No one ever said this parenting gig would be easy. Not only do we have the responsibility to mold the future minds of our planet and guide the beings we bore toward making the right decisions, but we’re also deep in the trenches maintaining marriages, keeping households together, and finding fresh ways to remind our partners to see how even the minor decisions we make today will majorly affect our kids tomorrow.
In a perfect world (or on a good day), we’re all on the same page about the fundamental things—things we’ll have already agreed upon, in most cases before the kids were even born. I’m talking about the religion thing (yay or nay), after-school activities (how much is too much), food (organic vs. non-organic), language (cursing/no cursing), bedtime (rigid or chill), curfews (yada yada). But what should we do when the smaller nuances pop up and disagreements spiral into the land of who will give in first? I know for my husband and me, we’ve had long days and nights of keeping up with a serious contest of will, when neither one of us dared turn away first.
It ain’t fun, and what we probably need to remember most of all is that we must leave the room to duke it out or, in this particular instance, discuss it like two civilized grown-ups—out of our kid’s earshot. Because as we all know too well: Any child, particularly a smart teenager, will use the rift—however large or small—as an opportunity to pit us one against the other. And therein lies the problem.
Manipulation, while not necessarily evil, can manifest in larger and more negative characteristics, such as dodging responsibility. Not something I strive to promote with my children. Case in point: I asked my daughter to lend a hand with the cleanup after dinner. Over the past couple of years we’ve added new duties to her list of chores and hold her accountable for being a living, breathing member of the family and therefore obligated to chip in when and where she can—at will or, historically, at our request. We all have busy schedules and just one person cannot do it all (although, I admit, I have tried). My husband, in his unwavering capacity to please everyone, offered to do it in her stead, since it was the night before the first day of school and he knew she still needed to shower, figure out what to wear, get her supplies in order…you know, the usual preparatory steps that we create for rites such as these.
To my daughter, it was a wonderful suggestion and completely welcomed, so of course she accepted his offer. I on the other hand felt that it was important for us—as parents—to follow through with our goal and expectation of keeping her on task as we have adamantly done with our son, and I vehemently opposed this (later, when my husband and I were alone). It was a tricky situation, something I knew while it was happening. It was subtle, yet completely loaded. When scenarios like this arise, I lean on my instincts 100 percent to guide me, and if there is one thing I advocate to anyone who’ll listen, on any topic—motherhood or otherwise—this should always be the beacon. Only on a couple of occasions have I attempted to ignore them to be met with some negative repercussion or another shortly thereafter.
And that is why I have remained firmly planted with this point and have revisited it since, now that we’re all a little more removed from the original event. I've been reminding everyone at any given opportunity that we all need to continue to help each other, even though we have other things to do and/or if it means we have to take a break from whatever that is (homework, texting, watching TV, chatting online). My emphasis will continue to be on family and all the obligations that come with being a part of one.
We as parents try. And we fail, too, sometimes. We hope like hell that resilience is what it’s cracked up to be with our kids, and situations like this will not resonate for too long and/or cause too much damage. Responsibility is a big one for me, and I can only vow to continue insisting we all take it for what it’s worth. And it’s worth a lot. Hopefully that will be the takeaway for our girl this time. And if it is, maybe the whole debacle actually wasn’t a fail.