I find working from home challenging at times when Benji comes in needing intervention: he’s hungry, the computer isn’t working, he’s bored. The “I’m hungry” whine in particular seemed to come constantly, and it felt like I was always having to get up and make a snack or lunch for someone.
When all this first started, so long ago, I happily quit making sack lunches. I never liked packing lunch even for myself, and definitely not for Benji, who pretty much daily complained about whatever I put in there — even if he asked for the food himself.
Over time, though, it became clear that I was going to go nuts if Benji had to ask me for food every time he thought he was hungry (I say that because sometimes that’s the voice of boredom). It took an embarrassingly long time, but eventually I figured out to resume packing a sack lunch for Benji. I put in all his food for the day: several snacks, fruit, veggies, and a sandwich.
Now when he feels hungry, Benji helps himself to whatever he wants from his lunch bag. He can eat any time he wants and anything he wants, as long as it’s from the bag. When he’s eaten everything, then he’s done with food until we all eat dinner together.
This innovation has literally redeemed what feels like hours of my day and many precious sanity units. (Is there a unit to measure how sane a person is? I’ve never heard of one.) This simple change checks so many boxes at once:
– Benji likes feeling in control and like he has a choice. With this, he actually DOES have a meaningful choice.
– I like not being interrupted about food. Food interruptions in particular always included a lot of arguing and negotiating, which took so much energy. I’ve redeemed both the time and the metal and emotional energy.
Now if Benji comes and whines that he’s hungry, we have a super easy response: “Go get something from your lunch.” If he doesn’t like what’s in there, that’s his choice to not eat it, but we don’t give him different food just because he doesn’t feel like, for example, celery.
So that’s one good innovation we’ve figured out.
Another one is similar, with the idea of giving choice within boundaries. About five or six weeks ago, we started making Benji do daily chores. My mom introduced this idea, and we feel it’s incredibly valuable.
But instead of just saying “Take out the garbage today,” we make a list of four or five chores that need to be done. Benji picks the three he’ll do that day.
Amazingly, having chosen which chores to do, Benji then very cooperatively does them. We have to remind him about them pretty often, but instead of fighting about it he typically says, “Oh yeah!” and does it.
The funny thing is that this actually makes more chores for us. We save all the dishes to load into the dishwasher; we wait to take out the garbage and recycle; we have to teach Benji how to properly water plants, go grocery shopping, vacuum, or whatever the new task may be. And, of course, I have to write a daily list of choices.
Even so, I think this part of his education — what it looks like to be a contributing member of a family — is more than worth the effort we have to put in. I remember when I was a kid and Mom spent… I don’t know how many times teaching me how to properly clean a bathroom. It’s part of parenting, and we have just taken a while to adapt to Benji being a big kid who does chores.
I guess the theme here is giving Benji autonomy within boundaries. As parents, our role will increasingly transition to enabling Benji to take on responsibility commensurate with his maturity. Here goes nothing.