When I attended college (back in the stone ages), there were different course requirements, depending upon the major you chose. For example, I was required to take courses in marketing each year. Freshman year the course title was Marketing 101, sophomore year the title was Marketing 201, and so on. In Marketing 101 we learned the basic principles. In Marketing 201, we built upon the foundation we learned in 101, but the subject matter was more sophisticated, and therefore more challenging.
I feel like my life could be entitled Parenting 201 this summer. My kids are 10 and 13, so theoretically I’ve known them for that length of time, but honest to God this summer it seems like aliens have taken over their bodies. No, I should clarify that statement. My 13-year-old daughter seems like an alien has taken over her body, my 10-year-old son is just joining in on the fun and games because that’s what little brothers do!
Maybe it’s because I’m in recovery, since I don’t remember thinking about this as in-depth as I have before now, but I’m trying to figure out where I’m going wrong, and I’m not coming up with any solutions. First, let me qualify the problems, as I see them, and perhaps writing them out will help me to process:
1. Time of Year. Separate from anything else, summer is a universally challenging time for any parent, due to all the unstructured time. Here is a miniscule example. Yesterday we had dentist appointments at noon, my son and I are waiting for my daughter to finish up.
Danny: “Let’s pick something up for lunch on the way home from here.”
Me: “No, we just had dinner out last night, do you remember how I drove 20 minutes to take you where you wanted to go? We are not eating out again. I’ll make lunch as soon as we get home. What would you prefer, a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
Danny: “Could you grill me a hamburger?” (and yes, he did specify the way in which he would like his burger cooked)
Me (as even-toned as I could muster): “Would you like a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
Danny: “What do we have in the fridge in terms of lunch meat? Could you cook up some bacon?”
Me: “This is the last time I am asking: do you want a hot dog or peanut butter and jelly?”
I will not bore you with the rest of the discussion, but the point is, this is one of about 1,000 such “teaching moments” on any given summer day. And I will not even begin to complain about the intra-sibling fights that take place each and every day. So, to recap, summer is a challenging season.
2. Changing personalities. This is the heart of the problem for me, and I will probably focus more on my teenage daughter with this issue. I know I am not covering any uncharted territory with this one, parents have been complaining about teenage girls since teenage girls first came into existence. So I do realize that I am not in a unique situation; what confounds me is what the hell to do about the behavior, along with my hurt feelings that my once-angelic daughter who acted as if I hung the moon now looks at me insolently, has nothing but sarcastic comments back to me, and argues EVERY SINGLE THING I say to her. Sometimes I try being honest with her (“When you stay at your cousin’s house for 3 days and fail to call me even once, it hurts my feelings”), I try the hard-lined approach (“You will speak to me with respect or you will face consequences”), I try sarcasm back (yes, I know this is not the best parenting technique, but sometimes my frustration level is so high that I need a release myself), and sometimes I try just ignoring whatever situation I’m in and hope it goes away. By the way, none of the above has been very effective.
3. Finding the balance. This concept applies in about a million ways: balance between letting them find their own way, and guiding them to make the right decisions. Balance between allowing them to speak their mind and shutting down the incessant “but what about…” statements. Balance between respecting privacy and knowing how and with whom they spend their time. Balance between allowing them a relaxed summer and having expectations with regard to chores, reading and the like. I’ll stop now, but I could keep the balance list going for another several paragraphs.
So that’s where I’m at, parenting-wise. I try, as best I can, to incorporate the principles of recovery into parenting. When decisions seem impossible, I do my best to turn them over. When things get heated between me and either of my children, I make my amends as quickly as I can. I try as much as possible to accept that there is much about these kids over which I am powerless, and that list grows longer with every year they age.
Anyone out there experiencing the same? I’d love to hear from you. Even better, anyone have the magic solution to all this parenting stuff? I’d really appreciate it if you could share your wisdom?
Today is the miracle of sharing what’s on my mind and in my heart. Just having typed this post, without even receiving feedback, I feel lighter!