How to Turn Kids into Self-Sufficient & Productive Members of Society
“I don’t care if you like me or not,” I say. “My job is to be your mother, not your friend. If I do it right, eventually—when you’re an adult—we’ll be friends. But right now that’s not the goal.” She rolls her eyes at me. I feel self-righteous, even though I’m lying.
I’m lying because I do care when my kids are unhappy with me. I care a lot, actually. There’s very little that feels worse to me than one or both of my teens being angry with me, particularly if I feel like I’m doing the “right” thing and they’re being unreasonable. (Let us not get into the relationship between “teenager” and “unreasonable,” lest we slide down a slippery slope into the pit of hormonal doom and no return.) I devote an enormous amount of time, attention, and energy to parenting the best I can, and in these tumultuous teen years, it often feels like a thankless job. Not always, of course; sometimes the rewards are sweet (if short-lived). But whether or not I’m being 100% honest about caring if they like me, the fact remains that my job is to try to turn these human beings into self-sufficient, productive members of society. And that means:
- I will hold you to your word. Will you suffer consequences for lying to me? Yep. I wouldn’t be doing you any favors if I let you off the hook here, because it turns out that most people expect and appreciate honesty, and guess what! I may give you a consequence, but I’ll also forgive you (eventually). Not everyone will be so kind.
- I won’t tolerate disrespect. You can’t control how you feel, but you can control how you act. You can be as angry with me as you like. Knock yourself out! But you are still obligated to be polite and respectful, because I’m your mother, and also because inability to control your behavior is going to cause you a lot worse than the occasional grounding down the road if you don’t get a handle on it now. Don’t tell me it’s no big deal or I should “get over it.” Practice on me all you want; you can screw up and I can respond with consequences until you get it. Better to learn it here at home than at your first job.
- I expect you to pitch in. No, I don’t have any idea how many chores Joey or Susie have to do at their house, nor do I care. You have chores here and you’ll do them as asked because that’s how a family works. You’re too tired to unload the dishwasher? That’s a sad, sad story. Can I use that one the next time you want me to take you shopping or cook you some dinner…?
- I will be sad and frustrated when you’re obnoxious, but I’ll do my best to make the right choices for you, anyway. I won’t always succeed. Sometimes my emotions will get the best of me and I’ll overreact or do the wrong thing. I will apologize and try to do better the next time. This is called being human.
- I will go out of my way to praise you for good choices. “I appreciate you” has become a bit of a punchline in our family, but I use it because I mean it. I don’t always want to be pointing out the bad stuff. When you do good things, I want you to know I’ve noticed.
- Sometimes you’ll feel like I’m stifling you. That’s called being a teenager. If you can (calmly) state your case for something different, I’ll listen. I probably won’t change my mind. But I might. (I will never change my mind if you just yell at me.)
- Sometimes you’ll feel like I’ve abandoned you. This is also called being a teenager. Sometimes I have to make my best judgment call about what you can handle on your own and what you can’t. If I leave you on your own it’s because I truly believe you can handle it. If you disagree, I’m sure that’s scary, but maybe focus on the fact that I believe in you rather than on your conviction that I just woke up that morning and decided to hang you out to dry.
- At the end of the day, you still need me. I know, everyone else in your universe is more important than your jerk of a mother. But right now you still need me for lots of things, so maybe keep that in mind until you have a job and your own place to live…? Especially because…
- … and at the end of the day, I really do have your back. Think about it. If I could make you like me all the time—which you seem to think I could, with different rules—why wouldn’t I do that? It sounds great! I’d love it if you were never mad at me. (Do I strike you as someone who enjoys having people be mad at me?) If I’m not doing that, though, there must be a reason. I wonder if it’s that whole loving you enough to let you hate me, thing. Hmmmm.
So, yes, it’s true. I lie to you. I do care that you seem to chafe against my very existence these days. But I’m not changing, because I still think I’m doing my job right. I hope that someday you’ll agree. I can wait.