Vail Family Matters: Evolution required to be a good parent
VAIL CO, Colorado
My son is celebrating a birthday this week. It’s a day unlike others in every way and not a simple celebration of a passing year and a fresh beginning. This day marks a certain end and a definite start; he’ll be 18.
I have spent a fair amount of time reflecting, not just on his years, but with the mirror turned on myself and on those same years of parenting. What I discovered was not just how much he’s obviously progressed, but how much I’ve changed as well. My conclusion is evolution is a requirement of good parenting.
Perhaps most parents are just understandably exhausted by the teenage years, a reasonable excuse to stop pursuing our Utopian selves and stick with old habits. When you’ve not slept in 15 years, it just might be forgivable to stop caring if your kids are building a meth lab in the basement. Maybe it’s inevitable after endless days of being on top of everything to want just to pop some melatonin instead of sitting up late in the evenings talking with your kids or reading parenting books.-
But, I offer that the rules and flexibility with which we parent our young children should change as our kids do.-
I was home in Southern California recently watching a young mom manage her irresistible toddler. Every word she said was authoritative, and rightly so. She shouted when her daughter strayed into the street, strongly advised her not to put a seashell in her mouth, panicked when she went out of sight for a moment at the sandy park. All were important reprimands, not just so her child learns obedience, but so she might survive the day.
Unfortunately though, as children age, parents often stick to the things that are comfortable and try to govern them like infants. Is it any wonder kids feel their parents are so out of touch?
Although danger is still quite present, and even oppressively worrisome, as children go through their teen years, how they respond to their parents’ warnings seems markedly different. “Tuning out” are words that come to mind. Many parents worry about the hazards surrounding their children, while adding to the danger by not effectively reaching their kids, who most likely never needed guidance more than through these fabulous-but-formidable years.
I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve talked to who say, “Johnny would never do this,” when I personally witnessed Johnny doing those very things the weekend before with my own eyes. Johnny’s parents may lay down the law, but without real communication and respect, his parents are never going to know what he’s really up to.
I’ve found that holding my tongue and being open minded have served me well these last years. I have flexed and allowed things I never would have imagined when my kids were perfect and innocent toddlers. And although they have come to me with information I have not always been pleased to hear, the fact they come to me is what’s vital. When your children can count on you not overreacting to what they’re facing, that builds the trust they need to share their problems each time. And, after they leave the room, you can pour yourself a glass of wine (or double martini), go cry in the shower, scream into a pillow … whatever works.
This also helps define a barrier many parents don’t care for much – that invisible fence between who we want our kids to be and who they really are. Many parents mistakenly think they know what’s best for their children without fail. I dare you to see if your children know more about themselves than you think.
Perhaps the goal isn’t to have obedient children. Maybe the greater purpose is to raise children who seek their passions responsibly but wholeheartedly, think for themselves instead of how they are told to think, and desire to live a life of contribution. These things are tough to acquire without liberty and a truly accessible parent. So, next time your child says something that makes you want to hold on tighter, take a deep breath, save your words for the end, and let go a little; they may share more than they ever anticipated, and you might be proud of both of you.
Jill Marchione is a freelance writer and mother of four. She lives in Edwards with her family. Send column suggestions or comments firstname.lastname@example.org.
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