Teaching Kids Work Ethics by Having a Temper Tantrum. Lessons in Effective Parenting.

I walked in the door and he was slumped in his seat watching a Khan Academy video. The tutor looked exasperated and took me aside to tell me so. Later there was a temper tantrum where phrases like “I hate my life!” and “I’s so stupid!” were flung at me in an accusatory way. The day before had been a similar episode with a different kid. And so I lost it. I had to walk out. I grabbed the dog and drove to the lake. I was a failure. I hadn’t pushed hard enough, I was too lax on screen time, I hadn’t set clear enough consequences, or expectations, or… I didn’t know what. “He” should be here to deal with this. “He” would know how to do Algebra and Pre-Calc. I had a good sob. And then I got a text.

“I’m hungry”

And I got mad. I was incredulous. The gall.

“Can you go shopping. We have no food.”

I sobbed some more. Until I calmed down. I went and got food for dinner.

I talked to them both separately, but the message was the same.

“I have done everything in my power to help you. I have nagged you about homework, hired tutors, written 504 plans, gotten you tested, paid for therapists, psychiatrists, meds, whatever it took. I did it. And now it’s your turn. You have two choices: If you want to get into (college/higher level math/fill in the blank), you are going to have to work for it. And work really hard. It will be hard and frustrating but you can do it because you are smart and you have everything you could possibly need to succeed. I have made sure of that. The only thing standing in your way now is yourself. So you need to get to work. If you don’t want a tutor, then fine. That’s your choice too. The consequence of that choice is that you may not get what you want. If you are OK with that, then so am I.”

I’m sure I blathered on for quite a bit longer but a while later I got another text: “I want to stay with the tutor.”

The tears stopped. The books were cracked. The tension dissipated and I had angelic kids on my hands.

A few days later I met another single mom who had raised her kids alone from an early age. She told me about her daughter’s failure to get into college. “She just kind of lost her way in Junior and Senior year and now I think she’s going to have to go to community college or something to get her marks up. But really I want her to get a job, so she can learn to have a work ethic. I’m hoping that through working she will learn about working hard to get what she wants.”

I told her about my temper tantrum and subsequent speech and she commiserated. “I’ve made that same speech many times!”

It felt good to know I wasn’t alone. The pressure on our kids is so intense, I think many wind up feeling hopeless and simply give up. I’ve seen it first hand and so I am learning to be a motivator. State things bluntly, get to the point, give the tough choices. I felt stronger somehow, more confident that we were headed in the right direction, that I was teaching my kids to cope with the hardships that life constantly throws our way and that my kids might not wind up as homeless people.

We had gotten through my temper tantrum a little wiser.

At least until yesterday when I discovered three charges on my credit card statement for a tanning salon that weren’t mine and a computer screen was smashed for the second time in three weeks.

Two steps forward, one step back.

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  1. annie May 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    I know that speech. I have given it as a parent, a teacher and a even a coach. I can’t recall if I ever heard it as a child, student or player – but I bet I did. I had to have learned it from someone.

    But I don’t think this counts as stepping forward or back as much as it might be a lateral move. Repositioning is good.

    1. Abigail - Site Author May 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Not sure why I find it so surprising. I do remember learning it the hard way, but don’t recall ever receiving such a speech. Probably because I was the perfect teenager 😉
      Thanks for your comment Annie. I think you win as my most reliable commenter! I so appreciate it.

  2. Salty May 4, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Tough stuff Abbey. Effort, gratitude, appreciation, persistence are a little bit rare among teens. Boarding school, outward bound were invented for teens that don’t get it yet. That you get out of life what you put into it, your responsible for your own bliss not mom, teachers or the world. Some get it young others take awhile or longer or never. I’m not certain you can make someone get it before they are ready. Hang in there. Your a good mom Abigail.

    1. Abigail - Site Author May 4, 2012 at 10:51 am

      Oh yes! Outward Bound. I’m all for it! Teen Boot Camp! Bring it on! There’s nothing like learning these lessons the hard way, through good, old fashioned failure. Hmmm. Maybe that will be my next post…

  3. Salty May 4, 2012 at 2:00 am

    You’re not your! Geez where’s the edit button! So embarrassing;(

    1. Abigail - Site Author May 4, 2012 at 10:52 am

      Haha! I guess I better not mention the correct spelling of Abby… You are forgiven. Now what was I saying about learning through failure?

  4. Kitten Mother May 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    You WERE pretty close to perfect as a teen and I think that this makes this apathy in your own kids almost impossible for you to understand.

    However, your talk with them was actually very respectful because it put the responsibility for their own success squarely on their shoulders.

    Don’t back down. The seed has been planted! Relax and enjoy them. It IS up to them and they are smart enough to get it.

    Well done!

    1. Abigail - Site Author May 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      Thanks mum. I’m sure I wasn’t the “perfect” teen. Moody probably since I hated being one.
      Thanks for the words of wisdom and support. XO

  5. Piper July 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    FYI: Single parents don’t have the monopoly on this … I have four boys (ages 16 to 23) at various stages of success and failure … my oldest (home from a break from uni since Aug 30 last year) feels “bad” for the younger two as there is never anything to eat in our house! LOL The younger two don’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

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