When I was a teenager, a fairly constant refrain from my mother was “one day, you’ll be having this conversation/argument/rant with your children and you’ll suddenly realise I was right!”
It was.. very… irritating. It’s a stand point from which a child has no come back and can’t offer any sort of an opinion. Without fail, anything you reply with is dismissed as only being something you are saying because you don’t yet ‘know better’.
I suppose that isn’t entirely wrong, but I’m not sure it is completely right either. It certainly doesn’t seem to me to be a particularly helpful standpoint, or one likely to promote positive feelings among family members or much harmony in general. I’m not sure if it is a parenting philosophy that people were more prone to 20 years ago or if it is one that some people are more likely to employ than others. I know exactly how it made me feel, which was roughly as if I had been tied in a soft cloth bag and hung on to the back of a door with a rag stuffed in my mouth. To tell a child they don’t know what is good for them and that the only way they’ll ever learn is through experience, seems to me to entirely short circuit the process.
It’s a bit like that phrase – “put that away and leave it alone until you’ve learned how to use it properly”.
My eldest daughter is heading in to being 13 and cranking up the hormones and conflicting feelings that are’ normal’ for that age. It doesn’t feel so very long since I was there and the thought of stifling her ability to develop her own sense of right and wrong or her right to grow and stretch her personality, is something I worry about.
I want her to make mistakes. I want them to be safe ones, but I don’t want to hold her back.
I want her to experience both the joy and the mortification of the consequences of her own actions.
I want her to get to adulthood confident that she has a right and the ability to make choices and decisions and that she has had guidance but not a straitjacket.
These are going to be tricky waters to navigate. They are going to be a tough parenting challenge. If I remember anything, I remember wanting to bash my head on a wall every time I heard “I’m trying to give you a framework to live within.” It felt like a cage and I didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t appreciate “this is the first time I’ve been a mother” either, but there is no getting away from the fact that whether or not I appreciated those things, it WAS the first time she had been a mother and she WAS only trying to give me a framework. My mum didn’t want to cage me any more than I want to cage my daughters.
In this new phase of parenting, I’m trying to think of the parenting tips *I’ve* learned over the last (totalled up!) 38 years of parenting experience with 4 daughters, and pick enough of my good moments to get me through the next phase. But the one thing that really stands out to me, is how I handled Fran going to school.
The lesson is really simple, I think.
If you reach a point where you are behaving worse than your child, because you can’t pick your battles and you really want to win them all, you are the one with the problem.
In a nutshell, whenever I worry about whether I’m getting it right, I look back to that summer, how badly I did and how hard it was to see my complete and utter spoiled tantrum for what it was. My child didn’t bow to my will and I got mad and I played dirty. I didn’t manage to pick my battles, I didn’t manage to let her live her own choices (well, I did, but with very bad grace) and I didn’t manage to remain the grown up.
What I learned was a far cry from “bad child equals bad parent” and a long way off “it’s always the parents fault”. It wasn’t “only great parents have great kids” and it wasn’t “children should be allowed to do whatever they want” either. It was just a simple test sentence, one to just let drift into the back of my head on the tricky days when no one is happy.
“Things are not going as I would like here… is it me that is being a bit crap?”
In general, I tend to discover that yes, in fact, I’m the one who has screwed it up. I might be the only person to whom this applies however and I wouldn’t want to tell anyone else how to do things. Parenting Lesson Number Two, if I had one, would be, “If you think you are qualified to hand out parenting advice, you almost certainly are NOT” and like God in Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, I then prove I do not exist and immediately disappear.
The problem I find with learning to acknowledge my own crap-ness, is that it has only come with experience. And that is one thing I am going to be trying very hard not to say out loud
This was written for the Friday Club Carnival on Parenting Tips and, in case it is not immediately obvious, is largely written with my tongue in my cheek Apart from the bit where I said I was a bit crap for a while.
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