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Earnest Doofus Syndrome

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Earnest Doofus Syndrome

What do your kids have to do around your house?

This is firmly in the realm of trying to turn my child into a responsible adult, and you don’t get to go around screwing stuff up all the time in the real world.

Our kids don’t have nearly as many chores as either one of their parents did. However, they do have a few. One of Nathan’s is feeding the dogs. The dog food bucket is in the corner in the garage, just down the steps from the laundry room and to the right.

Nate bats maybe .975 on getting all of a scoop of dog food in the dish. That means the amount of dog food on the garage floor steadily increases, and when there is enough for me to notice on the way in, then I say something. I did so last Saturday morning.

aos kibble

“Nate, please go take care of the garage corner.”

“Yes sir.”

He got up. I went to the study for just a moment, and when I came out he was back on the couch, holding an Xbox controller.

“Nathan, did you clean up the mess that I told you to clean up?”


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“Yes sir.”

“If I go look right now, then I’ll be happy?”

“Yes sir.”

“If I’m going to charge you $10 if there’s a piece of dog food on the floor, then you’re still ready for me to go look?”

“Yes sir.”

He simply wasn’t gone long enough. There’s no way this is ending well for him.

I went to the garage and came back in 45 seconds — with $90 worth of kibble in my hand.

“Nate?”

(aghast) “But I cleaned it up! I really did!”

(calmly) “You demonstrably didn’t.”

“But…but…”

The specifics of the rest aren’t important. If you have an early adolescent boy, you could write it yourself.

aos08081

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It’s not hard to understand. Playing a video game is fun. Cleaning a floor is not fun. Spend as little time as possible on the latter in order to return to the former as quickly as possible.

But I think this might also be an early manifestation of something I remember well, and I do feel substantial empathy for him.


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I can remember having multiple responsibilities, and genuinely understanding their importance, but still dropping something. I would have it all in my brain, and do the very best I could to execute it all, and still make some significant mistake. I felt powerless against this failure, and therefore it felt very unfair for me to be punished. I picked up on some of that flavor of frustration from Nate last week.

It doesn’t mean that I radically adjust my approach with him. This is firmly in the realm of trying to turn my child into a responsible adult, and you don’t get to go around screwing stuff up all the time in the real world.

(Well, most of us don’t. Sigh.)

So yes, I’ll continue to correct him. And yes, I’ll sometimes punish him. But it would be unnecessarily mean of me to spike the ball with him on this kind of problem. This is not Nate picking on his little brother and then pretending he isn’t, or something similarly deceitful. Part of him is genuinely mystified by what’s happening to him.

I know. I remember.

Now I’m talking about boys mostly because that’s what I was and that’s what I have. It could well be that adolescent girls suffer from this same sort of earnest doofus syndrome, and I’m just not attuned to it. If you can confirm such, then please share in the comments. Or, is there a different manifestation of it? Share that too.

Did your parents ever try to tell you that punishing you hurt them more than it hurt you? Do you remember what a crock that sounded like? Do you get it now? I do.

I want to be his friend. I have to be his daddy. But I can find some compassion in my disciplinary approach for a kid unpleasantly discovering that the best he can do—or sincerely thinks he can do — isn’t always enough.


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View Comments (3)
  • Let me tell you when earnest doofus re-manifests itself. The week before they are to be packed up and ready for college. (Talking about boys because that is what I am experiencing right now).

    Has the laundry been finished? Uh, about half the things have actually made it into the wash. Do we know where the luggage even is? Perhaps.

    This morning, I got up to find a full milk jug sitting next to the stove where mac&cheese had been mixed up the night before, by…, you guessed it.

    So, it comes back; hopefully, only briefly, because I am getting ready to deposit him at a University, tomorrow!

  • This syndrome knows no gender. I have to make my female tween LOOK ME IN THE EYE and REPEAT THE INSTRUCTIONS and then it’s still 50/50 that I’ll get the results I’m looking for. Then there’s the eye-rolling. And the sighing. And, I too have been there. (I do a lot of eye-rolling and sighing as an adult, so I can’t fault her for that.) Her mind is totally elsewhere all the time. And I totally remember that.

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