parentingcard

Mother knows best (when to play the parenting card)

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by Robin Dance

Married over half her life to her college sweetheart, Robin's guilty pleasure is Reddi Wip from the can. Mom to three, she's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea. Follow her on Twitter. Her beautiful new blog robindance.me is a must-see.

Parenting is paradoxical.

For 18 years, give or take, you’re training and teaching, tender and tough loving, all the while growing up right alongside your children.   A mama and daddy might be born the moment their first child arrives, but it takes buckets of patience, persistence and time before you feel like you’ve made any progress.

Amazing how we practically knew it all before we had kids, making judgments about the way others parented, and swearing off the things we’d never do.

My mother-in-law still laughs at my declaration that we’d have just one play area for our first born, and she would just have to learn and comply with the boundaries we established.

Over the course of three babies, I’d eat those words 1,000 times. We learned soon enough where all the perfect parents lived: in the land of unicorns and fairies.  So we simply did the best we could in the world in which we lived: the real one.

At least we always tried to parent with purpose.  The choices we made were intentional ones, designed to shape desirable character.

Enter the teenager.

As I’ve shared here before, I’m a strong believer in cultivating age-appropriate independence.  To continue to micromanage your teen’s life when it’s time for him to make decisions is a disservice to both of you.  And yet…

Sometimes we just need to feel like a mommy again; even if it’s in the smallest of ways.

One of the by-products of encouraging your child’s independence is that he will become accustomed to making his own decisions. And this is mostly favorable, especially if he’s a good decision maker.

But what about when they make decisions you don’t agree with?  I don’t mean obvious poor choices, I’m talking about morally neutral choices where you hoped they’d answer differently.

Parents of teen drivers learn this soon enough:  once your children receive their driver’s license, once they taste the freedom of going where they want when they want without Mom or Dad having to take them there, family dynamics change.

By this age they’re less likely to be required to accompany you on what used to be family outtings; if presented a choice, they’ll often decline – which is okay.  Grown-ups and teenagers have vastly different interests and opinions on what constitutes fun.

But sometimes you need to throw the Parent Card.

On occasion, you’re going to have to be the boss of them and remind them who pays the bills.  Your son or daughter will not be happy when you make them do something, but remarkably, the fact that we’ve lived longer and have broader life experience really does mean we know what’s best.

Even when they can’t see it today.

A recent example:  at the beginning of the year, I added Attending Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class” to my Bucket List.  It is astonishing to me that a former U.S. president made a commitment to teach Sunday school at all, let alone, as in Mr. Carter’s case, for over 30 years!   If he’s home, he’s there on Sunday mornings leading his class.

Unfortunately, no one else in my family shared my interest or enthusiasm.

We currently live less than two hours from Plains, Georgia, so I put a visit to Marantha Baptist Church on my calendar.  My husband ended up having to go out of town, but my youngest was free to go and my sister decided to join us.

Initially, I invited my 16 year old to join me, hoping he’d understand the significance and rarity of this opportunity; I had no interest in dragging along a teen with a bad attitude.  This is my cheerful, flexible kid who has a track record of adapting to most anything, and it’s rare for him not to go with the flow.  For a lot of reasons, I didn’t want to make him come with me, yet I couldn’t imagine him not wanting to.  I was wrong, however, and his initial response was no.

But then I changed my mind.  I’m a woman and a mother–my prerogative, right?  I took time to explain why it was important, not just for me, but for him, to attend.

He was not happy.

He flashed me his disgusted face.

He grumbled, he complained and he freely expressed indignation over my demand that he join me.

I smiled sweetly, told him I understood his frustration…but remained resolute in my decision.

You see, in this case I knew best.  I understood the value in this experience and that both of us would eventually regret it if I didn’t require him to go.

Ten presidents have served as Commander in Chief during my life and Mr. Carter is the only one who will give you a non-political, free audience for close to an hour…and stick around for anyone who’s interested to have a photo taken with him.

He’s agile and fit and as sharp as ever, but at 89, it’s logical to presume he’s had more teaching years in his past than his future.

So I played the parent card.  I dared to demand that my son attend with me, even though he didn’t say a word on the drive over and glared for the hour and a half we waited (I wanted to be early to assure seating in the sanctuary, not watch on TV in the Fellowship Hall).

And, perhaps not so remarkably, on the way home my son quietly admitted, “I’m glad I went.”

Mom, for the win.

 

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Comments

  1. Mom, for the win!

    What a great story. I didn’t know Jimmy Carter taught classes. How wonderful that you and your son got to attend. Go you for making that happen :)

    • Stacy,

      They post his schedule three months at a time, and what I found was he teaches >50% of the time; when you realize how much he travels, you’ll find that is no small feat!

  2. Thank you for this example of how not to ‘play the parenting card’. Telling your child that they have the right to make a decision and then overruling them when you change your mind is disrespectful. No one has the prerogative to change their minds whenever they want, woman or otherwise. I suspect that your son wasn’t angry that you made him come along so much as he was angry that you were disrespectful of him and his decision not to come.

    I understand and completely agree with your point that as parents there are times when you know what’s best for your children even if they are almost adults. I just wish you had picked a different story to serve as an illustration. Just because he forgave you doesn’t make you right.

    • I appreciate your perspective here, Jennifer, but I think I can see Robin’s point in this example. I mean, I haven’t parented teens yet, so I don’t know! :) But I can think of times back when I was a teen and where my parents originally told me I had a choice (i.e., I didn’t have to go to the church’s Christmas Eve service if I didn’t want to), but then they later changed their mind and told me I didn’t have a choice after all (I had to go because it became an extended family affair outing, and my grandma would be saddened by my absence).

      I was totally annoyed at them at first, but now, twice my age, I can see their adult perspective. I’m glad they made me go. It wasn’t a life-changing event for me or anything (like meeting a president!), but it taught me a bit about dying to myself and trusting my parents. And that’s a really good lesson to learn, especially because you learn more and more as you get older that life isn’t all about yourself (which is easy to think, if we’re not careful! At least it is for me).

      Thanks for commenting, and thanks for being a reader.

    • As someone who has known Robin for years and long-admired how she parents, I can assure you that disrespectful is never Robin when it comes to her kids.

      Robin, thank you for sharing your stories about parenting. As someone who is behind you on this journey, I greatly value your wisdom.

      And next time, I want to come to that bible study. #MeetingPresidentsFTW

      • Jessica,

        I thought about how STIFLED bloggers would have felt Sunday morning; we were allowed to take pictures inside the church only during a prescribed time; and there were so many GREAT takeaways (from Mr. Carter and others) that would have been fun to tweet/instagram…but you DARED NOT disobey Miss Jan, the deacon (deaconess???) who gave us the 1, 2, 3s. That being said, I would LOVE to go back with you! Tad and I are planning to invite his parents to join us…. :)

    • Jennifer,

      Well, among other things, your comment helped me tweak my post a bit to be more clear about the exchange between me and my son. In an effort to keep the initial section of the post which lays a groundwork, but also tell this story, I streamlined as much as I could. Unfortunately that led you to some faulty assumptions. I suspect though I clarified a bit, you would still have written your same comment.

      I’m so grateful for readers who encourage me to write better, clearer; I welcome respectful dissenting opinion which challenges me to consider my own.

      To learn a little more about you before responding, I visited your blog. Seeing you as a person helped me receive your words. Before doing that, I was curious how you’ve handled parenting teens…but I learned it’s a bit premature :).

      Congratulations on your new home!

    • Jennifer, I’d have to disagree with you and applaud Robin here. My husband and I have raised 3 teens and there have been many times that we’ve changed our minds on decisions we’ve made. I’ll admit, early on in teen-raising, I didn’t always listen to my gut. I learned to be more clear with my decisions and answers, which resulted in less “changing my mind” over the years. The pattern of constantly changing our minds for sure is harmful, because that makes us wishy-washy. But for Robin’s story here, that is not what this is about. I can see she clearly gained respect from her son, because ultimately he saw the benefits of attending the class. :) He took away a little nugget in his pocket: I can trust Mom.

  3. Robin, you’re like a parenting guru! I think your illustration proves your earlier point well, that as parents we’re growing up and learning alongside each other. Each stage and situation is new, so it is inevitable we will at times change our minds once we’ve had more time to think. We can only do our best to explain the reasons why we have and I’m sure your son came to understand – this was an experience not to be missed! I hope it was everything you’d hoped for.

    • She is my personal parenting guru, Jessica. ;) Which is why I’m SO glad she writes here.

    • Jessica,

      Well, realizing that not everyone will agree with my parenting style (there’s certainly no ONE right way!!), it’s good to hear you heard my heart in this! Everything about our visit exceeded expectation, and I’m SO thankful my son was a part :).

  4. I remember reading a book by Wayne Dyer years ago and remember a quote he said. “Before I had kids I had 6 theories and no kids. Now I have 6 Kids and no theories”

  5. You did the right thing. I am not sure that teens really grasp the significance of the Presidency. I have met several and it is amazing how it shaped me and how I view the Commander in Chief and the whole political scene.

    How awesome to go to bible study with a President!

    • Pam,

      Several presidents? Fantastic! I met Mr. Bush (George W.) while he was campaigning; it’s interesting how accessible they are BEFORE elected vs. after. There were AT LEAST 7 secret service agents there Sunday morning; those were the ones I could spot…

  6. Oh I love your perspective and agree with you whole heartidly.

    Parenting teens is a tricky tight walk. But, sometimes their reaction may not be immediate however, long term this was an experience for the archives. A moment you knew he would draw on for years to come.

    • Mary,

      We talked about my post and last weekend last night; he (again) agreed it was a cool thing to do, but also recognized he’ll probably appreciate it much more down the road. Sounds fine to me :).

  7. I knew I liked you ;)

  8. Yes, yes, yes! I’ve raised one girl to adulthood with two others still in the pipeline and I have and will continue to sometimes insist that they do “family” things with us. When they’re 18 I can’t “make” them any more (but I reserve the right to guilt them) but until then I am still in charge, despite the fact that I sometimes let them flex their decision-making muscles. That’s just practice for when they’re grown-up. The fact that he was glad you made him go AND he actually told you that just goes to prove that you were right to do it.

    • Kim,

      Thanks for your supportive words :). Having gone through this, you can sense my perspective a little better than those who aren’t yet here. I believe something strongly that you alluded to: kids need to practice decision-making; that’s why helicopter parenting/micromanaging their lives is dangerous. If they’re never allowed to make choices (and fail OR succeed), how will they be strong enough to do so once they leave? To me, this builds confidence.

  9. Nice job, Mom!!!

  10. You drove 2 hours to go to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class and forced your son to go? You ROCK! (So does Jimmy Carter, I think.)

    I really love your posts on parenting teens because I have two of my own. And yes, not micro-managing is hard, but necessary. My son just bought a pair of red suede converse shoes, which I know are going to look nice for 6 weeks in the winter rain our city gets. I said nothing. I figure he’ll learn red suede and rain don’t go together….

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