas. We seriously dont even dress anymore. My new rules include things like "smile!" and "brush teeth." I realized when I reread it that I sound much more ambitious than I really am. I think there is something to be said, though, for just lowering the bar and being ok with that--even proud of just brushing teeth, smiling, and not cursing.

Tara, Doug, Isaac, and Lucy said...

Alex, I've loved getting caught up on your blog, and I'm frustrated by your Obama post. Could we just please have people be honest? I was so frustrated during the last presidential debate, watching Romney and Gingrich call each other liars for half an hour. So frustrating.

Ashley said...

I read all these posts a while ago but have to say I totally relate to the shifting center of gravity. Life revolves around getting the older boys to and from school and I have never once taken Bennett out just to walk around the neighborhood like I used to do with Charlie all the time. I feel bad for the little guys and it makes me want to have all my kids really quick and be done(like one more). Crafts have gone the way of all the earth. Oh, and lest you be impressed with our tooth-brushing, both Charlie and Max have EIGHT cavities. But I think there is a lot of value in having a happy and relaxed mom, and also a lot of value in the kids learning to entertain themselves on their own. Your checklist sounds noble but even the thought of making one for myself makes me resentful of the rules and obligations!