Last week, on a school day, our alarm went off and my husband and I did not jump out of bed. We lay there looking at the ceiling for a few minutes, you know, in dread. It was, as we call it, “time to wake the donuts,” and man, we really didn’t want to. Truth be told, our kids have been less than pleasant in the morning lately.
The thing is, they have their own agendas. They aren’t as committed as we are to making it to school on time, dressed, fed, groomed and prepared. None of that is especially important to them and they tend to do their very best to befuddle the program. We still make it on time, mostly, and once there, they are great–but the process is exhausting!
There is complaining, there is stalling, there is procrastinating, there is caterwauling, sometimes out and out insubordination plus, my all-time favorite, intense bickering.
It does sound like fun, doesn’t it?
It kind of makes me want to lock myself in my room.
But then I thought, wait a minute, I am in charge here. Why am I running this operation in a way that makes me want to lock myself in my room?
And just when I had decided enough was enough, I was fortuitously reminded of a book a friend’s teacher had requested for her classroom library called How to Behave and Why–and I knew that we NEEDED it!
How to Behave and Why is a timeless classic published in 1946 by Munro Leaf (author of another timeless classic, Ferdinand). Leaf suggests, “The two biggest questions to ask ourselves in life, at any age, are: Are most of the people I know glad that I am here? Am I glad that I am here, myself?” Because after all, getting along with and being loved and trusted by others is key to happiness and success in life.
How to Behave and Why explains to kids that to make good friends and keep them you have to be honest, fair, strong, and wise, “and all that isn’t so easy.”
Leaf does a great job explaining the importance of being truthful, of recognizing that others have the same rights as you, of being true to yourself, and sticking to what you know is right. He reminds kids that parents aren’t weird monsters that have fun making kids do things they don’t want to do: “They just know a lot more than we do because they have been here longer.” (Right?!)
He reminds kids that learning to live a happy life is a lot like sailing in a boat with other people. You have to learn the ropes before you can command the ship “and help to make the world a better place for all of us.”
Basically, Leaf is saying what we parents have been saying all along–but it makes it more legitimate having it in print and in a concise, kid-friendly format. When I read it to my kids I believe they were thinking, “What? Those are real rules? Oh shoot, I thought that was just a bunch of Mom bull. Dang!”
And I do think it has helped. My seven year old has asked me several times lately, “Are you glad that I am here?” which is Munro Leaf-speak for, “Am I being pleasant and likable right now?” I am glad it’s given her pause. It is, in fact, much more pleasant to be in the company of people who care about the effect they have on others.
And so while our mornings are still, you know, mornings, they are a little better, and through Munro Leaf we have found another way of expressing to our kids what is important to us and what we expect of them.
One of these days they’ll nail it.