Monday, October 28, 2013

Learning to embrace McDonald's and Ramen Noodles

A few weeks back I put a post up on Facebook:

"If I had known 2-1/2 years ago that all I had to do for Derrick to get A's on his tests was to buy him McDonald's - we would have had a lot smoother last 2-1/2 years! "

You see, I didn't know any better 2-1/2 years ago. I had this naive notion that I was going to take 4, half grown children, and change them all overnight. We were going to start eating all our veggies (versus the years of eating mainly fast food), we were going to make straight A's (when our 4th grader was nearly failing the 4th grade), we were going to keep spotless rooms (after never been made to clean up after themselves) and we were going to do it all with a good attitude (yeah right).

When everything didn't happen just like I wanted, immediately, my first response was always anger. And then frustration. I mean, these were smart children. How could they not understand what it was I wanted and execute those things. For almost a year, we had a nightly war at the dinner table between ourselves and the youngest one over taking one bite (yes, just one bite) of the dinner I had made. Homework brought screaming and tears and fighting - nightly. Cleaning our room was a chore that included my husband physically sitting in the kids room and instructing them on what to do. To say I was flabbergasted by all of it - that's an understatement.

What the hell was going on here?

It took a long time (and it's a continuous learning process) for me to understand that: 1. all these changes couldn't take place overnight 2. some things may never change 3. it's all in how you approach the situation.

The only thing I knew about growing up was how I had grown up. My upbringing was about as opposite as you could get for these kiddos that came into my life. When I first met them, each one told me of their future plans - they were going to stay here in East Texas. They had no college plans or aspirations. No dreams. No goals. And it made me so sad.

So, I dug in. And what seemed like every day my husband and I would tweak the way we were doing things. We would try different things to see what encouraged them or motivated them. We tried taking things away, we tried giving them monetary incentives, we tried praise and unfortunately, did a lot of yelling along the way. What we learned is that no one way works for all the kids. They are each unique individuals who have their own things that drive them.

My biggest challenge from the get go has been the youngest one. He is hard headed, stubborn and ornery. Did I mention stubborn? I've learned several things with him. First of all, there is no point in making my entire family miserable at dinnertime each night over him eating the meal I have fixed. 9 times out of 10 these days, after we sit down, he makes himself a bowl of Ramen Noodles, and everyone is happy. It still drives me crazy he won't even try things, but my sanity is worth far more than that child eating a piece of corn.

The second thing is the right motivators can do wonders. That 4th grader who came into my life almost failing, is now the star student in our house. He has turned into an A/B student, who is so proud to come home and study and to do well in school. Junk food is a motivator for him - sad but true. We keep or eat very little junk food at home, so it's a big treat for him. If he knows he can get a 12 piece nugget meal out of an A on a test, he is all over it. So, it's working well for all of us.

Maybe most importantly I've learned that everything takes time. We still never have clean rooms, but all 3 of our kids now have big plans for their future. All plan to go on to college - and none of them want to stay anywhere near East Texas. They all have huge dreams and goals now - and that makes me happier than any veggie they could ever eat. This journey has brought us to a place where they finally see a huge value in themselves and know they are capable of doing anything they dare to dream.

And, if it takes a little McDonald's and Ramen Noodles to get us to that point - I would say that is a pretty good trade off.

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