Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day 8: Lessons Learned from Mom

Day 8: Parents Need to Act Like Parents

I work in a retail store part time so I see a lot of families of all kinds. Some of those harried mothers remind me of my mom, and some...not so much. You see, when you watch parents (or grandparents) at a store like mine, especially when they have a whiney kid with them, you learn a lot about who is in charge.

It's surprising how seldom it's the adult making the decisions.

Now, I've said for years that the only perfect parent out there--the only one who hasn't made mistakens or given in when they shouldn't--is someone who has no children, and never has. It's amazing how childless couples and single people know the answer to every probelm that arises around them. Just ask sometime when you, as a parent are stumped--some childless person is sure to have the 'perfect' solution to fix whatever is going wrong. More often than not, they miss the mark.

I say this to illustrate that I understand every home and situation is different, and I know there are times when giving is in just easier than fighting with a kid for your own sanity. But when an adult is in our store with a young child (or even a teenager) and they say no, I totally admire them when they stick to their deicision despite crying, tantrums, wheedling, or any other methods applied by the child to try and convince the parent to change their mind. Especially when they have a tantruming child--it's far too easy for parents to give into social pressures, wondering if people around them are going to think they are cruel or mean not to give their kid whatever they want just to shut them up.

I admit, when we had a couple of toddler boys living with us, one often had random tantrums--generally there was no identifiable cause, no one had looked at him wrong, touched his stuff, played with his toy, etc. He would just throw himself on the ground and start wailing for no discernable reason. And I stood by, waiting for him to calm down in stores on more than one occasion--despite funny looks people gave me for ignoring the bad behavior. Okay, I have to admit that picking him up and trying to soothe him never worked regardless of the location because the problem wasn't something I could fix, even if I wanted to. It was much easier not to tease and cajole him with sweets or whatever else I could find to placate the kiddo. Don't get me wrong, I felt terrible that he went through these episodes. It was rough on him and tired him out, but there was honestly nothing I ould do about it, and picking him up generally made things worse.

How does this come back to my mother? My parents had fairly strict rules about being home when we were supposed to be, getting our chores done, taking care of responsibilities, being where we told them we would be. They expected me to follow the rules, and when I didn't, there were consequences--nothing too hard handed or overbearing, but they were always there. When I was grounded, there was a reason, and I didn't get out of my punishment until the time passed.

On the other hand, there were a few times when my mom decided maybe she had reacted to a situation, and she re-evaluated the punishment--but never in response to me whining or complaining about it. People around us often said my parents were too strict, that we would all go wild as soon as we graduated from high school and were allowed off on our own.

Guess what--we didn't. I admit, we didn't always make the right decisions, but as part of their parenting strategy, as we went through high school we were always allowed to make more of our own decisions. There was no pressure for us to attend a certain school, study a particular field. I was used to making the majority of my own decisions, and as I moved on to college and married life they have occasionally made suggestions when they saw options I hadn't considered closely, but they never pick apart my decisions or tell us we screwed up with this one or that.

If we made a mistake (like buying a brand new car weeks before I was laid off and my husband was injured at work) there was no condemnation from them--just acceptance that we were adults, and able to make our own decisions, and our own mistakes. And when we needed help, they did what they could--even if it was just to list options available to us, or to provide a listening ear.

I can't say how grateful I am that my parents are there to consult with when I have a dilemma (even if it's just which paint to put on my coop) or to support me through my struggles. It's such a huge thing for me to know that even if they don't agree with my decisions they accept that I'm old enough to make them, and capable of dealing with the consequences. They never belittle the decision or tell us we screwed, up, but let us figure that out on our own. And I don't think I've ever heard 'I told you so.'

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