I was just reflecting on a story that I have regarding a family that came to stay with me a few years ago. I worked with a young lady who was a single mother of 2 adorable kids, brother and sister. We were waitressing at a local restaurant, when I drove her home one night. She asked that I not tell anyone where she was staying, (it was a fleabag motel in a bad part of town). Well, when I saw this, I insisted that she come stay with me because I could not in good conscience let those two sweet innocent kids stay there when I had a room available. She was currently working with Social Services to set her up in a better situation, so it would only be temporary.
Well, she was the kind of girl who liked to go out and party, so I offered to stay home with the kids and help them do homework and get them to bed and stuff. I watched how she interacted with them and parented them. She seemed to give in to them pretty easily. I guess it was the easiest route for her. I didn't understand it, but at the time I didn't have any children. But her kids certainly didn't benefit from her skills.
I would try to help her without being judgemental. For instance, once her son asked her for ice cream. At first she said no, but he whined about it, so she said "fine, whatever, it'll hurt your teeth but go ahead!" She just gave up! Even I know that an 8 y/o is not going to understand or even care about what's healthy or good for them! So, as he was opening the freezer to get it, I leaned down and whispered "Don't do it, its bad for you!" kind of in a funny voice, (not a scolding or scary way) and wouldn't you know it - he said "ok" and closed the door! He just found something else to do.
Well, another night, they were doing their homework. I think they were in kindergarten and the first or second grade (he was 8, she was 11 I think). Their work was incredibly simple, and they shouldn't have had much trouble with it. They were taking a very long time to get there work done, so as an incentive I promised them ice cream if they finished up before bedtime. The older sister needed a little help, so I gave her some guidance, but the boy just sat there completely stumped. I tried to give him help, without giving the answers, but he started crying saying "I can't do it, I don't know!! My mommy just does it for me!" I patiently explained that I was not his mommy and encouraged him to try, even reading to him the answers and asking him to repeat back what I said, so that he would get it. He still insisted that he didn't know, and cried even harder - I've never seen a kid so distraught and discouraged- he refused to even try! But I didn't give up on him, I just continued to talk to him in a calm manner, pointing out information and really giving him the opportunity to show me what he could do! He simply cried, saying over and over "I don't know!" and "my mommy usually does this for me!!" tears and snot streaming to the point where I had to send him to his room just to calm down! Where he just yelled and cried some more. It was pitiful, but what kind of person would I be to just give up? I stayed with him, and let him know that he was not in any trouble, that I just needed him to calm down. Meanwhile, his sister finishes her homework and asks for her ice cream. She deserved it and I had no problem delivering, but I thought about her brother who was breaking down, so I offered her an alternative. I told her "You can have ice cream, or if you want, you can help your brother get his homework finished so you can have some with him."
And wouldn't you know it, she said she'd rather help her brother, and away she went to make her brother feel better and help him finish his homework! I feel so proud everytime I think about this!
I wonder how other people handle their kids when they act like this, when they give up and refuse to try. I hope she doesn't still do her kids homework for them. Could this be why so many children end up in special ed, and get diagnosed with ADD and other childhood disorders? Because parents just don't want to exert any energy in actually raising their kids?