Thursday, January 21, 2016

Teen to Adult Manners

Every once in a while (every day), we parents might (for sure) realize that we probably dropped the ball years ago on some crucial parenting responsibility. Among mine is probably teaching the kids proper manners. In the beautiful fog of my thinking, this was justifiable. After all, wasn’t teaching kids “manners” merely bowing to the arbitrary dictates of The Man? Who says they should dress up for church or eat with a certain fork? It’s what’s inside that counts. Kids should be focused on the more important things in life. Freedom! America! Surely everyone can see that we’re just deep and authentic, man. We’re above conformity and “manners.”

Eh, well, about that. Maybe I should have paid a little more attention to this manners issue, just like Husband always says. So I found a great infographic on Pinterest about manners and put it up on the fridge (problem solved, right?) Within an hour, I hear from the kitchen, “What’s this?” Next time I go by the fridge, I see that Manners 101 has been turned face down and re-affixed to the refrigerator with its charming magnet. Somebody may have absorbed a little too much subtle resistance from me.

I’m working on my next approach here in Manners for Non-Conformists. As the kids have entered the teen years, manners look a little different to me. Manners don’t look so much like power and control and stuck-uppedness when the kids and I are closer to actually being equals. Instead, it looks like I have really poorly trained housemates. You’re going to lie on the couch and play video games for an hour while I slave in the kitchen right next to you and not even offer to cut the ends off some green beans? You’re going to grab a free ride while other people work? You’re going to leave your stuff in the space everybody has to use? You’re gonna eat all this and not even say thank you? The kind of manners I’m talking about are the ones that help you get along with people as an adult, including your own parents. It comes from realizing that you are not a glorious and uncontrollable rebel, but actually kind of a jerk.
This is one of many developmental milestones that I suspect is a few years off – I believe I first realized that my mom might want some help and consistently offered both help and thanks around age 27. But naturally, I want adult-level manners in my everyday life with kids and I want it now. So how can I accelerate this process? 

Set the goal. I think I’ll start with some discussions of a couple key principles of adult manners that I value (always pitch in, say thank you).  I’ll let them know I still don’t actually care if they wear their pants 5 inches too short or put their elbows on the table if they do those things.  I want to see manners that show character not conformity. I'll discuss adult "pitching in" vs. "keeping score and waiting to be told what to do" LIKE A CHILD.

Give adult responsibilities. There’s nothing like being the one who has to do all the work to make you realize the importance of help. By dividing things up more like housemates, I may be able to get spontaneous help and consideration and gratitude sooner.

Parenting is such a continuum and it never ends. By helping my kids develop adult manners, even in their interactions with me, I can help make them welcome everywhere they go, and lay the foundation for many years of happy post-childhood family life together.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Parenting Like You’re Divorced

No worries, Husband, we’re good. But in 2016, I’m resolving to make the effort to parent like I’m divorced.

Obviously, not everybody does this well, and even those who mostly do aren’t perfect. I don’t plan to abandon the kids, poison them against their other parent, or buy them off in a spending and spoiling war.  But when I look around at the divorced parents that I personally know, I see something pretty different most of the time.  Ironically, sometimes divorce makes people more engaged parents. Here are some of the strengths I see in divorced parents that I plan to try to emulate this year:

Savor your kids. If I had to share custody of my kids, I know I’d savor my time with them more. Just imagining not seeing them every day makes our time together seem sweeter. It’s so easy to lose sight of that sweetness in daily frustrations. I want to bring that savoring presence into my interactions with my kids.

Plan your time together.  Many divorced parents do a great job of planning time with their kids. This is something I aspire to do better.  I want to do more activities and engage the kids in planning them.  I want to be more mindful of creating opportunities to deepen my relationship with my kids in the time we spend together. Those memories, moment by moment, create a lifelong parent-child bond.

Let your kids know they’re deeply wanted.  With all its sorrow, one thing that a court proceeding shows is that a parent wants their children. I want my kids to know that I want my full share of time with them, so much so that I’d fight for it. I think that a little more open and public display of my pride and affection would make my kids feel good. I can learn that from divorced parents.

Do your full share of the parenting.  Sometimes in two-parent families, one parent is on autopilot, mostly relying on the other to raise the kids.  I’ve seen many instances when parents seem more engaged with kids after their split than before. They come into their own as parents when they care for the kids solo. I want my kids to have two fully engaged parents who can do all the parenting tasks: meals, doctor appointments, school conferences, concerts, tournaments, homework help, listening to troubles, having fun together, all of it. That means stepping up in some areas and also making sure you’re not unwittingly shutting your co-parent out.  Parenting confidence comes from knowing you can do “all the things.”

I don’t want to minimize the suffering divorce brings to families. I am seeing it from the outside.  I do want to say that from that outside perspective, many times I see something beautiful coming out of that pain and rebuilding.  I see parents finding new ways to put the kids first, growing into new roles, and never taking their kids for granted. I’m planning on staying married this year, but by resolving to parent like I’m divorced, I want to honor and emulate that parenting intensity. It is beautiful and something that I deeply respect, even when it stumbles or falls short. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Don't "We" On Your Kids

I try not to invite Andy Rooney to speak through me when I write this column. Maybe I’m grumpy because it’s raining. Or because I didn’t get enough coffee, or because I ate too many Reese’s putter butter cups yesterday and am slowly being poisoned by whatever kind of crack they secretly put in there. Whatever the reason, Get Off My Lawn Guy is in the house today, so I’m just going to say it.

Didja ever notice how parents refer to things their kids did as things “we” did? What’s up with that?

You know what I’m talking about here. The most obvious example is when “we” won the game, even though the parental part of that “we” maybe hasn’t run the length of a field or hit a three-pointer since 1986.  “We” parents might have coached, written out giant checks, washed disgusting uniforms, and driven the kids all over the earth to practices and tournaments, but “they,” the kids, won the game.  They practiced, they trained, they conditioned, they worked, they won.

Here’s another good one – ya know how some parents say “we” have homework?  Allow me to advocate for a different pronoun choice here. “They” have homework.  Since kids can’t drive, “we” might have to go to Michael’s and get the Styrofoam cubes and purple feathers, but that doesn’t make it “our” project.  The homework is theirs and learning is theirs and the results – you guessed it, theirs. Unless “we” re-enroll in school ourselves, “we” never have homework.

Taken to its extreme (thankfully rarely seen here in the Midwest, but I’ve seen it out East), “we” might even get into Harvard. It’s sure gonna be awkward sitting in the same seat together during final exams.

Even in my curmudgeon state, I can see that some of this parental “we”-ing is pretty understandable, not that far off from how "we" win the Superbowl when the Vikings do.  It’s great to celebrate achievements and parents do put in a lot of time to help their kids. At the same time though, I’m serious about stopping with the “we.”  Our kids’ tasks and triumphs need to be theirs, not ours.

We parents would never think of saying “we” learned to walk when our kids take their first steps. The glow of achievement on toddlers’ faces when they master that skill is one of the best things you could ever hope to see. They worked like crazy, they know they are totally rocking it, and they feel the power!  That human drive to make things happen never ends.  When “we” take charge of, or take credit for, “their” tasks, we steal all that power away from them. Some kids will fight to get it back; others figure they’re just not good enough to do anything on their own--but either way, we’ve taken something they need at the soul level.

Didja ever notice how parents say, “You did it!”  Or, “Why do you think the team won?” Or, “What are you thinking you’ll do to avoid your project becoming stressful this time?” Or, “I admire how you put yourself out there and tried something new.” All of us parents sometimes “we” on our children, but we have equal capability to let their tasks and triumphs be theirs. Just like that toddler joyfully wobbling for the first time, that fully owned accomplishment is what they need, again and again and again.