Friday, July 29, 2011

The 30-Second Rule

Words. I like them. I really do.

I like using them. I like combining them into clever phrases, stringing them together in complex sentences with descriptive color commentary (and wry asides). Back in college, I was an English and Drama double major so I respect the power of both the written and the spoken word. For more than half my life, I've worked as a professional writer and when I'm not getting paid for my prose, I can usually be found reading thick books, scribbling furiously in my journal, crafting cultural pieces for a wonderful online magazine Women's Voices for Change, or blogging right here.

Yes, I like words. Words are my friends. As far as I'm concerned, the more words, the better.

However, when it comes to using words to help you mother a tween? Less is definitely more.

As much as I treasure thoughtful, logical conversations with my daughter, these days they are few and far between. Her life is moving forward at a lightning pace and she's juggling summer plans, schoolwork, riding lessons, music, fashion, gossiping with her BFFs. Sitting down for a heart-to-heart with her Mamacita just isn't at the top of her list. Let's face it, it's not on her list at all.

The terrible tweens are much like the terrible twos. At both stages, the aforementioned "terrible" is caught between stages developmentally. They are longing for independence but still require guidance and support (as well as food, shelter and Abercrombie gift cards). And, they need definitive instructions from you — yes this, no that. Not drawn-out requests and explanations.

Consider this all-too-familiar scenario ...

Mother (loving, well-meaning, hard-working, looks pretty good for her age) enters her tween daughter's room. Room is in disarray. (Surprise.) Daughter (sullen, bored, wise beyond her years, but cute nonetheless) is texting on her iPhone. (I repeat ... Surprise.) Prior to the adoption of the 30-second rule, the resulting mother-daughter dialogue might have run something like this ...

Mother: Honey? The So-and-so's are coming for dinner tonight. Can you please clean your room this afternoon?

Daughter: Uh-huh (continues texting)

Mother: It's really a disaster area, sweetie. If you'd just put your clean clothes away and put the dirty ones in the hamper, it would help. You can't even see the top of your desk; no wonder you couldn't find your notes for the science final. And, all those earrings on your night table? The backs are going to get lost again.

Daughter: Okay, okay (continues texting)

Mother: Could you just put the deodorant and the hairbrush back in the cabinet after you use them? Hang up your towels, all right? And, your bed isn't going to make itself. You know, I had to go to four different websites to find those pillow cases. I try to make it special for you and you just don't seem to care about it.

Daughter: Whatever (continues, you guessed it, texting)

Mother: I know you think I'm a neat freak, but as long as you're living under my roof, you have to do this one small thing for me, okay? You're a citizen of this family and we all work together to make a nice home. Just think how lucky we are to live here. A lot of girls your age don't have such a beautiful big room. I know I would have given anything for a room this nice when I was your age. Will you please just straighten it up for me?

Daughter: Sure, sure, in two minutes.

Having finally run out of things to say, the mother retreats. She returns forty (as opposed to the promised two) minutes later to find that the daughter is no longer texting. Now, she's on Facebook. The room is exactly as it was. Exactly. The mother, who is now stressed-out, tired and frustrated as well as loving, well-meaning and hard-working, repeats many of the same arguments only this time her voice is raised. And, so is her blood pressure.

Consider now, the same situation with the application of the 30-second rule.

Mother: Please clean up your room ...

Daughter: Uh-huh

Mother: ... now.

Chances are, the daughter will object and point out that she is texting. But a 30-second mom will tell her firmly that she must stop texting until the room is clean. At this point, the daughter will add age-appropriate sound effects and physical displays, such as eye-rolling and exaggerated shoulder shrugging. The 30-second mom will stand her ground. She will not waste precious moments talking and talking and talking, and thereby undermining her own authority. She knows her daughter and if the case warrants it, she will actually take the iPhone away until the room is clean.

Basically, any instruction (clean your room, set the table, do your homework, take the dog for a walk) should be delivered in as few words as civilly possible; "Please" and "Thank you" don't take long to say. Without all the begging and pleading, cajoling and justifying, the house will be quieter, calmer and arguably cleaner.

And, just think of the time you'll save. You and your tween can use those extra minutes for meaningful, memorable mother-daughter bonding.

Ummm ... Or not.

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