Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Kid With No Currency

The following is probably going to be one of those blog posts that, once my kids are old enough that we'll let them search the internet on their own, they will scowl at me for it if they find it. But since I've decided this blog is going to be just about life and observations and musings--a public journal of sorts, that's the risk I take.

Nobody who's ever tried it for more than three minutes will dispute that parenting is hard. And anyone who has more than one child will laugh knowingly when you dig your fingers into your scalp wondering why in the world people with so much overlapping genetic material end up so daggum different in terms of personality.

In terms of genetic variations in my family, I have one relatively compliant but scatterbrained child--an absentminded professor, if you will, a people pleaser with an imp underneath, and My Angry Child. My Angry Child has been the subject of more prayers and tears and lost-for-words bafflement in my life than the other two put together. I love him fiercely, but as for trying to shepherd this child? Neither rod nor staff nor food nor fury have done the job so far.
Clearly, this is not my child...but the expression is familiar.

On my way to work today, I pondered this child and whether he would come home with yet another behavior notice this afternoon. The first few "your child disrupted class today" emails that came home this year--of course I responded with horror and third-party repentance for My Angry Child's infractions. But lately, I really am sorry, Mr. Fourth Grade teacher-Saint, but I just don't know what to say, and I've stopped responding. If I knew the magic incantation to open My Angry Child's eyes to the way his behavior derails your efforts to teach, or the way not everything is somebody else's fault, or how Everyone is not actually making fun of him 24-7, I would implement it and pass it along, I promise.

The trouble with My Angry Child is that he has never had what Dr. Kevin Lehman would call "currency." There's nothing I've found that I can take away from this boy that will drive him to preventative measures the next time. Wii time? Whatever. Dessert? It's not the only one we'll ever have. Playtime with friends? Play dates are few during the school year. So back to my drive to work--I spent the bulk of the 40 minute commute wracking my brain. Every kid has a currency, what is MAC's?

So wending my way through as many Christian psychology and parenting helps tucked away in the cluttered recesses of my mind as I could recall, I dragged out the old Five Love Languages concept. (A very useful way to evaluate people and why the heck they took something the way they did and not how you intended, by the way.) For those of you not familiar, the five ways this philosophy implies people receive love are: through works of service, through physical touch, through words of affirmation, through gifts, and through an expenditure of time.

I have always somewhat lamented that my love language is time--what do parents of elementary- and middle school-aged kids who work full time jobs and have artistic hobbies have less of in this world? (Well, maybe money, but anyway...) My tank gets empty pretty easily and I have periodic meltdowns because of it. This morning it hit me.

My Angry Child's love language is also TIME.

Crap.

Pardon my coarseness, but yeah. Could it be that busyness, despite the fact that we eat dinner together pretty much every night of the week, despite the fact that I get out of work at 3:30 to pick my kids up at school as soon as employabley possible, is sabotaging MAC's emotional storage tank? We do so much less in terms of activities than literally every family I know, but still, we're scrambling to juggle everything, 366 days of the year. What we do, we do as a family unit, for the most part.

In a group, the Time Lover doesn't get his tank filled. It takes focused, "I just want to be with you--even if we don't really do anything very interesting" time to make this type of person feel fortified--especially if he's also an introvert, which I suspect MAC is.

One on one, MAC is fun to be with, witty, and very loving. I want his classmates and teachers to see that side of him. Not the one that loses control during the school day (and then when I rail at him in my exasperation, the one that breaks down and says "I don't want to be the bad kid," between sobs. Yeah, epic parenting fail during that conversation.)

So, alone in my car, where it's quiet and I can actually think for a while, if I don't get stuck behind a school bus and want to combust, here's what I came up with.

What if I tell MAC, that every week, he gets an hour of one-on-one time with me on Saturday or Sunday, whichever works better? (Yes, this means I will probably have to cut my Sunday nap out of the routine. Please pass the coffee. And yes, this is going to cause conflict with Compliant Professor and Smiling Imp, but we'll deal with that separately.) If he has a "clean" week at school, then he gets the full hour. Every time I get a notice that he's misbehaved, he loses ten minutes of that time.  If he has multiple infractions some days, yes, he could lose the whole hour by the end of Friday.

If I'm right, I think that MAC will work very hard to shield that chance at an hour where he gets to be the center of one person's universe. When he gets a little bigger, maybe he'll want that person to be Dad, but for now, he's still into hanging with Mom, and I'd be a fool not to cherish that for every moment I can squeeze out of it. There's a part of me that worries I have this all wrong and we'll be at square one after a failed experiment, but the bigger part of me is sure only good can come of trying. For the first time in a long time, I'm actually looking forward to squeezing another obligation into my schedule.