I always knew the day would come when my children would reach a point when they would see me as less than perfect. Of course, there have been glimpses along the way. Let's face it. There have even been absolute, certain, no-mistaking views of nowhere-near perfect. My children are now 15, 20, and 22 years of age. The two on the double decade side of things are now making adult decisions without much input from me. Occasionally, they are faced with the reality that I have not prepared them fully. Maybe frequently. I have shared some of my parental flaws with them. Some of these flaws are genetically based, some culturally, some plain old "I have no idea where that came from" flaws, and a couple of “I can’t believe I let that happen all those years” whammies. I have a couple of years left to help or harm the 15 year old.
With the help of hindsight, experimental tweaking with the first two, and wizened age, I am thinking of creating a few new techniques. What the hey? It’s my last shot at getting this right. Sometimes I get angry. I get frustrated and impatient. I try to talk, prompt, remind and offer support. I start off engaged and interested and delighted. Teaching responsibility and independence call for patience and support. I want to minimize the anger and frustration and increase the pride and transference of responsibility. I love my children. The sense of high expectations gets remembered, differently at different times, but not always as the kind and warm-hearted unconditional transparent operation intended.
Time management seems to be the hardest skill to teach. Two weeks checking in, reminding, and talking about a project that is due typically ends with aggravated loudness and deep regret. After a recent bout of "What do you mean you haven't completed (blank)!," that was determined right before heading off to an unrelated event that I was carpooling toward, I broke the rule of carpooling, and I spoke, directly. When his friend got in the car, the tension was hard to push passed. I decided to break free and ask the sweet friend of my son, what happens in his home when scheduling and homework problems occur. This was slightly safe. I have been told that his mother and I are very similar in our parenting. I wanted to believe that his mother was able to stop before the yelling stage and that I would be handed the secret code for parenting perfectly.
When asked, “How does your mother handle these situations?” He smiled nervously, knowing I was breaking the rule, and said, “She mostly talks to us.” Not letting go, I pushed onward, a risk that I knew was breaking the code for my son (I was sensitive to the possibility of humiliation). “Yeah, and then what? What happens when the talking doesn’t help?” The smile, wider, but thinner, couldn’t stop him from sheepishly replying, “Yelling.” I sighed, “Yep, that’s where we are.”
And I drove the rest of the way planning and scheming. How can this be done differently? Year after year, child after child, with much love — smile, listen, talk, prompt, nudge, support, nag, threaten, yell. Retreat, feel guilty, repeat next time despite the vows and promises to God and the devil not to go there again.
I teach. I have worked with very challenging students. I understand behavior, and I am skilled at helping students overcome negative behaviors to achieve some modicum of success in a rather rigid environment. How is this done? What is the secret to altering or modifying behaviors? Hit them where it hurts. Not literally of course. But first, observe and watch and understand what causes the behavior, what motivates the behavior, and what purpose is the behavior serving? What is the reward of the behavior? Remove or replace the “reward,” and teach the student the skills needed to achieve success without demanding negative attention or getting negative outcomes.
Easy, right? I started thinking about teens and parents and how the two worlds don’t operate on the same network. Yet, reliance and dependence is still a necessary part of survival. The teens don't like this reality. The parents can't imagine that the teens will ever make it on their own. Those wings are not quite ready to take flight, but the little birds need to start building them up so when they are nudged and/or lovingly pushed, they don’t land flattened on the sidewalk. Splat. A parents biggest fear.
Yelling. Ineffective and detrimental. Not relationship building. Air-traffic controllers can't yell flight orders (although they have been doing other odd things lately). I started thinking, yelling has an impact but what would have a quicker impact with a motivating kicker? Hmmm, back to parents and teens not belonging together but still necessary.
My kids all hit 14 or 15 in a similar manner. It was pretty clear they did not want me publicly embarrassing them. This meant, where I once was allowed to wave at them at a school event, I was now expected to pretend I did not know them. Waving is embarrassing. Having a mother is embarrassing. It reminds them that they have not been permitted to fly out of the nest yet. It reminds them that they are not strong enough to go, just yet. I have a terrible memory that included yelling that followed the response I got when I said hello to a child at a sports event. I saved the yelling for private time, and I believe that was the second mistake. Yelling publicly would not have garnered the hello I foolishly imagined. Waiting until later made it seem like requesting a wave meant I was unbalanced and needy and trying to be a bff. “It wasn’t a big deal,” I thought. Neither was correct; neither was effective.
I am thinking that rather than try hard not to embarrass my children, it might be better to work with that. I am wondering about the parents out there who seem embarrassing for real. Maybe they are onto something. If I shout hello to my son and then start waving and woo-hooing to all his friends, peers, and random schoolmates, I am sure someone would wave hello back. He would need to alter his behavior to diffuse and normalize the situation because the code is strong. If he acts like I am weird, that makes it true, and if I am weird, he might be too. Maybe that will be how I handle low grades. Weirdness pressure.
Parents who dress funny might be a very good approach. I do realize that we all dress a bit funny, but some of us really stand out. I might wear leather chaps, over orange striped leggings and a tube top to the next school function. This could be simply in response to the “I forgot” to clean my room, have the cell phone on, whatever. "What, I forgot to change out of my work clothes!" I could snicker. Participating in public affection, rubbing, tongue lunging, and freewheeling hands in a public, high-traffic setting might be fun. Children love when mothers are multidimensional beings, don’t they?
Just last week, I am sure some teen somewhere approached their mother and said, “Mom, you seem a little sexually repressed, you might want to free yourself up a bit. It’s hard to imagine that you have human feelings of desire or that your body has any functional purpose or responds to touch.” Not on your life! Unless you are an aging celebrity, and that's just weird. This technique can be used for lying or breaking curfew. The mere suggestion would garner a few more nights of high-level homework participation. How about it? I might be onto something big.
My daughter has a friend whose father has a wicked sense of humor, (I like to believe.) He would yell at running events to motivate his daughter to move faster. "O.K., I bet you're sorry you ate all that ice cream last summer!" he yelled. There was typically a large bubble of personal space around him, and hushed tones of horror. His daughter just ran past, eyes rolling to the finish line. I miss him. I liked to imagine my daughter was thankful that I just waved occasionally.
What the heck. They are going to be embarrassed, rolling their eyes and not taking us too seriously so we may as well have some fun — and maybe motivate them without yelling. We may even let them decide what they would prefer. You know they love to be in charge and make parental decisions on their own. I'm working on my smoker's voice and raunchy jokes, a few head-thrown-back cackles, sit-ups in public, or maybe, enlisting the school to make personal announcements on my behalf for my son? "Immediately following the pledge would Johnny Doe-eyes please come to the main office? You forgot to kiss your mother goodbye this morning. SAT sign-ups will be held in the guidance office, and Driver's Ed class is cancelled after school today.”