Being in Charge

When I was assigned a task as a child, my mother would not say, “Punkin, go set the table, please.”


What she would say is, “Punkin, dinner’s getting close to ready.  You’re in charge of setting the table.”  She felt, correctly I think, that a feeling of power over a situation is more likely to get cooperative results.

As adults, my brother and I would chuckle about this turn of phrase and tease Mom, telling her that all we learned from that was that being in charge just meant work!

The thing is, there was a subtle and powerful lesson involved that really didn’t hit me until just this morning.  My son had commented that he thought the house could do with some cleaning before we went to the beach, so could we do some?  I handed him a pad of paper, a pen and told him to make a list of what he thought needed to be done.  I also told him I had about a half an hour I could dedicate to it, so he had to be careful not to assign me more tasks than I could do in a half an hour.

The lesson, you see, was that youngsters really do need to feel that they have power in a situation to get things done.  Like my mom, I do try to encourage a sense of independence in my kids, but also a sense of initiative.  Initiative happens best in situations where people (not just children) feel they have the power to effect a situation and Get Things Done.  It’s why I’ll allow my son to plan out a housecleaning session.

I have to laugh a little at this evolution of parenting styles.  My mother’s mother would never in a million years have applauded initiative in a child, nor put them in charge of a thing.   Don’t get me wrong.  I loved her as deeply as a grandchild ever loved a grandmother and feel the weight of her being gone even after more than a decade.  She was gloriously creative, hilarious and delightfully outrageous.  But in Ellie’s World there was a hierarchy and a pecking order.  You damned well were supposed to know your place and in charge meant able to give orders — which Nanny did with enthusiastic abandon to any of her clan over about the age of 2.

I’m sure I’m thinking about that more as Beach Week approaches, and chuckling at the memory of Nanny running around, enjoying her view of being in charge and getting in the way of the people who really were getting stuff done.  I find myself a little glad I never knew the concept of the Designated Control Freak at the time.  I might have been foolish enough to try to explain it to her.

At which point I feel certain she would have taken a drag on her unfiltered Chesterfield and told me to kiss her ass.

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