I shared just a bit of this in my stories on Instagram a couple weeks ago, but I knew there was more to it than could be shared in 15-second clips. It’s taken me this long to decompress a bit from dealing with the latest family emergency. Now that I have, I wanted to put it into a post that I could share. The long and the short of it is that my parent’s basement flooded at the end of May…TWICE in one week. Add to that my 89 yr old grandmother was in a rehab facility after surgery and was set to go back to her home after being gone for 4 weeks. And then add in that my dad is dealing with a rather alarming, rapid cognitive decline (not sure yet the cause, but likely Alzheimer’s…) and well, my poor mama needed to call in the troops.
My husband and I shifted things around and headed to Kansas City for four days over Memorial Day weekend. We brought our oldest (11) along to help, and turned out to be a positive experience for all of us. Was it hard, dirty, exhausting work? Yep. All that and then some. Is it what we had hoped to do over the long holiday weekend? Not so much. Did everyone mostly keep an upbeat attitude and get the job done? Absolutely. We could not have achieved as much for my parents as we did had we not brought Max with us. Not only that, I enjoyed working side by side with him.
Thinking back on my own experiences with helping out family…well, let’s just say I don’t have any good memories of those times. Heck, I don’t really have many good memories of family vacations, let alone working hard with my parents. It always ended up with my dad screaming and throwing stuff, leaving my sister and I terrified and crying.
I swore I’d raise my kids differently and this past weekend seems like a good indication that I am. I thought I’d dig a bit deeper into how Alex and I approached the situation, so maybe it’d give you some food for thought when your own family needs help and you’ve got to enlist a kiddo or two to help.
3 Tips for making a tough situation better
Let’s dive right into the 3 things we did to make the weekend a success for all involved.
First, we focused on realistic expectations for both Max and ourselves. We made sure Max understood this is what you do when your family needs you. You pack up, and you go help. Max loves to be of service to others, so this plays right into his sweet, helpful nature, despite the preteen attitude we’re starting to see rear its ugly head. He even said, “Well, this is a good opportunity for me to learn how to clean up from a flood. I mean, it rains all the time, right? I’m bound to know someone else who will get flooded and then I’ll know what to do to help them.” God, I love that kid. Wise beyond his 11 years, for sure.
And for our part, we didn’t expect the same amount of work out of him that we were putting in. On one of my seemingly endless trips to the hardware store, I bought some smoke bombs and snap-its for him to play with (snap-its are extra loud in a massive metal dumpster, in case you were wondering) and we gave him ample breaks to mess around with them. There was also plenty of iPad breaks for him and he got to choose the movie we watched after dinner.
Second, we looked for opportunities for him to be a boy and have some fun while still helping out. My dad had a gazillion old laptops he had used for parts before he retired that got wet. To make sure data couldn’t be pulled off them, we legitimately needed to bash them up before throwing them away. Could there be a more perfect job for an eleven-year-old boy?? We got Max outfitted with safety glasses, gloves, and a hammer and let him go to town smashing them up. Later in the weekend, we discovered a box of wet bank statements from the ’70s. What did we do when we realized they wouldn’t be able to go through a shredder? We put Max in charge (under supervision) of burning them in the patio fire pit. The key here was finding tasks that genuinely needed to happen but had an element of fun for him.
Third, we really worked hard to keep our own attitudes upbeat and shield him from the anxiety and tension my parents were feeling about the situation. We praised him at every turn and let him drink as much Dr Pepper as he wanted to while he was working, and gave him a lot of extra privileges along with the additional responsibility he was shouldering. As with so much in this parenting gig – keeping your own attitude in check is darn near 90% of the battle. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but I saw it play out with my own eyes over these four days. Alex and I worked our asses off, but we tried to keep it upbeat and find the humor and fun wherever we could.
Implementing all three of these things was harder for me than for Alex. When I get tired, I can slip into snark and bitch-mode rather quickly if I’m not watching myself. However, by being mindful of how I wanted the weekend to go for the three of us, I was able to keep myself in check, work to have realistic expectations, and find some funny moments in the whole ordeal (like tasting a bottle of wine from 1972!!).
And you know what? There were none of those scary moments for my boy, where he was terrified of working alongside his parents. He worked hard, but had fun and learned some valuable lessons along the way. Sure, he learned about his role and responsibilities to his family and some practical lessons about how to clean up after a basement gets flooded. But most importantly, he learned that he has a real value within the family and no matter what his parents treasure the part he plays – even when they’re putting his butt to work.