Writer KJ Dell’Antonia has four kids, and she wants them all to grow up knowing they have to contribute the household, she explained in a talk Tuesday night at Jane Addams Middle School in Seattle’s Meadowbrook neighborhood.
Does that mean getting perfect compliance on household chores? Is there some magical kid-management trick? Not exactly.
“You’re going to have to nag them, you’re going to have to put up signs … so the goal that they do the chores without you asking them? Just abandon that!” said Dell’Antonia, to many laughing parents in the audience on Tuesday night. “It doesn’t make any difference. You’re going to ask, you’re going to nag, you’re going to beg, and you’re not going to feel bad about it.”
This was a hard-won victory for Dell’Antonia, one based on her extensive research for her new book, “How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute.”
“One of the keys for me was letting go of the ‘I can’t believe I still have to ask you and you’re 14 years old and you’ve never put a dish in the dishwasher without me me telling you to,’” she recalled. “You know what I’m going to do for the next four years? I’m going to tell you to put that dish in the dishwasher.”
“I have four kids,” she said. “One of them will put the dish in the dishwasher every single time. One of them has never done it without being asked.”
The former New York Times Motherlode editor isn’t stressing about it anymore. In her new book, she delivers a whole lot of research in support of the idea that parents don’t need to push themselves to their limits to produce competent, reliable, smart kids who won’t grow up and descend into dire poverty and abject failure.
As she notes in the introduction to the book, “I’d been a parent for close to twelve years by the time it occurred to me to ask myself if the whole thing had to suck quite as much as it seemed to most days.”
If we don’t deliver them to those extra clarinet lessons or we (gasp!) let them hand in second-grade projects that look like they were done by 7-year-olds, it’s all good. They’re learning, and parents can enjoy the ride more, she said, with a few minor tweaks in expectations: “We really are where we want to be, and doing what we want to do.”
One of the major culprits contributing to horribly rushed mornings, said Dell’Antonia, is a lack of sleep. You can’t make it all work if parents and kids are operating at the brink of exhaustion. Since you can’t just let your kids sleep all morning (as many teens and tweens will surely tell you’d they’d like to) the key is to move bedtime earlier, she said.
To do that, you might just have to say no to some activities, from soccer to piano to basketball, which can extend later and later into the evenings as little ones start growing up.
“You can help make the shift by changing the way you talk to your children about sleep and bedtime,” Dell’Antonia writes in “How to Be a Happier Parent.”
Her research led her to studies that show how kids are talked to about sleep matters. “Kids can see how differently they feel after a full night’s sleep, and although it’s not likely to make them hop into bed without the usual foot-dragging, it does make a difference,” she wrote.
KJ Dell’Antonia will appear with Seattle writer Bonnie J. Rough, author of “Beyond Birds and Bees: Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids About Sex, Love, and Equality,” on Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. at Phinney Books, 7405 Greenwood Ave North.
Jillian O'Connor is a Seattle mom and writer (and member of the Jane Addams Middle School PTSA) who blogs at jillconsumer.com