Looking After What is Important?
“…the middle aged suspect everything, the young know everything’.
- Oscar Wilde
Spring has arrived. And as I peer out the living room window, I see stark reminders of the things that need tending. The lawn, for one, is already a mass of weeds. Over to the right I notice the driveway – all cracked and heaving. Finally, there is the sight of our 1999 Toyota van – so beaten and rusty that to call it a rust bucket is actually an insult to buckets. As I contemplate the cost of lawn service and a paint job I find myself praying for a fresh blanket of snow to make it all go away.
Kids, on the other hand, need far more regular tending than the lawn or the van. Falling behind on kid maintenance is definitely not a good idea. Anyway, as a mother of two teens I have come to accept that from time to time my little darlings are going to have a few missteps as they travel life’s road. You can add this to death and taxes as life’s 3rd certainty! Well, such a misstep happened one recent Saturday, beginning with a late night call that started with the words “Do you have a daughter named…”which is never good. After being told about a series of unfortunate events involving my daughter I hung up, took a few deep breaths and peeled myself off the ceiling.
So first things first, you get to the bottom of the story. Picture me in the likeness of Lady Justice without the blindfold, doing my best to find a balance of truth and justice in the trial of my 17 year old daughter. Getting the truth is the easy part because, frankly, my kids are rank amateurs when they attempt to weave a tale of deception. I don’t need to be Perry Mason to make mince meat of their alibis. That I can do blindfolded! The problem is getting the justice part right. In other words exactly what formula should we use to discipline our young miscreant? How short do we have to make their leash? How many freedoms do we revoke?
In the past we have tried ‘forgive and forget’ (doesn’t work) and threatened banishment to private school (not credible). So, our usual pattern is to come down hard – a combo pack that invokes grounding, cutting off use of the van, and banning sleepovers until, oh, sometime around the next sighting of Halley’s Comet. Problem with this approach is we then get locked into a home edition of the Cold War where she communicates only via text message or single syllable utterances, and where family dinners have the ambience of a funeral parlour. We, the judge, jury and jail guards, end up being punished by virtue of having to share the same jail cell as our young perp! How is that for justice? After a few weeks of these frosty conditions we capitulate. The matter gets swept under the carpet and early parole is granted to the young inmate despite any real evidence of reform or repentance.
Are we too lenient? Are we giving our kids more leash than we should? Let’s face it, when it comes to parenting there is no standard playbook. But as I think about it no matter what form the discipline takes, if you do it in a fair and even handed manner, they may not like it but they will respect it, even if they won’t admit it. In fact it is probably one of the more important life lessons we can give our kids. Be hard on the problem, but easy on the people, as they say.
And so goes the parental paradox – giving kids your time, attention and the right measure of autonomy so they have the roots they will need when it comes time for them to pick up and take off on their own flight path.
Speaking of roots, as I look out the window at our unkempt lawn, it occurs to me that there might be some weed pulling in our daughter’s immediate future. And the van could sure use a wash!