I'd rather you not wear that T-shirt," I told my then-preteen daughter, Susy, as we headed out the door on our way to dinner with some friends. "You need to put on a nice skirt and blouse. And please dry your hair completely!"
"Oh, Mom, it doesn't matter what I wear. Do I have to?" Susy responded with an exasperated roll of her eyes that said, It's a pain to have such a picky mom!
At first, her reaction made me feel like a louse. Then I realized part of a child's job description is to complain, and part of my job description is to nag. After all, we moms are training our kids so they'll be ready for whatever God calls them to do. That often means direct teaching—and yes, sometimes that involves nagging.
Here are some hints to help you select when and how to do it.
Decide What's Negotiable
Crucial issues—ones that deal with character traits such as integrity, respect, compassion, and kindness—should never be negotiable. For example, lying is not acceptable. Speeding or drinking under age 21 also are non-negotiables—they're against the law.
"Swing" issues aren't as black-and-white. These issues involve trendy dress, earrings, belly rings, blue hair, messy rooms, mouthing off, moodiness, or movies.
Much of what you nag about and what you let go of will depend on your children's ages. Too often parents placate their young children to build their self-esteem, then come down like gangbusters in the teen years. Do just the opposite: Be firm during their early years on such things as keeping their room clean or dressing properly, then loosen up in the teen years. Simply shut the door to their room or your eyes to the too-baggy jeans. You'll have more crucial issues with which to deal.
Set Consequences—Then Follow Through
It's often the little things that drive us and our kids crazy. Take thank-you notes, for instance. While nobody likes to write them, they're important be cause they demonstrate appreciation for someone else.
Simply let your children know that all thank-you notes must be finished by a certain date or there's no TV or car use until they're completed.
Handle household chores the same way. In our house, we posted a weekly chore chart on the refrigerator. All chores had to be finished by 6 P.M.. on Saturday, or the kids didn't go out. Exceptions needed to be arranged in advance. Posting chores avoided the need for nagging.
Use Notes And Checklists
Sticky notes can be a great nag reliever! One good place to post a note is on your bathroom mirror: "Remember your lunch!" or "Don't forget to call Jenny after school." If your house is full of boys, a Post-It on the inside of the toilet seat that says, "Please put the lid down so mom doesn't fall in," is much better than constantly nagging, "Put the lid down!"
Brainstorm with Your Kids
When you feel like the meanest mom in town, it's time to call a family meeting. Be honest with your kids: "I need to tell you I'm feeling like the biggest nag in the world. I don't want to be a constant nag. But we have a situation that I'm not getting cooperation on. Let's think of ways we can see progress in this area and relieve me of some of the nagging. What do you suggest?"
Put your heads together and brainstorm as many solutions as you can. Agree on a specific strategy and a time frame for trying it out. Not only will this involve your kids in the solution, but it will train them in creative problem-solving skills.
"Put your napkin in your lap." "Chew with your mouth closed." "Sit up straight." "Look someone in the eye when you speak to him." Manners training is a real drag, but it has to be done because it teaches your kids how to respect others. However, here are a few ways to make it more fun.
When our kids were young, we held regular "White House dinners." On this night, we got out the fine china, linen napkins, and ate an elegant dinner in the dining room. We pretended we were at the White House, and we practiced using proper utensils and engaged in good conversation. Why is this important? I want my children to be as comfortable dining with kings in palaces as with paupers in a dirt hut. The apostle Paul tells us that it's wise to "become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). We wanted our children to be able to make any person feel comfortable.
No, they weren't always excited about these dinners. Yes, they rolled their eyes. But now as young twenty somethings, they've dined in all kinds of settings—and appreciate Mom's crazy dinners a bit more.
It's so much easier for us to take each other for granted than to remember to appreciate each other. When your kids do remember, post a note on the refrigerator saying, "Bravo! You remembered your lunch!"
Don't forget to say, "Thank you for the good job you did mopping the floor," or "I'm proud of the way you talked to my friend. You had the nicest manners."
Positive feedback and appreciation go a long way in putting a positive spin on nagging.
Build for the Future
You'll get tired of nagging, but maintain a long-range perspective. Don't expect your kids to say, "Oh, Mom, you're so wise. Thank you for reminding me." That's unrealistic. Laughingly say, "Hey, I'm training you to be a good husband or a good wife. One day you'll appreciate this."
It's more important what your child thinks of you 20 years from now than what he thinks now.
Susan Alexander Yates is the author of numerous books, including How to Like the Ones You Love: Building Family Friendships for Life (Baker).
Copyright © 2000 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.