Tuesday, February 5, 2008

All the credit, none of the blame

I wonder if that should be my new mantra ;)

I'm in a glowing phase with the children at the moment. The teens and I are reaping the rewards of being so honest and accountable to one another for the past few years. Greta Garbo is working two jobs to save up for her university course. We seem to have overcome the teething problems of her new independence. She seems happy with the few requirements of her, and we're happy to be flexible.

I have been forced to come up with a different nickname for my second daughter. I think I may call her El Presidente. She brought home a nomination form today for a Young Women's Leadership Forum. Only twenty girls or so will be selected from this state, and the school is putting her name forward. She's working hard, both at school, and at her part time job. She's also working hard at being a wonderful, giving member of the family. I barely need to lock my bedroom door any more.

The little ones are charming as little ones often are. They've been blessed with their father's natural sense of equilibrium, and we rarely have any issues. Stompy, the ten year old, is doing her maths homework right now. The Diva is in bed, having just had a raucous night at Cubs. Miss Three-Going-On-Thirty told me she loved me.

I feel proud.

I was always keen to hear reasons why I shouldn't take too much blame for the problems we've had. So it seems a little hypocritical to claim any credit for any of it. I'm not sure there's much credit to be had. We provide a calm-ish, happy-ish, stable-ish home. We give them what they need, we talk with them, we respect them.

But I think the biggest thing we've given them in the last year or so is a great deal of our own self-confidence. I was interested to read an article suggesting that this indeed had a huge impact in how one parents. After I had my mini-breakdown last year, which was truly a crisis of confidence, I was able to reconstruct in a way what I did feel confident about, and able to tackle issues with a greater clarity. That has certainly assisted both me and the children. We had to address exactly what is was we were believing in, trying to model, and what we wanted and were willing to accept. Articulating that clearly to the children, and seeking support from other friendly and encouraging adults to validate that these were indeed reasonable values and expectations, was a great confidence booster as well.

Here are some of the things that have helped me build my confidence:

Talk honestly to other parents.
None of us like to admit we aren't coping, but once we hint that may be the case, it's common for other parents to admit their own failings. Hearing other parents who to you seem like wonderful examples admit their own frailty, and seeing that their children have grown into great young people, does wonders to convince you that you're probably not as vile as you think you are. And if your realisation is that actually, you might be doing a bit worse than you'd like, that kind of honesty from others and yourself can open your eyes to the assistance you might need.

Talk honestly with your children.
If you are feeling uncertain about how a particular issue is panning out, invite them to share their thoughts on it. Chances are they aren't happy either, and they may well have some wisdom or suggestions to share that may help you find a different perspective. Be prepared to listen unjudgementally to what they are telling you. Sometimes what they say can be hard to hear, unfair, and even cruel, but again, if you've got that information, then you can do something with it!

Articulate your expectations - and be prepared to explain them.
It's not a unique piece of wisdom to say that the days of "because I told you so" are well past for most young people today. They are used to a culture that adores them and treats them as if they are much older, and regardless of how hard you try, unquestioning obedience isn't a likely outcome for any modern parent of teens. Sometimes they'll ask questions that make you realise that the real reason behind your expectation is "because I don't trust you," or "because I feel like I'm not in control any more" or "because if you don't I feel like I've lost authority". These are understandable fears and anxieties... but that's your problem, not your teen's, and it probably means it's not a reasonable expectation.

Consider your expectations carefully, and explain them explicitly. Teens can be very literal, legalistic, and narrow minded. If you just say "chores" then it's not narrow enough for them. If you give them a list of the exact chores you want them to do, then the next time you ask them to do something not on the list they will huff at you, "But you didn't put that one on! I've done what you expected me to do! Why should I do anything else?" And they've got a point. Perhaps you can be as explicit as possible, and give yourself some riders and loopholes. Over issues like chores, where these arguments are common, it's worth writing them down.