Friday, September 14, 2012

The Nagging Truth

I read a story written by a parenting expert a few days ago. It said that you should make a list of all the things you nag your teen about, and then cull it down to just the most important three. 

Three? How could I possibly choose three?

Let's get a few things straight here. First of all, I am not naturally a "nag." I have what might be called a "can-do" attitude. I see something that needs doing and I do it. I expect other people in my life — my husband, my coworkers, my teenage daughter — to behave the same way. If everyone does what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it, there is no nagging necessary. Right?

Dream on, my friend, dream on.

I'm quite certain that my daughter would find this hard to believe (Hard? Try impossible!), but it gives me no pleasure to nag. I actually resent being put in a nagging situation. Sometimes, I'm surprised by what comes out of my own mouth.

Who is this person, I wonder. When did I become such a ... well ... nag?

Think about the word itself. As a noun, it literally means a decrepit old horse. As a verb, it means to complain incessantly. Incessantly! I'm an incessant complainer. Ugh!

But, despite my aversion to the very concept of myself as nag, reading the story made me stop and think. Do I nag too much? Probably. Should I choose my battles? Probably. Would life be better if I took an enormous chill pill? Probably!!!

If there's anything at which I've always excelled, it's following instructions. Seriously, I was one of those kids who did really, really well on standardized tests. I actually enjoy following rules. (This is just one of the reasons my daughter and I rarely see eye-to-eye.) So, I sat down and made my list. Here is just a small part of it:

• "Make your bed."
• "Pick up your dirty clothes; put them in the hamper."
• "Hang up your coat."
• "Turn off the computer."
• "Did you bring in the permission slip?"
• "Put your phone down."
• "Have you finished your homework yet?"
• "Don't snack anymore, we're having dinner soon."
• "Brush your teeth."
• "Have you written that 'Thank You' note yet?"
• "When will you be home?"
• "Did you return that book?"
• "Call her back now."
• "Turn that music down."
• "When are you going to study for the test?"
• "Clean off your dresser."
• "Bring your shoes upstairs."
• "Bring the empty soda can downstairs."
• "Use your napkin."
• "Don't eat cookie dough out of the container."

In my defense, I do usually add the word "please." Also, in my defense, these actions that I am (incessantly) asking about are not news. It's not like my teenager doesn't know she's supposed to make the bed. And finally, once again in my defense, I am not the only person in this mother-daughter relationship who is nagging.

My daughter is a very accomplished little nag herself.

She may be in Honors English, but she has trouble with some pretty simple words. Like n-o. When I use that word, as in ...

"Can I get a new riding helmet?"

... she seems to think that I've said, "No. But, if you nag me about it (if you incessantly complain about it) long enough, I'll realize that I actually mean Yes."

Then there's the nagging about how terrible, how downright Dickensian, her teenhood is. Nobody else it seems ever has to clean their room or do their homework. Nobody else has rules about computer and phone usage. Nobody else has to let their mother know where they are or when they'll be home.

How do I know all of this? Because of my daughter's nagging, of course.

So, back to my assignment. Which three will it be? I'm reminded of the story of the Fisherman and his Wife who were granted three wishes by a magic fish. I never understood why they didn't ask for more wishes. I guess my nag list would include:

• "Have you done everything in your power to succeed at school?" (See, this covers homework, studying, reading, returning important documents to school.)
• "Have you done everything in your power to make our home nice and comfortable and orderly?" (That's for beds, floors, laundry, dishes.)
• "Have you done everything in your power to stay healthy?" (There's exercise, diet, hygiene.)

Let's hear it for consolidation. But, somehow I don't think that's what the author had in mind.

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