The role of parent/child has changed a lot over the last 20 years. I recall, especially as a teenager, pouting to my mother that, “you just don’t understand.” I had a lot of squabbles with my mom in my teenage years. I wasn’t the best at communicating and when I started to get frustrated and feel unheard I’d always resort to yelling. And crying. Crying not to get my way, but it was my response to frustration (and still is, sigh). My mom was always my mom, never my friend. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy her company. I certainly did. We played cards, rode horses, went camping and snowmobiling and had lots of family jokes and laughs. But I never, ever, felt like I could play a guilt card, an “if you don’t ________, I won’t like you anymore” card or any other form of manipulation. I didn’t dare. She wasn’t falling for that. As an adult I recognize how hard it must have been for her to stand her ground sometimes (well, she’s Irish, I’m sure it was easier for her than for others), but she never, ever quit her job as a parent.
One of the biggest issues I’m seeing with parents that are wanting the friendship instead of parenthood is that they’re removing walls of protection from around their children. Eleven year olds are allowed to watch R rated movies. Children are within earshot and included in conversations about household finances or discussions of mistakes teachers have made. Parents are talking to their children about frustrations they’re having with their spouse. People – children are not our equals! They don’t yet have the skills to be equals. By including them selfishly into everything, you are hurting them!
A twelve year old does not need to know that they can’t have the latest outfit or piece of technology because if you get it for them you won’t be able to make the mortgage payment. I’m not saying children shouldn’t learn about finances and responsible budgeting. However, you need to frame it to their capabilities. A twelve year old is old enough to realize not making a mortgage payment is a bad thing. But they’re not old enough to realize the full scope of your options, legal/financial ramifications, etc. All they can connect is a mortgage payment means I have a home to live in and if that payment doesn’t get made I’m homeless. Talk about a huge level of worry for a child! You don’t need that stress of making the mortgage payment each month! You struggle with coping with the stress and worry. Sharing that knowledge and thereby sharing the stress and worry with your child creates huge emotional consequences for the child that they have no way of managing. So yes, teach them finances. But quit sharing your financial struggles with them. They don’t need to know if your bills are behind or your credit card is maxed.
Movie night and your darling Denny has chosen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory….again. Not sure you can endure the movie one more time you talk him into The Fast and the Furious instead. After all, it’s mostly car racing, right? The thing is, our minds, our children’s minds, they’re difficult to really understand cause and effect, until we start to see the effect. To justify our own need to have a quiet night in front of the TV with something we can relax with as well we tell ourselves they’re not old enough to understand the bigger concepts – like a bunch of people taking the law into their own hands. We tell ourselves they’re grossed out by the sexual scenes and that they’re not internalizing the more subtle nuances of how the people are treating each other leading up to that, whether they are respectful or inappropriate in their relationships. We don’t even bring up whether certain moral behavior is right or wrong, because we tell ourselves they won’t pick up on it anyway. But the truth is, we don’t have the scientific skills or knowledge to really understand what effect those movies will have on our child. Even a pediatric neurosurgeon couldn’t really identify that; our minds are too complex and each child is an individual. Perhaps you’re arguing with me right now. Exactly, each child is different, my child is mature for his age and he can handle it. Really? Are you sure? Why should your young child be able to handle it? Why do they have a need to understand at their age? By replacing the things they should be developing their brains with by introducing more difficult concepts we’re not necessarily benefiting them. We’re skipping them ahead into maturity in some areas and it’s resulting in them encountering maturity in other areas where they aren’t equipped to handle it. Ask yourself, by not allowing them to watch a movie that is rated beyond their years are we harming them? I struggle to come up with scenarios where that answer might be yes. And if we’re not harming them by not allowing them to be in situations beyond their maturity/age why can’t we just settle down and allow them to be their age? Because we can’t handle their whining when we say no? Because it inconveniences us? Because you’re haunted by a memory as a child when all your friends were talking about a movie and your parent’s wouldn’t allow you to watch it and you felt embarrassed and you vowed your child will never have to feel that way? How about you teach them to cope with embarrassment instead? That’s a skill that will last them well into adulthood.
I think all parent’s are going to have moments when they’re having to step in and have a conversation with another adult on their child’s behalf. Perhaps it’s a teacher that made an unfair decision about your child. A neighbor that disciplined your child and it wasn’t in line with how you would have handled the situation. Sometimes it’s even your relative or spouse that has made a decision you completely disagree with. It’s part of parenting and it happens. When Neil and I got together his youngest was 14 years old. He has 4 daughters and most of them have lived with us at one time or another. He gave me one of the absolute best blessings a father could give a step-mom. But that blessing was also a blessing to the girls as well. Anybody that has gone through adding a step-parent to a family knows there can be complications. But Neil told me, right from the beginning, that he would never contradict a decision I had made in front of the girls. Was there decisions I made he didn’t agree with? Yup. Was there decisions he made I didn’t agree with? Yup. Was there times we argued about how to manage certain situations? Absolutely! But the girls never saw or heard those conversations. If one of us strongly disagreed with how something was handled we talked about it privately afterwards and made a decision together on how to move forward. We never reversed a decision already made, we simply moved forward differently afterwards. It wasn’t always easy, but it benefited the girls incredibly. Usually, the issue wasn’t so huge that we disagreed on that it would forever scar the girls or cause them to go in a direction that was extremely different than where they were usually headed. So not reversing the decision didn’t have huge negative consequences. Instead, the girls knowing we parented as a team allowed them stability. They knew we stood as equals. They never had to clutter their heads or emotions trying to figure out ways to play us against each other. They never had to go through the emotional turmoil of listening to us fight about them. When a decision was made it was simply over and they were able to move forward with a way to work within that decision instead of the issue continually coming up because it never really resolved itself. They didn’t have to weigh every word that came out of my mouth or Neil’s mouth and decide if they were going to go with it or fight it based on whether they thought the other parent would change the answer. Respecting the authority of people that have authority over your child, even if it’s momentary, provides your child with peace. Of course, there’s some logic that needs to be involved here, there are some times when you need to teach your child that it’s ok to come to you to question someone’s authority if it’s not sitting right with them. But generally speaking, the peace that it provides a child when you teach them to be respectful has more advantages to them then you arguing with a teacher about how they handled the dispute between your child and another one on the playground. If you disagree with the teacher’s decision, go ahead, talk to the teacher, have a conversation. But if you’re only sharing that conversation later with your child so they can be proud of how you went mama bear on the teacher on their behalf, consider keeping that part private from your child and talking about it with a friend instead. If it’s not life/development threatening avoid forcing decision reversals and instead work on a plan for moving forward.
Parenting is not easy. Those of us that have done it or are doing it are constantly questioning whether we’re making the best long term decision. Sometimes we feel like it’s a crap shoot. But it’s also complicated because we cannot parent how we feel. We have to parent with confidence and the ability to understand that we have an important job. We are qualified, whether we feel like it at the moment or not. Our child is not qualified to be their own parent. We not only have the right, but the responsibility, to parent with conviction. We love our children. If we’re really fortunate we also like our children. We enjoy time spent with them. We laugh and joke and can feel a level of comfort and contentment in their company in a way we can never quite reach with anyone else. But we must not mistake these feelings as friendship and equality. We have to always be prepared and ready to step up as a parent, even if it momentarily disrupts the friendliness of the relationship.