I was putting Pumpkin down for bed a few nights ago. It was late, she was overtired and silly-wired-just teetering on the edge of meltdown and, of course, she wanted to play. I kept saying things like “it’s very late”, “it’s sleeping time now”, “it is NOT play time now”, “everyone is going to sleep”. After a regrettably long time it occurred to me that this poor child had no idea what I was telling her to do. She was exhausted, out of her routine, looking for my help to settle down. She was engaging me by goofing around (luckily not screaming yet, but that was just lucky) and I wasn’t getting it. I changed my approach.
“Let me hold you. Close your eyes. Be still. Let your body fall asleep.”
“Tomorrow play?”, she said. This, “tomorrow play?” is her permission to fall asleep statement. I smiled, relieved, and she was down shortly after.
As she so often does, Miss Pumpkin reminded me of something I could do better at bedtime and in the rest of my life: say exactly what it is that I mean. In my work as a psychiatrist I am precise in my language. I have to be to do my work well. But in the rest of life, I sometimes let that fall away in the interest of being polite, well-received, not seeming overly fill-in-the-nagging-woman-stereotype. And I think it hurts us as parents when we do too much of it. We have so much to handle in every moment of every day taking care of ourselves and our little ones. It must take away from a much needed source to also manage our communications so carefully…and to have to re-manage them when they haven’t served the purpose we intended.
And consider the resentment that often grows when we think we have asked someone to help us or to consider our perspective and then don’t feel helped or heard.
I hear a version of this interaction quite a bit:
Busy partner says, “dear partner, the little one could use a snack soon.”
Dear partner listens, says something like “ok” and then does not move.
Busy partner is no longer busy and returns to find things just as he or she left them. “Dear (though now slightly less dear) partner, I asked you to get the little one a snack”
Both partners are now irritated. Sound familiar?
A simpler version would be:
Busy partner says, “dear partner, would you please get the little one a snack now?”
Less busy partner says, “ok” and gets the snack.
What a gift it would be to ourselves and our families to simplify what we can in this way.