"Bo-Bo, what do you want for dinner?"
"You can't have that, we don't have any chocolate."
"Now go and wash your hands!"
My kids play three different imaginary mums-and-dads-style games. The first one is called Emily and Jimmy Jim-Jim. The second is Sally and Tommy. The third is Bo-Bo and Sister. They're basically all the same game, just with slightly different characters. And in each one my daughter (eight) is always older and in charge, and my son (six) is always younger and not in charge. Much like real life, then.
"I'm driving my motorbike!"
"Jimmy Jim-Jim, you can't have a motorbike!"
Listening to the games makes me cringe with embarrassment. Don't get me wrong -- I love to see the kids playing nicely together, making things up, being creative and so on -- it's the parroting that I can't stand. Because my daughter's characters always sound just like me.
"Tommy, you've only been asleep for two minutes, it's not time to wake up yet."
I know I'm bossy, and I know that I get cranky and a bit shouty at times. But it's only when I see my daughter attempting to control her brother that I realise just how controlling I am. Hearing phrases that I use repeated by my child really brings my authoritarianism to light.
"Bo-Bo, don't chew loudly! And say 'Excuse me' when you burp!"
Dinners are pretty bad. Instead of having a nice conversation about the day's events I spend most of every meal saying things like: "Eat with your mouth closed! Lean over your plate! Stop getting your sleeves in your dinner! Swallow your food before you speak! Sit up straight! Don't eat with your fingers!"
"Jimmy Jim-Jim, put your shoes on right now!"
Mornings are pretty bad, too: "Where's your jumper? Have you brushed your teeth? You need to read to me before we go. Quick, pack your lunch!"
"I'm going to stay up all night, Sally."
"No, Tommy, you can't."
Evenings aren't much better. "Hop in the shower now, please. The water's running, why do you still have your clothes on? I'm not reading a book to you until you're in your pyjamas! Don't bounce on the bed! Why have you come out? What do you mean you can't sleep? Just lie down and close your eyes!"
I'm a tyrant. A dictator. A household Mussolini.
A good friend of mine says she always picks her battles. In other words, she doesn't sweat the small stuff. It sounds like a good idea, I think, so I decide to give it a go.
I start straight after school. When I pick the kids up I don't say anything about seatbelts, schoolbags or lost lunchboxes. When we arrive home I don't remind anyone to wash their hands before eating. Afternoon tea is a free-for-all (with no mention of people ruining their appetites) and I say nothing about the crumbs on the table and floor. I'm off to a brilliant start!
Dinner is interesting. My son eats with his fingers and wipes his mouth on his sleeve, but I don't say anything. Instead, I concentrate on my own food and try to make thoughtful contributions to the conversation. I remain SUPER CHEERY, but wonder if the children can see through my maniacal smile.
At bedtime, I decide not to tell anyone to have a shower or go to bed, then cross my fingers and hope for the best. However, after I retire to the lounge room to watch reality television the kids play for much longer than usual and don't go to sleep until half-past nine.
The late night leads to a difficult following morning. The kids are still asleep at seven-thirty. I want to be all calm and floaty and whatevs, but I know we'll just end up late for school. So I drag everyone out of bed and follow this up with stern orders regarding breakfast, teeth brushing, bag packing and getting shoes on. Whoops.
My very short and completely unscientific experiment shows me this: I definitely boss the kids around too much. I make unnecessary comments in order to control their lives, and I need to change. However, doing the opposite -- not nagging at all -- is maybe taking things too far. Kids need some direction. Parents exist for a reason -- because without them nobody would get to school on time, and nobody would have the recommended amount of sleep per night, and nobody would go to the dentist.
A week after my experiment I hear my kids playing Emily and Jimmy-Jim-Jim.
"I want to ride my motorbike!"
"Okay. As long as you wear your helmet."
Complete dominance may be unfair, but guidance is good.