Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lessons from the School of Life

If someone were to ask me to impart my best advice on parenting in 1,000 words or less, the first thing I would say is, "Are you kidding? I can't do anything in 1,000 words or less!" Then, I would go on to write the following:

1) Don't threaten something unless you are really planning on going through with it. This is actually a tidbit from my own childhood. My parents were famous for threatening to send me to military school. Seriously? I mean, look at me back then. My idea of a really good day was to curl up in a corner in my room with a bag of pretzels and a good book. What kind of trouble did I really get into? I can't even remember the kinds of trespasses I committed to get the threat leveled at me, but it was a common one. I do remember the first time they hit me with it. I sat on the stairs to the basement and just balled, scared to death. I mean, Dad was military, so I envisioned this horrible place that would turn me into a complete asshole just like him. After a while, however, the threat became mundane and lost its bite. I became convinced that there was no such thing as a military school. I never met anyone who had actually attended one until I met some of the boys at Alldredge only two years ago who had actually been expelled from military school.

2) All parents should read Giving the Love that Heals by Harville and Hunt. It was assigned reading for Alldredge parents, along with The Four Elements, which is also a very good book I would recommend for anybody who lives on the planet. The thing I regret most about that book is that it took me until Kelsey and Marissa were 20 and 17 respectively to find it. Practice what it teaches, and I guarantee you that your relationship with your children will improve.

3) I would impart a bit of wisdom a very wonderful parent once said to me: never look shocked when your kids tell you something. If they see how shocked you are by what they're saying they won't talk to you anymore. I tried to live by that, even though I had to work at keeping a calm demeanor through some highly troubling conversations, and it worked to some degree. I was not the parent to whom it was referred, "Don't let [fill in blank} find out or she'll freak out!" But, when my children did come to confide in me I heard things come out of their mouths that I never wanted to hear. I, for instance, knew the bathroom in the high school that was the best for doing drugs and not getting caught (of course not until afterwards). I knew terms for heroin use that trained professionals didn't know. I knew about the sexual, partying, drinking and drug activity of just about everybody in my daughters' social circles. Again, not until the point at which I could not do much about it, but once they did decide they wanted or needed to talk to someone about it, they would lay it all out in excruciating detail, and I took it all in with a perception of calm that belied how I really felt.

4) Your kids do want your involvement and guidance, no matter what they say or do. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that the harder they fight you for control, the more they probably secretly need and want it. The ones who give in too easily are probably the ones to really watch out for, because one of two things are happening, they are completely socially introverted like me or are then turning around and doing what they want anyway. Now, for goodness sakes, do not go chaining your child to the radiator and telling CPS that I told you to do it. Use good parenting skills, but stay involved with where your children are and who their friends are. Your kids will hate this, but get involved with their friend's parents. Get ready to have some of those parents say things to you like "It's not my fault he's this way, he's adopted." or "Well, at least you are still married. That's saying something." But, that network can prove important.

5) You are not your child's friend, you are their parent. That was actually something I had to work on with Marissa. After I left my career behind to concentrate on trying to sort out the mess I had allowed my daughter's to sink into, I did everything with her. Eventually, we came to define co-dependency. But it was too violent of a swing the other way. I had gone from pretty significant detachment to complete immersion, and it affected my ability to sometimes stand up to her or make the hard decisions that I needed to. This is not to say you can't take your son or daughter to a Steeler game. By all means, please do. And you can enjoy one another's company, but there is a balance there, and you cannot lose sight of what your true role is.

6) Finally, but by no means least, if you wonder if behavior you are seeing is really something to worry about or just a teenage phase, worry about it. We kept waiting for Kelsey to just get past it when she first started showing signs of trouble her freshman year. We thought we knew who our daughter really was deep inside and the darkness she began to exhibit inside and out was just a phase. If not for the crisis counselor at the high school finally shaking me out of my delusions, she probably never would have made it to 23. I realize this was a huge time wasting mistake on my part, so really, if I can only say one thing to parents, it would be this. Don't chance it. What can it hurt to get a little therapy under a child's belt? Almost every new therapist we saw over the many years we worked on this would ask in the initial session, "So, do you think you need therapy?" My retort was always, "I think everyone could use therapy." Think back to when you were a teenager. There were some fun times probably, but if any adult can tell me without hesitation that his or her teenage years were not without drama, pain and confusion at least a fair amount of the time, I would say they were lying or spent way too much of those years completely stoned. The very nature of the process called growing up is trial and painful error. If therapy is not your cup of tea, then pick something else. Spiritual advisers, volunteer work, something. Anything. But, do not just sit there and think this too shall pass. I went to some of those kid's funerals too. The ones where the parents were just trying to weather the storm.

Okay, so how many words was that?

1 comment:

  1. I'm book-marking this. You're great, and I love you!