Monday, September 9, 2013

Pushover Parent

I’m a wimpy parent. I hate that about myself. I talk a big game, but when the whining and explaining and
bargaining begins, I cave like a Florida sinkhole. I wish I didn’t. Now that my kids are in their teens, they truly have the upper hand. I’d like to think that they don’t, but I am smart enough to know that I’d be kidding myself.

When they were little, it was so much easier. I made a rule. They followed it. Rare were the times when they didn’t and when it happened, my disappointment in their lapse was generally punishment enough. There weren’t a lot of time-outs in this house. Maybe that’s why I’m suffering now. They learned early on that I wasn’t very interested in punishing them. They interpret most of my actions as depriving them. And truly that is the only power I hold. I withhold junk food, cable television, game systems, and worst of all – the wifi.

For the most part, they’ve figured out ways around their deprivations. They jump at any offer of junk food from friends and strangers, indulge in cable tv on the internet, play game systems in other homes, and utilize the wifi at school and public places. The result is that I don’t have much leverage. I’m watching the events play out in Syria and I see the US government in a similar position.

What my kids tend to forget when they are complaining about their backward mother is that I almost always allow them to invite friends over. I have an open door policy. I don’t mind a gaggle of kids swarming my house. When they want to create something in the kitchen, I tell them, “have at it, but clean up after yourself.” If they can cook it, they can eat it. My daughter has perfected a brownie in a cup recipe she can whip up in the microwave in mere minutes. My oldest survives on popcorn pretty much. He’s not always so great about cleaning the popper, but I figure it’s a better habit than cheezits.

My kids are spoiled in other ways also. They want to learn the oboe? Fine. Drums? Sign him up. Fencing? Sure, I’ll drive to the other side of the city twice a week and sit in a smelly place to watch people cloaked in white thrusts skinny swords at each other in silence. They sign up for all manner of afterschool clubs and teams necessitating that I ferry them to and from the school multiple times a week. Does anyone ever tip, let alone thank, the cabbie? Not on your life.

Only in a country like America could my children feel they lived a deprived life. I hear my daughter inform her friends, “There’s no food in this house.” And my oldest son’s friends who congregate on our porch several times a week generally show up with food and drink in hand. If any of you have ever tried to keep teenage boys fed for more than two hours, you know that the fact these kids arrive with snacks is something for which I am exceptionally grateful. I do want to point out though, that there is plenty of food in my house. There just isn’t a plethora of junk food.

Back to my point at the beginning of this meandering essay, I am a pushover parent. But I am also an incredibly lucky parent. My kids, while they might not appreciate all the ways in which I indulge them, don’t generally take advantage of my lack of authority. They are good kids who offer most adults a modicum of respect, at least in public. I read stories, and hear other parents tell tales of kids who have no respect, who take full advantage of their parents’ lack of leverage, and push limits beyond what is safe. I listen intently and have nothing to offer. I believe you should hold kids accountable, and yet sometimes I can’t help but rescue my own.

Parenthood shouldn’t be a battle. I want that to be true, but I know that for some parents it is a battle. I suppose one way to look at it is to remember that these children are learning to leave their nest. They won’t leave if there’s no reason to. Hopefully the reason they leave is because better opportunity and adventures await them on their own and not because the oppressive regime becomes too much to bear.

I try to remember that it is my job to equip these kids with values, manners, and skills that will help them navigate the world without me. That’s the overall goal. That, and to love them so that they know how to love. Maybe my pushover parenting is teaching them that when it comes to loving people, especially the people in your own home, sometimes it's good to cut people some slack. So I’ll cut myself some slack for not always towing the line and for bending a few rules. As we get closer to the finish line, flexibility is the key. That much I know.

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