A few weeks ago, our oldest son jacked up his truck AGAIN while “mudding” with his friends. This is maybe a Texas thing, I think. It involves teen boys, trucks, empty fields, and general frontal lobe underdevelopment. There were a handful of details I’ll omit, but we ended up getting a “story” instead of the truth.
In the inevitable confrontation, Brandon and I both played the heavy because the parenting book I read ten years ago cautioned against triangulation. But between our son’s obvious emotional distress and our relief that the “story” involved a muddy road instead of, say, drug paraphernalia, we both started losing steam midway through the lecture.
At one point too late in the game, Brandon looked sternly at our son and declared: “Do you know what a truck is for? TRANSPORTATION!” and I got the giggles so bad I had to hide in the kitchen. Once composed as presiding judge, I asked: “Do we look like two parents who are going to pay for your joyrides indefinitely?” and he looked at us so intently, as if the contours of our faces might confirm or deny the query, that Brandon almost snorted. Having exhausted our severity, we sent him to his room and dissolved in fits of laughter.
You know what I didn’t understand about parenting? No one knows what they are doing.
We have no idea if we are reacting correctly or making appropriate choices or parenting “right” or striking the proper balance. Did we discipline when we should have shown grace? Or relent when we should have clamped down? Are we getting the technology thing right? Should we have let the kids see that movie with the F-word? Are other parents letting their 7th grader go to Sonic after school? Do we give our kids too many/few chores? Do we allow boyfriends and girlfriends in 8th grade? Is our kid’s curfew appropriate? If we don’t enroll him in SAT Prep Class, is he doomed? Have spanking/time outs/isolation/lost privileges ruined our kids or redeemed them? Do they know when I make up answers?
We are just kids who grew up and had babies ourselves. What in the blazes do we know? Parenting is less “Stratego” and more “Chance” than we imagined. We’re flinging way more stuff at the wall to see what sticks than we let on. I second-guess around 72% of my parenting decisions. This feels unstable at best.
I’ve been thinking for weeks about the yeses and no’s we give as parents and how flimsy some of them are. There are so many question marks in parenting, but we have a few yeses and no’s that help steer the ship. Maybe these will provide a firmer foundation under the myriad of other choices that make parenting an absolute crapshoot.
I am not falling for the constant entertainment pressure our culture heaps on my mom head. I do not have to micromanage my kids’ lives to ensure every waking moment is developmentally stimulating and educationally fulfilling. I am not your dancing monkey; I am your mom. My children can grow up like every child in history: awash in their own exploration and creativity. They can make up games. They can create projects. They can play outside. They can turn every screen off and figure it out.
If my kids cannot make up their own fun outside of mindless technology or maternal leadership, we have way bigger problems. It is okay to say “no screens” while not shouldering the responsibility to fill the blank space. Oh sure, they may whine for awhile, but leave them alone long enough and they will remember how to use their imaginations, bodies, inventiveness, and brains. We make a list at the beginning of summer of possible things to do. It is long and outrageous. We put every possible idea on the list: make a film on iMovie, organize bike races with your friends, bake cupcakes, plan a neighborhood yard party and make invitations, read, practice your typing skills, visit the craft closet, whatever. “Consult the list” is my summer mantra. This all leads to an ancillary:YES:
Get okay with couches turned over into a fort. Say yes to sheets draped over your dining room table with a messy picnic underneath. Ignore the Lego City carefully constructed over six square feet of your playroom. Let your kids play outside/ride bikes/climb trees/catch fireflies/skateboard/fish/go to the park without constantly freaking out. Make your peace with skinned knees, bike wrecks, and splinters – this is the substance of childhood. Your house will be a hot mess. Your children will always smell like dirty gym socks. Their shorts will be chronically torn. They will break some dishes.
Either we control and micromanage their childhoods, or we raise real kids. Being a kid should be fun, and not from ten developmentally correct boutique activities but because this is when they are supposed to be free with abandon and without fear or – let’s be honest – much responsibility. I don’t want my kids to operate like miniature accountants with every second preplanned. I want them to be kids. Which means my house and yard look like crap and I go through a lot of bandaids.
I have no idea if other kids do this, but mine ask for stuff constantly. Big stuff, small stuff, new apps, new shoes, new phones, junk food, the steak platter in a restaurant, $18 socks, Netflix rentals, expensive jeans, pricey activities, candy in the check out line, name-brand headphones. It is a tsunami of consumer interrogation. And sometimes in the deluge, I get confused about what to do. If I’ve said no the last 25 times, should the next answer be yes? Am I the only mom who says no ninety times a day? Am I a No Mom who just crushes dreams all the time?
My conclusion: it is perfectly, wonderfully okay to say NO to a million requests to spend money on junk, even good junk, even harmless junk. I think our kids use the quantity tactic: ask enough times for enough pieces of crap and eventually she will say yes. I already deeply believe all the good stuff isn’t tied to material possessions, so why do I let Mom Guilt convince me that I’ve exhausted my No Supply and owe my spawn a financial transaction? Nonsense. I can dry up the commercial pipeline and my kids will still have everything they need, most things they want, and all the stuff that really matters. No is a perfectly acceptable answer, even if I give it 394 times in a row. Which leads us to another really great:
In the spirit of generosity for things of actual value, unless I have a very real reason not to, I say yes to friends over, yes to sleepovers, yes to playdates, yes to invitations. I place a premium on relationships and experiences in my own life, so I have the same openhandedness with my kids. You want a friend over after school? Sure. Sleepover Friday? Yep. Can you go with your friend to the Wiener Dog Races? You bet. (Yes, this is a thing in Buda, Texas, ‘Merica.)
Whenever I can, I say yes to things that have emotional or relational merit but don’t cost anything. Sometimes my knee-jerk reaction is to say no (see above section; the children have conditioned me), but if I stop and weigh the request and find no good reason to refuse, it is super fun to be generous instead.
Yes, you can read one more chapter even though it is past your bedtime. Yes, you and your two buds can spend the night in the backyard. Yes, you can cook us breakfast. Yes, you and your friend can use my makeup for a makeover. Yes, you can paint that cardboard box. Yes, you can make a music video with my phone. Yes, you can get that weird haircut. Yes, you can rearrange your room. Yes, you can wear my high heels around the house. Yes, you can sleep with me while Dad is out of town. Yes, yes, yes.
I find when I am generous with these kinds of yeses, the material requests slow to a crawl. If I am going to give them stuff, let it be the stuff that feeds their minds and hearts and souls and imaginations. Let the yeses push them toward relationships, inventiveness, and contentment instead of materialism, isolation, and entitlement.So sure, we mostly have no idea what we’re doing as parents, but we can decide on a few yeses and no’s that frame up our family rhythms, that prioritize the better things even if the kids disagree now, and that help our children prefer treasures that will last.
And if your “stern no” sends you laughing into the kitchen in the midst of discipline, well, tomorrow is a new day for you to get your parenting act together, man.
Do you have similar yeses and no’s? Do you struggle with Mom Guilt too? Do you know what you’re doing? If so, PLEASE ADVISE.