She stood in the doorway to our room. Leaned in and called my name.
“I’m right here,” I answered, slowly whispering so she would know there was no need to yell.
Without apology she dove into her request. Something about going somewhere with someone. Immediately the porcupine of parenthood raised its pricklies under my ribs, and I began to construct my response. Coming up with reasons she could not go. Not really evaluating the request, just the manner in which it was given. I needed to wield my mother-sword to remind her who was boss. I had refined this tool of parenting when our oldest first started asking these kinds of questions in this manner. I think it was the day after his 14th birthday. Something about flailing in a pool of weariness makes bossiness rise to the top.
For a long time my instinctive response to my kids’ requests was NO. They had to convince me to change to a YES. It made me feel empowered I guess.
Then I read somewhere that I might try making my instinctive response YES. When I heard this I kept my arms folded in front of me, my lips pursed and my right eye scrunched under my furrowed eyebrows. “How dumb is THAT?” I thought.
And then I thought some more.
Next time Johnny asked if he could drive to Jeff’s house I gave it a go:
That’s all I said.
John sort of hung there for a moment, his chest pumped full of air, prepared with his come-back. Finally he exhaled.
“Uh…OK. Thanks.” He looked at me, sort of a pregnant pause kind of look, then peered out into the hallway, then back at me.
“Be back in an hour?” I called behind him.
And he was.
This is interesting, I thought to myself. I began considering that perhaps what my kids wanted to do was in their own best interest. But how could that possibly be true? It’s against the nature of the teenage beast.
Sometimes, maybe even oft times, it is true: kids do not know what is best for them. But at some point they need to figure out how to make personal decisions. Practice is helpful. Best to start young rather than waiting till they are hormonally driven teenagers.
The key is letting consequences fall naturally, like snow on a winter day. It lands as easily on the sharp needles of a pine tree as it does on the smooth table top on the back deck. Sometimes we need to lay out the consequences before the figurative snow begins to fall. In fact this is a pretty good idea.
I started asking my kids what the consequences should be for themselves. That was another groovy parenting tool.
“So what should the consequence be if you are late coming home from Jeff’s?”
“Ummmm, hmmmm, maybe that I don’t get to drive the rest of the week?”
Sounded good to me.
In this way my children raised themselves.
Kids like being trusted. If they are not manipulators (and some are) then they will do a lot just to keep your sincere trust. At least that’s how it rolled out with my kids. They probably were not conscious of it, but somewhere inside they really wanted us to trust them. I always said one of Johnny’s finest gifts was his strong conscience. He may not have always followed the CTR rule (Choose The Right) but at least he felt bad about it when he didn’t. Guilt is a God given mechanism, and is often given a bad rap, probably because we misuse it. A wise bishop once told me to reserve guilt for sin.
I think to myself as I sit here typing that if anyone reads this, and likely few will, they will be shaking their heads and chuckling about my profound gift of denial, wrapped in a bright pink foil of oversimplification. They won’t know the intense struggles we had, and the agonizing prayers we whispered concerning our kids. It’s not like I reached over on my desk and punched that Staples button that triggers a little recording saying “THAT WAS EASY.”
Truly no one knows. For me or for you. No one but the divine father of us all. Thank goodness He is the only one allowed to judge us.
I’m just sayin’ that when I started coming at responding to my kids from the north of YES versus the south of NO, my perspective changed and so did theirs. It reminded me that while I am their mom, they are first and foremost stewards over themselves. They have battles of their own to fight. And I want to be an ally in battle, not an enemy.
I don’t quite know how to emphasize that this is not an easy-out form of parenting. This takes considerable forethought, intelligence, and faith in divine guidance. It also does not mean that just because my first instinctive response was trained to be “yes”, that the actual verbal response was “YES”. As often as not what came from my lips was NOPE. But it came out that way after first considering that we had an option in YUP.
I dare say my kids remember none of this. They wouldn’t know what was going on in my head. To them I was still that rather controlling mom who wasn’t all too consistent in her parenting skills. Heck, I was still a baby myself back then. I had four teenagers by the time I was 37.
Sorry, kids. I didn’t mean to be so bossy. Just imagine how bad it could have been if I had never considered saying YES.