Parenting Decisions: What Would You Do, If You Were Tom?
My wife and I got married and had kids. Oh, what little darlings they were. There was the one that had to touch everything, and it was decided that it was my job to follow him around to keep him from breaking things wherever we went while my wife sat and enjoyed conversation with whomever we had come to visit. Then there was the one who would scream inside the car such that it would make your vision go blank and tears spring to your eyes. I'll never forget her little satisfied smile when I pulled her out of her car seat and sat her down in the grass at the side of the street for a "time out."
In the beginning there are lots of decisions. Do you try to make a go of having one person stay home full time with the baby? Do you choose a religious nursery school or a family day care situation? With whom do we feel safe leaving the baby? How should we handle issues around food and eating?
A lot of decisions were easy for us to make.
My wife: "The book says the person who is not with the baby as much will do the toilet training. That would be you."
Me: "Okay, honey."
Actually I was an ace toilet trainer. I used the method outlined in the book, "Toilet Training in Less Than A Day" by Nathan Azrin with the full expectation that, ya, this is gonna take more than a day. And it invariably did, but the method did ultimately work and it was a positive and I could even say fun experience. I was so good at it that I should have really hired myself out and made money at it. "Tom Rubenoff, Professional Toilet Trainer" has a nice ring to it.
Many, many issues were decided in the same way. My wife did research to find out the correct approach while I was out working my butt off as the sole bread winner of the family. Naturally I agreed with her almost all the time and that was good because almost all the time, she was right.
Letting one parent take the lead is not a bad way to arrange parental decision making as long as the subordinate parent is willing to fully support the dominant parent. When there is dissent between the parents it becomes difficult to accomplish anything.
The United Front
When presenting a new policy or raising an issue with the kids, it is important to present a united front. There should be consensus between both parents before the parents meet with the kids. One parent will usually be more dominant, or at least more aggressive in their opinions. The less dominant, or less aggressive, parent's job is to not let the more dominant or aggressive parent walk over them, because you need to get any differences resolved before you confront the kids. In other words, if there is a difference of opinion, settle it fully beforehand. You want the kids to listen, so don't exceed their attention span trying resolve differences live during the discussion.
On the other hand, sometimes it is a very good thing if the kids are included in the discussion, because then they have a chance to observe their parents brainstorming and resolving issues in an (hopefully) adult manner. This, however, requires another kind of being united, that is, you and your spouse must be united in the willingness to discuss. If one of you is going to react strongly to some of the bizarre and totally illogical suggestions the kids (or the other parent) might make, most of the family may leave feeling that their opinion is not valued and discussion is a waste of time, making sincere participation in future discussions that much more unlikely.
The Teenage Years
Along at about the age of twelve or so a strange thing happens to your kid. Up until then they used to like to cuddle, be read to, ask you for knowledge or advice, but then they turn into... somebody else! And chances are you won't like this new person very much. You will wish you had your kid back. The person will be angry, belligerent, hygiene-challenged, and think you are the most stupid person they have ever met.
It has been said to me that parenting a teenager is like trying to nail Jello to a tree. A little bit sticks. That's what you've got to accept.
The hardest part about parenting a teenager is letting them make their own mistakes. Natural consequences are the best. Try to let them figure it out.
My experience is that if you police the homework and overprotect the kid from experiences you would rather them not have, you will raise a kid who is unprepared for the world. The teenager wants to take their life in their own hands, ready (in your estimation) or not. The best thing for you to do? Pick your battles. Whenever you can, let them do what they want and find out what happens. You will avoid needless conflict and let the kid learn his lessons in a way they are bound to remember.
Give the kid an alarm clock. If the kid can't get their ass up to get to school on time, let the school deal with it. Let the kid talk to a vice principal or a guidance counselor. If the kid doesn't want to do their homework, fine. "It's your future," tell them. You can praise good grades and punish bad ones. You can get your kid help if they need it. You can help your kid with school if they let you. But you can't help your kid if they won't let you, so you'd be better off not to try. Let them learn their own lessons about punctuality and work ethic.
Naturally there are limits. You need to get between your kid and drugs any way you can. To an extent you need to keep your kid out of danger. But since you cannot really control what they do to any great extent, you need to trust their judgment. You try not to let your daughter go out with people you don't know to an undisclosed destination at night. You try not to let your son hang out with people who are engaged in criminal activity. But you know what the bottom line is? You might be able to slow them down, but it is very unlikely that you are going to stop them from doing what they want to do. Sometimes all you can do is be there to pick up the pieces.
Eventually you get your kid back, older, wiser, stronger. All you both have to do is survive that hairy in-between time.
I am very interested in what you have to say. Looking forward to your opinions and experiences posted in comments.