I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting this summer. Perhaps it is because David is hitting another milestone: going to high school. Whatever the reason, it has been on my mind.When I was growing up, I remember endless battles with my parents. We fought almost daily for years. Generally, my parents wouldn’t allow me to do the things that I wanted to do. Parents saying, “no” isn’t abnormal. But my parents were so strict and so overprotective that I didn’t get to be a normal teenager (or young adult) in many respects. Let me give you an example: after I graduated from college, I moved back home. I was 20 years old and had a full-time job. I paid my parents rent. And I had a midnight curfew. I had no argument with letting my parents know when I expected to be home (so they wouldn’t worry – that was respectful), but to tell me that I had to be home at midnight…well, that was a little much. Especially after graduating from college. I don’t know how my parents feel about that specific rule now, but we have had many discussions regarding their parenting. It has taken many, many years for my parents and I to come to an understanding of what went wrong during my teenage years. They were holding on too tightly and I was rebelling to an extreme. My parents did it because they love me and I get that. In the end, everything worked out ok but that was because we all were willing to do the work to get to this point.
However, I am determined not to make the same mistakes with my boys. Of course, I will make other mistakes as that is part of parenting. Honestly, I think that listening to what the boys say has eliminated many conflicts. They know what is expected of them and they know what the consequences are for breaking the rules. They have known the word consequences since they were toddlers. The consequences have gotten bigger and the expectations have gotten more complex but the strategies are basically the same. If the boys know what I expect (and what Chris expects – but this post is about my parenting views, not his), they have several choices. First, they can work to meet those expectations. Second, they can “rebel” against the expectations and suffer the consequences. Or third, they can discuss the expectations and see if we can come to a different agreement.
The boys rarely “rebel” against our expectations. Generally, the expectations are reasonable. If it is something that they disagree with, I am happy to listen to them and to explain my thought process, but ultimately, I am the parent and I make the decisions.
The other component related to expectations is responsibility. The boys have been given increased responsibility as they have gotten older. This hasn’t been something that I’ve purposely done; it is something that has come naturally as they have gotten older.
When we moved to Colorado, David became active in the community children’s theater. He was 9 years old and the children’s theater was for kids ages 5-18. That is a very big age differential. When he first started, I attended every rehearsal with him, more or less. Rehearsals were usually closed (no parents), but I was there before rehearsal, during the meal break and after rehearsal. I volunteered so that I could keep an eye on David and what was going on. Obviously, it was time-intensive. The same thing happened with Michael’s soccer; I was there the entire time, every time.
As David got older, I would walk him in to rehearsal and be waiting when he was finished. He didn’t need me to guide him through interactions with teenagers. He didn’t need me to be there at every moment. This past year, I would drop him off and pick him up and never go into the building. The only exception was during auditions. When he would audition when he was younger, I would sit with all the parents and watch. Now that he is older, I drop him off and then come back at the very end to see how he did (and to be there for the announcement of the parts).
Michael was left at soccer practice on his own earlier. However, this is because he had the same coach for almost 2 years and I felt very comfortable (and so did Michael). However, soccer practice is 15-20 minutes away AND only lasts for an hour. So, unless I have errands to run in that part of town, I stay. Michael will be with a new coach this fall and I am sure that for the first couple of practices I will hang out at the field. The first practice I will get out of the car and watch. After that, unless Michael wants or needs me, I will sit in the car.
I was thinking about all of this the other night when I was driving to pick the boys up from playing Magic the Gathering at Collector Mania. Magic is a card game that the boys have been interested in for a while. On Wednesday nights they have Magic Tournaments. The first time the boys went I walked them in to make sure they were settled. Then I left and did some shopping. The tournaments start at 6 pm. The first night I was told they would be done anywhere between 9:30-10:30. I finished shopping and went back to Collector Mania and let the boys know I was in the car. I was very, very careful to make sure that they knew I was not expecting them to come out until they were finished.
The second time they went was a week later. I went in with them because one of their friends was meeting them and I wanted to see if he was there. Then I went home. I arrived to wait for them at about 9:30. I waited in the car for them. They knew I was there because I let them know, but again I didn’t expect them to come out until they were finished. They finished at 11 pm. Their friend’s mom walked him in and stayed with him the entire time. As I thought about this, I realized I essentially did the same thing. Except that the boys were together and they didn’t need me since they had each other. Had it only been one of them playing Magic, I probably would have stayed the entire time until I was certain they felt comfortable.
The boys won’t be playing in the next tournament since they will be on their way to Chicago. Then they will have 1-2 more weeks they can play before school starts. However, the next time they play, I think that I will allow them to call me when they are finishing (depending on how late it gets) or head over at 10 or 10:30 if it will be a late night. They are responsible and have proved that they can handle it.
Over the years I have spent a lot of time watching my boys. I KNOW them and what their capabilities are. Since I know these things, I am able to make decisions regarding their activities and my level of involvement. I know what they can handle. And they know if they don’t feel comfortable, they should tell me. They aren’t overwhelmed with responsibilities they aren’t ready for and I’m not fighting with them because they disagree. It has made life pleasant.
David has two books and a number of activities related to the books that he needs to complete before school starts for his English I Honors class and his AP Human Geography class. David had all the materials when school let out and every few days I would remind him he needed to be working. It didn’t get done. I realize that school doesn’t start for almost a month, but it was a lot of work to complete. Since David was not capable of being responsible for getting his work done, I had to step in. He wasn’t happy with my “rules” for getting the work done, but he also knew that we tried it his way and that wasn’t working. There weren’t any arguments or even a real discussion about it. His way wasn’t working in respect to his success and so it was my responsibility to step in and outline how he was going to complete his assignments. I would have preferred him handling it on his own and I told him that. I guess that means that I am going to have to help him plan for longer assignments until he proves he can do it without my help.
Maybe my friend Emily was right about babying the baby (and toddler) so that you don’t have to baby the teenager. I don’t want to speak too soon, but this way (increasing responsibility slowly) seems to be working pretty well.
UPDATE – I wrote this post before the events in Aurora, Colorado. Aurora is only one or two towns over; the hospital in Aurora (University of Colorado Hospital) is where Chris gets his treatment. I suspect that we’ve driven by the apartment complex where the shooter lived.
While my sense of anxiety in letting my kids out of my sight has increased, I cannot keep them home. I cannot keep them safe from the world and those who are unstable. All I can do is make sure that they are prepared in case, G*d forbid, something happens around them.
I have already seen articles about how to talk with your kids about the tragedy. I expect that there will be articles (written by experts) about what to do if you find yourself in a dangerous situation. I will be taking a long look at the advice and see what will be appropriate for educating the boys. This is all that can be done, in my opinion. I will share any information I find…