Respectful comments are always welcome. Opposing opinions are also welcome. Rude and disrespectful comments will not be approved.
What does it mean to put one’s relationship in the center? A friend shared a blog post she’d tripped over about our relationships with one’s children. I don’t know the author of The Only Parenting Mistake I ever Made – Over and Over and Over Again (or – The Illusion of Control), but her blog, The Adventure Continues, focuses on trust and building relationships between parents and children. (It’s long, but grab a beverage and skim it.) I’m all for a healthy relationship with my child — a healthy parent-child relationship, that is.
I met my older son just over fifteen years ago. I suppose you could argue we started our relationship in the womb, but that first look at my son brought me into relationship with him beyond what I’d known possible when he was in utero. I was his mom. He was my child. I was wholly responsible for his care — feeding, changing, tending, loving, guiding, nurturing. (Okay, his dad was there, too, but I can only speak to my relationship with my kids, not his.) So I fed, changed, tended, loved, guided, and nurtured. I also helped maintain a house, returned to work, had another son, and eventually ended up homeschooling both of them.
As they each grew, the job description of parent became more challenging. Little people can get into big pickles, and their growing, immature brains don’t have the skills to guide them to safety. Soon, seat belts had to be buckled even when a child fought against it. Wounds required washing and covering when a preschooler wanted it left alone. Quickly, plenty of my parenting involved setting limits and invoking safety protocols designed to keep my children healthy and whole. Another set of protocols gradually taught them skills for navigating the world successfully. (By successfully, I mean living without encroaching on the freedoms of others and allowing them to make some friends and compatriots along their walk through life.) Limit-making, thoughful and appropriate limit-making, was part of the feeding, tending, loving, and supporting that started with their births
The author of The Adventure Continues would likely have called me a control freak. She advocates caring more for how my child would feel about a rule than the rule itself. I know exactly how my two-year-old felt about that car seat some days. He was angry as hell. I got that. And yet the rule stood. I doubt very many children would make it past their toddler years if not for parental override on health and safety issues. The remaining ones might be shy on company if their naturally self-centered attitude was allowed to trump all social protocols.
I admit it. I’m my children’s parent. I’m not their friend. That, per the author’s first post (copied, with permission, from another parent) on her blog, makes me “mean, selfish, and lazy”. Perhaps I am sometimes. I’m human. I worry about their futures, struggle with the pains of their past, and sometimes just want them to act differently in the present. I believe that makes me human. I also care deeply about my relationship with each of them. As my older enters his mid-teens, I delight in the ways our relationship has evolved. As he gains more independence, I spend less time doing things for him. He’s a fun person with whom to be — funny, smart, and compassionate. I enjoy sitting with him in front of a TV show that he’s now old enough to understand or enjoying a crossword puzzle together at the kitchen table. And I love watching him mow, edge, and trim the lawn.
Make no mistake. I’m still clearly his parent, not his friend (not even, as the author suggests, his 40-something friend). I set limits because that’s part of the parent/child deal. I still have to keep him safe. He must wear a bike helmet. He can’t ride in the car of just any teen. He must let me know where he’s going. On the homeschooling front, my parenting includes helping is still-developing executive skills. I set deadlines and insist he meets them. I expect a certain level of quality (but not perfection) on assignments. After all, college classes this fall and jobs sometime later will expect nothing less. And I do all this knowing he’s not always happy with the constraints these expectations put on his life. That’s okay. We’re not always happy with those with whom we’re in relationship. I want him to have choices, and he admits he wants choices later on. He’s always had plenty of academic choices — he picked to study Algebra at age nine and to start Calculus this fall. His first history study as a homeschooler what his choosing (see We’ve Come Full Circle ). One has to make choices and blunder through the consequences in order to learn how to choose more wisely and muddle with grace.
My struggle with her piece largely revolves around her story about another mother’s child of about 12 or 13, a friend of her child’s. Essentially, this friend was plotting to “…meet up at midnight. But first they should steal LIQUOR from their parents, meet at Fred Meyer, STEAL an inflatable boat, HITCHHIKE to a river in the woods, and float down the river at 2am, drinking liquor.” Her daughter refused. The author reported nothing to the mother of the plotting young one. The author’s explaination to this failure to act as a village to raise a child goes like this:
…I do know that at that time, she was regularly (while grounded) sneaking out of her house at 2 am, taking public transit to a park, smoking there in the middle of the night, etc. – and calling my daughter to tell her how scared she was of sketchy people on the bus. And her mom never had any idea. Because the relationship was not the priority, the rules were, so had she known, the girl knew that it would have resulted in more grounding and “punishment” and none of the supported exploration and deep learning that she undoubtedly craved.
…It’s all too common, and when you are a parent to a teen who tells you a lot of what goes on in their lives, you have the privilege of hearing what is going on in the lives of other teens – most of whom are parented very differently, few of whom have parents who prioritize the relationship over the rules. I would never violate my children’s trust in me by telling other parents what their kids are doing behind their back, but I wish i could convey to so many that it’s NOT what they think.
May my children never be friends with her children. We teach our children to help those in trouble. We tell them to let an adult know about others who are struggling, because adult intervention can save lives. We tell them we can help (and we often can). Had this child come into danger, what would this author feel? Would she feel smug in her assessment that this child had parents who prioritized rules over relationship? Would her daughter ask what they could have done to help this child? Would the author be satisfied with herself since she did not “violate (her) children’s trust in my by telling other parents what their kids are doing behind their back”? That would be a cold comfort indeed. This isn’t putting the relationship with her child first. It’s negligence.
To me, this author is missing a key to parenthood: responsibility. As parents with (hopefully) mature prefrontal cortexes (cortici?), we can put the pieces together that our children (and their friends) cannot. We can assess risk where they may not be able to do so. Is is precisely because of our relationship with our children and, by proxy, our relationships to their friends, that we MUST place limits and create rules. It is our responsibility. It is part of the relationship. In fact, our level of responsibility with our children defines our role as parents.
Yes, the relationship matters. It matters deeply, and I’ve shed many tears and lost plenty of sleep over harsh words I’ve said and limits I’ve placed. Harsh words and limits are sometimes necessary in all relationships, but I know at times I’ve overstepped. I’ve apologized many times, and I’ve received apologies from them. We all blunder our way along. Through it all, our relationships grow as they grow. Wiping bottoms, breastfeeding, and tying shoes passes away. Coaching life skills, teaching Chemistry, and discussing organizational strategies moves to center stage. Conversation, laughter, love, support, and guidance continue throughout. The relationship is at the center of my parenting. A generally healthy, ever-changing parent-child relationship.