A couple of years ago, when my now teen daughter was younger, she used to say "Don't tell me you love me so much." Apparently, I was a big, bad, broken record of maternal affection.
She doesn't complain about that anymore (I'm sure she still thinks it though). In fairness, I try not to hug her as much, kiss her as much, stroke her hair, rub her back ... y'know, any of those oh-so-offensive gestures. And, I limit my "Love you's" too.
But, I'm still a broken record.
If "I love you" made her roll her eyes, how must my daughter feel about the things I say these days? Here's a sample, by no means complete, of the endless litany of nags she puts up with:
"Don't leave dirty dishes in your room."
"Put your laundry in the hamper."
"Get off your phone."
"Make your bed."
"Bring the dirty dishes down from your room."
"Hang up your jacket."
"Have you finished your homework?"
"Don't stay up too late."
"Eat your green beans."
"Put on a scarf."
"Puh-lease take the dirty dishes down from your room."
"Take your backpack upstairs."
"Take your shoes off the couch."
"Take your vitamin."
Take, take, take ... take me away. Now. When did I become this person? Do I even say "Please?" I hope so. Sometimes. Maybe.
I don't know.
When your children are little, you have high hopes for them — and for yourself too. You vow never to be unreasonable, never to say "Because I said so." Never to nag.
Never say never.
I have an excuse; my daughter doesn't listen. Period. We can say the same things over and over (believe me, we do) and they don't sink in. How many times have I asked her not to leave ice cream bowls on her desk? That would be ... um ... a thousand! We have rules about cell phone use. Does she adhere to them? In a word, no. Does that make me nag?
In a word, YES.
Then again, why should she listen to me when I never seem to say anything of consequence? Same old, same old. Even fairly benign questions must get irritating when she hears them day after day after day after day:
"How was school today?"
The thing is, most of my nagging isn't about anything important. (But, I do — and will continue to — say "Drive carefully" every time she gets behind the wheel of a car.) Really, what am I afraid of? That she'll flunk out of school and live a life of poverty and despair? That her laundry will take over her bathroom and I'll lose her in it? That the dirty dishes on her desk will attract a variety of vermin and we'll all catch the bubonic plague?
Well, yes. I mean, no. Maybe. I digress.
There are many keys to good parenting and one that I've always believed in is: "Choose your battles." In honesty, I was a lot better at it when my daughter was younger, compliant and worshipped me. It's tougher now. Somehow it feels as though I can't stop because if and when I do stop it will mean I've given up. Given up on my immaculate house, given up on my compulsive organization. Or, here's the rub, given up on any semblance of authority.
I have a very good kid. My nagging has never included anything remotely like:
"Don't do intravenous drugs before dinner; you'll spoil your appetite."
"Did you remember to take your birth control pill?"
"Have you finished that community service the judge ordered?"
I know I'm lucky. My daughter is a smart, funny, talented young person with a big heart. She puts up with my incessant nagging at least as graciously as any other 16-year old. I'll try to hold my tongue next time. I really will.
But, I wish she'd take the dirty dishes out of her room.
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