We have always tried to treat our kids like people. Individuals. They were allowed to have their own ideas and thoughts. I think this might be due to our Boomer Generation backlash from the “children should be seen and not heard” theory of raising offspring.
For instance, I would watch my mom bristle when we asked our kids what they wanted for dinner. I’m not talking short order cook here, just a couple of choices that we put to a casual vote. Chicken or spaghetti guys? Winner take all.
Back when I was a kid, we all sat down together and got what was served and liked it. Period. We were card carrying members of The Clean Plate Club. There were starving children in China, after all.
One of my first big revelations as a parent came after a two hour battle with our first born, The Piglet.
“Try a carrot, honey.”
“No, I don’t like them.”
“How do you know? You’ve never tried them.”
“No, I don’t like them.”
After a stubborn eternity in her high chair, we took the obstinate routine on the road. I chased her diapered little butt all over the house. The rhubarb reached its ultimate conclusion with me trying to push a cooked carrot cube past her clinched teeth. Maybe the “eat what you’re served” mentality can go too far.
Our Spawn did not receive equal standing when it came to the important decisions. Some things were not open to debate. There were rules that were unbending and our word was final.
We did, however, encourage them to voice their opinions. An effort was made to see things from their point of view. This allowed us to have actual discussions with our kids — not just telling them what to do. These conversations are some of my best memories as a parent.
Here at GypsyNester.com we have talked about having an adult-to-adult relationship with grown offspring quite a bit. The ability to have real conversations with them is an enormous part of that. But getting there can have its trials and tribulations.
Just when we thought that The Great Puberty War was the worst of it, we were bombarded with something new.
“I’m eighteen now, I can do what I want.”
The dreaded time when the spawn are technically adults but still in high school. At that age, it would seem that “adult” means the freedom to head out and start being stupid at top speed.
The standard “Not in my house” or “As long as you live under my roof, you’ll abide by my rules” replies didn’t seem to sink in with our young ‘uns. In fact, I could almost see the heels digging in to the floor.
One day while driving The Piglet to school, I got fed up and burst out with what became known in our family as “THE Talk.” No, not THAT “the talk”, this one:
“Yup, you’re right, you are an adult, which means we are through with our job of raising you. Anything we do from here on out is a favor to you — out of the goodness of our hearts — because we love you. Get this straight, we don’t owe you anything from now on.
We don’t owe you a college education. We would like to help you with one because we love you, but we don’t have to. We don’t owe you a place to live. We will be glad to provide one for you until you graduate from high school, but we don’t owe it to you.
Don’t like our rules? Fine, leave. Legally, we can even kick you out of OUR house right now, today, because — oh yeah — you are an adult. There would be no repercussions for us because we’re done, we did our job.”
Harsh but very effective.
The results were remarkable. Almost immediately the uppity teen attitudes changed. The yelling morphed into silent treatment as reality set in. Then, they started seeing themselves as adults, not just using the word as an excuse to stay out all night. The understanding that real life has real consequences began to dawn on them.
A bridge was crossed. Though not as fun, this transition is as beautiful as a toddler’s first steps.
THE Talk became less harsh with each chick as they readied for flight from the nest. The younger ones had the benefit of seeing their siblings go over the bridge before them. By the time The Boy was making his transition I barely had to mention it. He knew the drill.
It’s beautiful — “I can do what I want” became “I can’t wait until I have my own place.”