Admitting I Don't Have a Clue When It Comes to Parenting (and hoping the kids don't find out!)
I avoid writing anything that suggests I know what I’m doing when it comes to parenting. So, if any part of this post comes across as advice…. this is my disclaimer! I think of this post more as a reflection on some things I’ve discovered about myself as a parent over the past months as I watch my 12-year-old “tweenager” begin to show signs of the dreaded teenager!
I can see he’s
- Sleeping in later than ever
- Spending copious amounts of time with his friends
- Choosing to lounge alone in his room with his TV and his phone when he can’t be with his friends
- Noting how all of the rules in our house are “stupid”
- Eating more food than I can stock in the cupboards
Honestly, these changes in him scare the crap out of me! I totally rode the tide of easy parentdom the entire time between the ages of 6 and 12 and enjoyed it as he gained independence and eventually didn’t need to yell “mom!” a million times a day. I’m not sure I’m ready to wade into these murky tweenage parenting waters – and yet, here I am.
Recently we had one argument where his logical debate almost allowed him to win the battle because I found it hard to retort or refute his point. It went something like this:
Me: I’m so disappointed in you for inviting a friend over when you know we have a rule about no one else in the house when me or dad aren’t home.
Him: Didn’t you have a party every Thanksgiving when Grandma and Grandpa went away for the weekend even though they told you not to?
Me: (long pause while I came up with a suitable response, all while keeping my “disappointed mom face” on.) My response - That was totally all Aunt Lori’s idea and we were older – a much different scenario. You can’t compare the two.
Crap! Was that a convincing enough comeback for his – “aren’t you the pot calling the kettle black” enquiry? Perhaps I should’ve used one of my mom’s favourites – “two wrongs don’t make a right!”
His expression totally read like “isn’t what you did WAY worse than me inviting one friend over for 30 minutes before you and dad got home?” I suspect conversations with him are not going to get easier the older and wiser he gets.
Conversations like these have showed me that perhaps I need to invest more time upping my parenting game. So, with this in mind, parenting audio books have now hit my radar. The other day I was listening to one such book and something hit a nerve. The book was defining a narcissistic parent.
A narcissistic parent can be defined as someone who lives through, is possessive of, and/or engages in marginalizing competition with the offspring.
Maybe it’s all of my time at the hockey arena in the past few months, but I feel like narcissistic parenting is so unbelievably common these days! It’s easy to identify those parents who are living vicariously through their child, unless of course you are the parent!
I often need to remind myself that these are our son’s life experiences and that they are separate from my own and are not purely a reflection of me and my parenting skills (or lack thereof). I’m finding that as he gets older and I can relate more to the things he’s dealing with, my reminders to myself about his experiences being his own have to become more frequent. He’s on his way to becoming an adult, and as much as I’m not ready, it’s something that I know I need to let happen.
With the changes we see in our tweenager already as he grows into an adult, my husband and I know we need to strengthen the united front we present at home to do our best to make this transition into the teenage years as easy as possible. Here are some things we’re working on to try to provide an environment of guidance and structure, but still let him grow into the man he’s going to become.
1. A conscious effort to let him fight his own battles. Oh – this is so hard for BOTH of us! We want to step in. We want to have the difficult conversations for him. But the fact is, if he’s in a difficult situation – he needs to learn how to speak up about how he’s feeling. Talking to a coach, teacher or friend about something he’s struggling with, doesn’t understand, or thinks is unfair, is all part of growing up, right? That grey area between guiding and stepping in and taking over is very difficult to navigate. But it’s something we know we need to concentrate on and put effort into.
2. Discipline is always dealt with as a couple. Any time discipline needs to be laid down, my husband and I need to discuss it, agree on our approach and relay the information in a timely manner to the tweenager. In the past, we’ve just handled infractions on our own in the moment, but given our effort to show, now more than ever, that we are a team that will support each other – it’s just best to talk about these things first, so that one of us doesn’t have to follow through on some punishment we don’t actually believe is fair (just like bees can smell fear, tweenagers have learned to sense any small crack in a parent’s resolve…. So, we’ve learned it’s best to be on the same page about discipline!)
3. Respect his time. Extra chores on top of the regular weekly chores are going to be listed on a sticky note stuck to the fridge each morning. This is to avoid his frustration when he’s asked to stop whatever it is that he is doing so that he can put his laundry away or shovel the driveway or do whatever other task we need help with. Our approach is to ensure the chores still happen (he loses $1 of his allowance each time they are not done), but he gets to choose when they get done.
4. Remind him that his words matter. As we move into the years where everything is “stupid”, I’ve been quite surprised by the boldness of some of the comments that come out of both of my kids mouths. They both have fiery tempers (if you know them this will shock you, I’m sure – but in their comfort zone at home, it’s almost as if anything goes). To attempt to teach them that what they say matters all the time, even at home, we all sat down at the kitchen table the other night and brainstormed a list of words and actions we thought were disrespectful to say or do to each other. All four of us have our own checklist (yes, another freaking tracking mechanism!) posted in the kitchen where we will track who’s not been respectful to another family member throughout the month. Making a bit of a game/challenge out of it – at the end of the month the person with the least number of X’s on their list will get 25 cents from everyone else for all of their disrespect X’s. The list was made so that we can consistently apply the rules. The game part of it was included to add incentive. Getting out of the habit of telling his dad to get out of his room (he can say the same thing in much nicer words) is going to take some conscious effort on behalf of the tweenager. And he’s driven by money these days, always wondering how to make more of it (so he can pay off his chore infractions I suppose), so if he’s afraid he’s going to lose more with the words he speaks, hopefully that will do the trick to get him to think twice. Of course, his first solution was to let us know he just wouldn’t talk to any of us anymore, but since saying please and thankyou were on the list of respect requirements, he at least has to say a few words each day, right?!
I don’t know if all of our efforts are going to be successful. Maybe this won’t be the final formula, but as is the formula creation process in any area of life – make a plan, try it out and then take your observations to tweak it and make it better until you find something that works! Hopefully we can get there before both of the kids are old enough to move out :) Wish us luck!
Older age photo in cover curtesy of Chris Berg Photography
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