A question was raised on facebook days ago about how to handle pre-teen eye-rolling. Ahh. I remember the season of lying in bed at night trying to come up with appropriate, meaningful, nonviolent consequences for what my mother used to call "impudent" behavior. Oh, the hours I spent worrying that one of my boys would blurt out "poop" or "shut up" in front of a classroom filled with innocent, well bred preschoolers.
"Shut up" was a big no-no in the Lackey household. We simply did not say those words to a loved one or, well, any of God's children on Planet Earth. We Lackeys are civilized people. Telling someone to shut up sounded just plain barbaric to my young mother ears. Five year old Bryce proved to be my most barbaric child in the World of Polite. He outsmarted me by coining the phrase "duh-duh" which he would mumble under his breath in lieu of shouting "SHUT UP" at his older brother. Touche, Bryce. Now I confess that when I first heard your brilliant syno-homonym for "shut up," I called your dad at work and we both laughed at your sneakiness.
As a former elementary school teacher who was teaching parenting classes for our local schools, I felt like I had the whole parenting thing under control. Soon I learned that while I could keep 22 fourth graders quiet and busy, my own flesh and blood was a whole other animal. Staring down into the face of my screaming preschooler sent me into orbit slowly revolving around Planet Why-Doesn't-This-Child-Bow-Before-Me-in-Obedience. I would float there helpless trying to figure out how to gain footing back on earth so that I could win the battle of Three Bites of Green Beans. "With God as my witness! My children will learn to love all green vegetables including Brussels sprouts!" I'd howl at the moon with each revolution.
As the boys grew in height and verbal skills, I read and reread my parenting books arming myself with ideation.
"You can't MAKE a child do anything. But, you can make him wish he had."
"Keep calm and carry on!"
"You can do it, Carolyn! I know you can do it! You can do it, Carolyn! I know you can do it!"
I needed all of the self talk I could muster. My "go to your room and calm yourself down" forced through gritted teeth to Jonathan was met with a snippy "Mommy, you are RUINING my self esteem!!" thrown over his shoulder as he marched to his room. Ack! An arrow into my heart! How did this child know my Achilles heel? Was it the stacks of parenting books on the guest bed? The piles of handouts for a parenting class titled "Raising Your Child's Self-Esteem?" I resisted the urge to run to him, grab him up in my arms, and assure him that he was an important person who would make wonderful contributions to mankind as well as the urge to barge into his room to lecture him on how he could nurture his own little self esteem with good behavior.
By the time my boys reached puberty, I had toughened into a "C'Mon, Show Me Whatcha Got" shadow boxing champ. My copy of Parenting with Love and Logic was tear-stained and dog-eared. Bring on the eye-rolling! Slam those doors! Stomp your feet as you "triumphantly" exit the kitchen! I fell back on a breathing technique that I learned from a birthing class sensei all those years ago. She called it "Prepared Childbirth." I called it "Prepared Parenting." I went back to the place of "Heeee Heeee Hooooooo" to bring my blood pressure down from the heart attack zone. I centered myself emotionally by pretending to slowly exhale blowing out imaginary birthday candles. I created a secret mothering game called "I-Scream-He-Wins-I-Stay-Calm-I-Don't-Die-of-a-Heart-Attack."
One day as Reed was rolling his eyes at me while taking out the kitchen trash, I had a huge epiphany. Reed's rolling eyes were screaming disrespect, but his feet were humbly complying with my request! It was a victory of Yes and No! I won...unless, of course, he was secretly putting the trash sack in the back of my Suburban. The next day as I was watching Dr. Phil deal with parents of a wild banshee teen, I realized that while my boys had slammed doors and rolled their eyes they had never once ever screamed profanities at me. I proclaimed this a huge victory in the realm of parenting teens. I fashioned a crown and scepter out of construction paper and stood at the kitchen window gently waving the back of my hand like Queen Elizabeth to the occasional dog walker.
As far as the facebook question regarding eye-rolling went, my response was met with some resistance. I know. I know. Eye-rolling is the height of disrespect most 12 year olds can muster. It comes on the heels of snuggling, cuddling, and "I love you, Mommy." Young moms need to see eye-rolling for what it is - a barometer of maturity. It's the outward sign of inward thoughts. Ignore it. Don't squelch it. It can be your friend. The eyes can shout "No!" if the feet and hands are saying "Yes, Ma'am!" For when the eyes no longer roll, you will know that your child has reached Maturity Nirvana. Your job is done. You have succeeded in moving them from obedient, albeit eye-rolling, compliance to polite assistance. Take a bow! Bravo!
Did I ever scold my boys for rolling their eyes at me while protesting with a hearty, "Moo-om?" Heck, yeah. Did it stop the rolling. Heck, no. Do they still roll their eyes at me now that they are college men? Only when I totally have it coming.