“Son, what did you do all day?”
His sullen face looked at me, eyes clouded, defensiveness oozing. We were at yet another impasse between schoolwork that should have been completed while I was gone and the actuality of it still undone when I came back hours later. It had become a recurring scene in our house, one that I kept hoping (in vain, it seemed) would not happen again.
It all seems so possible in the early years. You show your kids how to sweep the floor and empty the dishwasher, you make the colorful chore charts, everyone has a job to do; and you are one big happy family as everyone cheerfully goes about their tasks. Homeschool also seems to flow from one subject to the next — one workbook page per day in math, one story per day in English — without much resistance that would keep things from progressing forward. Your kids aren’t perfect, of course, but you have your little army that is basically willing to do your bidding most of the time. So you check the teaching diligence box and credit yourself with passing on a good work ethic.
Then the teen years hit. And overnight your child seems to forget that you ever taught him anything, much less how to do schoolwork or housework in a timely fashion. Instead of the trained “Yes, Mom” answer, you receive the rolled eyes or the low-pitched “okay” that sounds like it’s been dragged out from the bottom-most pits of unwillingness. The steps are slow and the job is done halfway. If at all — because “I forgot” becomes an oft-used response when you check back later in the day.
It’s actually worse, rather than better, with children further down the birth order. The older kids have all the benefit of your parenting learning curve — the one that whips them into shape, usually with less than sensitivity on your part. They may be emotionally damaged, but hey, they will vacuum the floor when you tell them to.
But the younger kids have experienced your softer self, your more permissive parenting model, the one that feels guilty for the boot-camp the older ones went through and is also just tired of being the drill sergeant all the time. So not as much is required or expected of the youngers — and then puberty hits, and even a little bit of requiring and expecting doesn’t seem possible at all anymore.
You try to channel your inner drill sergeant again — but when you do, it doesn’t have the same effect that it used to, lol. That teen has morphed in just a short time into an order-resistant body of muscle that is taller than you are. The exhaustion, the needing to sleep in (for a girl, the hormones), all play into this persona that work of any kind is anathema and should be avoided at all costs.
Because it is almost comical the lengths that will be gone to in order to NOT work. The clever excuses, the glazed-over expression of non-comprehension, the creative story-crafting to make it seem like the non-work was really the better choice — surely these take more energy than actually doing the bleepin’ math lesson in the first place! Wouldn’t ya think??
Well, here today I want to go on record as stating that teaching diligence to my teen is a hill I am willing to die on.
And I just might, because he’s killing me, lol.
If what it takes is being the water that drips and drips and drips on the rock until it forms an impression, then I will be that drip. I will be a gentle drip, a more sensitive sergeant, if you will — but I will just keep dripping, just keep dripping, what do we do? We driiiiiiip.
There is a verse in Proverbs to the effect that parents who hate their children will avoid disciplining them, but those who love their children will discipline them diligently (Proverbs 13:24).
Well, I love my son. So much it hurts. And so I will diligently teach him diligence.
WHY? Because doing work well, thoroughly, and in a timely manner is crucial to his success as a person. Not just his material success, although that is a huge consideration, but also the success of his character. I want my teen to become the best man he can be. I don’t expect perfection, or the presidency, lol — but it is important that he be able to support a family and keep his house maintained and have clear eyes that reveal inner integrity.
Not fully completing a task on the job, giving a job supervisor an “I forgot,” being slow to proceed with following directions — these behaviors will bring about unemployment, hello. And by the time my children leave my house it will be too late for me to help them figure this stuff out.
HOW to go about teaching diligence??
I don’t fully know, honestly, except by continuing to address the lapses when they happen. Over and over and over again, if need be. Dripping, dripping, dripping. Sometimes with consequences that are painful.
(Note: Please be aware (especially everyone that knows us personally, lol) that the following examples are (mostly) works of my imagination and haven’t actually happened at our house. Others have, don’t get me wrong — but not these. I need to maintain a modicum of privacy for those under my care, y’all.)
1) Sometimes natural consequences are in order, like getting a D on that math test they tried to take while simultaneously watching YouTube.
2) Sometimes public failure is effective, like the time they couldn’t find their name tag for work and got a note in their file for not wearing it.
3) Sometimes removal of privileges is a good route to take, like removing electronics from their life for a week because they wasted time playing Angry Birds instead of finishing the paper that was due.
4) Sometimes adding MORE work is appropriate (this one might be my personal favorite), like when they forget to vacuum the living room, so you tell them they get to vacuum all the bedrooms, too.
On the other side of the coin, it is vital to also keep the positivity going.
1) HUGS, hugs, and more hugs. I also personally like to play with the hair on the back of their neck. Just sayin’. 🙂
2) Use these sentences often: “I will not give up on you. No matter what. We are in this together.”
3) Empathy is always a good idea. It’s easy in my case, because I have been there myself. “I do get it. I do. I had to learn the hard way. I’m trying to help you now so that you don’t have to.”
4) And as they always say, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. This one is a personal ouch for me, because my first instinct is to get angry and correspondingly loud. But sometimes (probably usually and possibly always) taking the kid to get ice cream, even though he has just failed in a big way, speaks louder than the loudest yelling. Grace and mercy, y’all.
5) And prayer.
I maintain hope that someday, sooner rather than later, the “what did you do all day” question will be answered with a list of productive tasks that were completed thoroughly and well. I do see glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, like yesterday, when I was expecting to find him playing games on his phone and instead discovered him intent upon Shakespeare. Forsooth! What light at yonder window breaks? It is my son (get it? Sun – son? Ain’t I amazing?), and I am so grateful to be his mom.
And this teaching diligence thing? Just call me Dory the drip. 🙂
Today I’m linking up with the wonderful gals of the iHomeschool Network on the topic of Teaching Kids Responsibility. Head over there for more great articles!
Also shared on Finishing Strong, the homeschool linkup just for middle and high school!