Sitting round the dinner table with my pregnant wife and our six blonde haired, blue eyed children can sound wonderfully idyllic. Being regaled with stories from school and enjoying precious teaching moments over a healthy meal is, well, picture perfect. I’m sure I had this image in my head when my wife and I decided that one more child would be a great idea.
Truth is – it’s carnage! In fact, it can sometimes feel like Lord of the Flies! Everything we have ever taught our children about dinner etiquette can vanish like a vapour into an abyss of animal instinct. When they sit down and devour their meal, it’s like their last chance for normal food before cannibalism sets in. My oldest inhales his dinner. He doesn’t eat it – it’s gone before you can say “pass the salt!” Food ends up all over the table, on the floor and remarkably even in another room of the house – don’t ask me how that happens!
Then begins the ritual of cleaning up and preparing for bedtimes. It begins with a pretence of calm as we delegate assignments, offer clarification on standards and then we are off. Off to crazy town. “I asked you to scrape and rinse the dishes.” “I said brush your teeth.” “Why haven’t you finished your homework.” “I told you to do this 30 minutes ago!” I will say this 20 times a night with growing frustration while my children continue to be blissfully and innocently preoccupied with more important things – like killing each other, using my bed like a trampoline or chasing each other naked from room to room (my two year old is the instigator there!). We can see tantrums, crying, and flopping like a dead fish on the stairs. That would be me by the way – breaking, as the kids wear me down.
My wife and I will spend at least two hours each day simply saying the same stuff over and over. In fact, I calculated it. Multiplying this time by the number of years that I will spend with my children in this age bracket worked out to be almost 24 months – two whole years – exclusively, uninterruptedly spent in repeating simple instructions.
Is this repetition a good thing or am I just a sucker for punishment? Actually, I consider it time very well spent – even if it feels like madness in the moment.
The fact of the matter is – there is a difference between expectations and anticipation. I should expect my children to do as they are told; to be polite and obedient, but I should not anticipate such behaviour all the time. That’s unrealistic. When I understand the difference, it can radically change my approach to these moments. I don’t need to lose my mind after all.
I have learned that some things take time to measure. High standards and tolerance can and should co-exist. They are not competitive, but are paradoxically complimentary. When I am tolerant, patient and encouraging I have a greater chance of achieving a change in behaviour and reaching the high standards we set for our family. Likewise in business (which is my workspace), the same holds true. If I don’t anticipate a gap between my expectations and the present reality I can get discouraged very quickly and lose confidence in the future. Let’s be patient with others and understand that we all need time to improve. After all, repetition is the mother of all learning.
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