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The best advice I ever got before having kids was from a baby book: Start as you mean to go on. It became my mantra, and helped me nip so many things in the bud that I might otherwise have let linger until they were big problems.
My kids aren’t babies anymore, but I still find myself needing this advice. This week has been a good example.
My daughter gets a shower after dinner each night – one fewer thing to worry about in the morning. This week, after having no problem with this for years, she started procrastinating. Finally, she asked if anybody else was going to be going upstairs soon.
Now, I should explain that if you’re on the top floor in our house (where the shower is), and everybody else is on the bottom floor, you really are isolated, since there are four floors. I think a lot of kids have a fear of being upstairs alone at some point, but in our house upstairs is really upstairs. But it’s been like this for years.
When we told her that no, we’d all be downstairs – I was doing the dinner dishes (shocking, I know) and Jake and his dad were watching TV – she said she was scared to be up there alone. I didn’t take her seriously, because like I said, this was new. I thought she just didn’t want to get a shower. I told her to go, and she did.
She raced down the stairs about three minutes later, and I couldn’t believe she had actually showered. But her hair was wet and smelled clean, and she swore that she had scrubbed everything.
Last night after dinner, again, she said she didn’t want to go upstairs. This time there was nothing stopping me from going up there – I was working on my laptop and can do that anywhere. But then I remembered, start as you mean to go on. Did I want to have to relocate upstairs whenever she had to shower? And did I really want to validate her fears like that, make her think that there really was a reason to be scared up there?
I’ll give her this – our house can be scary. It’s old and creaky. But it’s our reality. It’s not practical for her to be afraid of it.
I was scared of showering alone when I was her age, and I didn’t even have a big old scary house. I used to convince my sisters to sit in the bathroom and “practice their reading” while I was showering. And my grandmother’s second floor was seriously terrifying (thank goodness the bathroom wasn’t up there!).
But unless her brother was going to commit to going upstairs with her every night (he wasn’t), she was going to have to work this out for herself. I didn’t want to move, and once again I was letting my laziness make a parenting decision (hey, it’s been working out well so far!).
I asked her if she wanted to turn on all the lights up there, and she said she already turned on most of them, but didn’t want to reach into Jake’s room because something might grab her. I told her that was impossible since nobody was in Jake’s room, and asked her if she wanted to listen to the radio while she was showering, and she said that wouldn’t help. I told her to try it anyway. She protested a little, but I think she knew I wasn’t going to budge, and she went.
She came downstairs about fifteen minutes later – not running down – and said happily “The radio helped! Thanks, mommy.” And gave me a hug.
I doubt this is the last I’ll hear about this, and I don’t mean to suggest that every fear is this easily defeated. But I think there’s something to be said for not feeding in to this stuff. When I’m lying in bed and think that I hear something, if my husband rolls over and says “It’s nothing, go back to sleep” I do. But if he says “Yeah, I heard it to” then I’m trembling wide-eyed for an hour, waiting for an ax murderer to bust through my bedroom door.
So, when my kids come to me with a fear that I think is completely unfounded, I don’t give them the tiniest hint that they might be right. So far so good, and most importantly, I don’t have to get out of my chair. :-)
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