When it comes to confirming whether your kids did—or did not—do something, parenting strategies fall along a spectrum ranging from “constant vigilance” at one end to a 100% honor system at the other. (This latter often turns out better in theory than practice).
One approach that I found simple and effective in bridging the gap between these extremes: Asking for evidence.
For example: For many years the kids got a small allowance—a practice that has, strangely, tapered off as they moved in to teenhood, a period when you’d think they’d want some more money in their pockets. In any case: To get your allowance, you had to do your jobs—just like in the real world. These jobs included weekly room cleaning, twice-a-week dishes … and daily bed-making. In our world, bed-making did not involve hospital corners, properly turned covers, or fluffed pillows (no chocolates, for that matter). Basically, if I looked in the room and the bed covers looked roughly flat—or, as I liked to put it, if the Queen came by to visit and I wasn’t embarrassed if she took a tour of the bedrooms—that counted.
(I will describe our unique relationship with the Queen later.)
I don’t remember the context, but at some point there were some ongoing issues with Mark and the making of the bed. I’m pretty sure it went something like this: Most weeks I didn’t check on the beds or the rooms (I try to avoid opening my kids’ doors as often as possible—it is usually an extremely terrifying experience). Week after week he would happily claim allowance. And yet, on that third or fourth week where I got my nerve up and actually took a look in, his covers were invariably in a heap, or on the floor, or both—often in the exact same position they had been in the last time I had checked, three or four weeks prior.
This indicated that, just maybe, Mark was claiming allowance under false pretences.
Given that I wasn’t trying to become “daily room-checker,” we did the next best thing: Every day Mark would take a picture of his room, showing his “flat enough” bed. Thank God for digital cameras, especially ones that date the photo automatically. This became his way of providing evidence that he was indeed doing his jobs, and we carried it on until, you know, the battery died or I forgot or some such.
Other examples of where evidence has come in handy: If I was going to be out and I wanted to make sure the kids were home by a certain time, I have them call me—from the home phone. Luckily, there voices aren’t remotely alike, so I didn’t have to worry about one impersonating the other (at least, not successfully). I’m sure there is some way that they could have called from their cells (while out doing illicit, illegal, and probably dangerous things) and have it come up on my display as the home phone—but quite honestly, if they were that slick, them making curfew would be the least of my problems. (Note: They are not that slick.)
We’ve also done the wet toothbrush—which is a little silly, how hard is it to wet a toothbrush?—and the “let me see your clean hands,” and a few others of the classics. Reverse evidence also came in handy: If we kissed goodnight and your breath could have caused a car accident in San Francisco across the bridge, that made it pretty clear you didn’t brush your teeth. And to the inevitable, “But I did!”, the safe stock answer: “Great. Now do it again.”
If either/both of my kids becomes a detective, judge, attorney, or even just a jury member, I think they will be pretty good at their job. Where analyzing evidence is concerned, they’ve had plenty of practice.
Next: Time-Ins and Tantrums