I’ve concluded that being a parent isn’t for the faint of heart. You need thick skin. Skin that retains it’s toughness despite severe sleep deprivation. Skin that deflects nasty pitches from your peers, in-laws and other well-wishers. Parenting requires a footing rooted in cement that keeps you standing upright despite the severity of the weather and direction of the wind. And the older kids get, the more rooted we need to be.
At some level I understood this before having kids. I knew I had to decide what kind of parent I wanted to be so I could stick to it when challenged. I’m the kind of mom who demanded that everyone wash their hands before touching my newborn babies. Who ensured my kids got the required amount of sleep by being a slave to the nap schedule. I tolerated the eye-rolls and the “she’s such a first-time mom” looks because I’d do whatever it took to create an environment that helped my kids thrive.
As they got a little older it got a little harder. I’m big on healthy eating which meant I said no when great grandma insisted the twins get ice cream at 8-months old. I brought my own baby-proofing kit when we made overnight stays despite others insisting they would watch the boys carefully. We limit screen time, so I’ve had to ask adults to turn off the TV, or at least change the program, when the same room was the only place in which my boys could play. These moments are uncomfortable because they either 1) inconvenience the other party, or 2) inadvertently put the other person’s judgement in question. But, I’d do it anyway because I knew the kind of parent I wanted to be and the environment I wanted (or didn’t want) my kids exposed to. I tolerated the funny looks and the tag of “overprotective parent.”
But those were the easy days. Back then, I was almost always with my kids. As a stay-at-home mom who lived several states away from most close family, I was there to monitor what they were exposed to: what they ate, saw, heard, touched — you name it. They never stayed overnight without my husband or me; I even accompanied them on play dates.
Now that the twins are 8-years old, standing my ground is more challenging. Since I’ve realized this, I’ve put a lot of thought into what changed. Why does it take so much more of my energy to hold fast and firm to my parenting values now than it did only two years ago? In part, I’ve concluded that:
1) I no longer just have to tolerate toddler and pre-school tantrums as protests from my kids when my decisions don’t parallel their desires. I have to respond to their logic and their reasoning as to why my decision is wrong and their wants are right. I get caught in the game and it’s exhausting. And, 8-year olds are smart, and they come up with some pretty good arguments. When I’m not on my game, my boys play smarter than I do.
2) I’m not at their sides every waking hour anymore. Thus, I can’t whisk them away from bad influences at the first signs of danger. I can’t change the subject when another kid or adult starts talking in a way we don’t condone in our family. And I can’t even debrief about the event afterward and chalk it up to a teachable moment because I don’t even know it happened in the first place.
3) Adult peer pressure sucks. This is a big one, and something that will only become more challenging as they get older (my friends with teenagers serve as living proof). Call me naive, but I thought my days of being peer pressured were over. Isn’t peer pressure reserved for struggling teenagers and college co-eds trying to find themselves? Looking back, I was such a wimp when it came to peer pressure. I would have made so many different, better, choices had I been stronger, more secure in who I was and what my values were. But, now as a parent it’s at my door step again. Staring me in the face, sticking it’s tongue out, jeering “Na .., Na, Na, Boo-Boo!” I’m approaching 40 (ouch!) and am more insightful about my vulnerabilities than I was 20 years ago. But, despite a firm foundation in knowing what my core values are, I can fall into old habits of wanting myself and my kids to fit in (especially being a relatively new family in a community where most have been here for generations).
As the boys get older, I seem to face these moments that challenge my parenting values and decisions on a more frequent basis. To limit the amount of energy stolen by these moments (because there is laundry to do, dinner to make, and fun to be had), I’ve had to spell some things out for myself. I’ve had to lay out some game plans regarding how I deal with these situations so I’m not caught off guard and I make decisions that, for the most part, align with how we have decided we want to parent our children.
1) When I’m caught up in a verbal argument of logic with my kids, I need to step away and see the big picture. For the boys, the discussion is simply about the moment: Why they should be allowed to play Wii despite the fact they played on the computer and watched a full-length feature movie already in the same day. Instead of getting swept up in their logic: But, Mom, it’s only one time. It’s really hot out, and we won’t ask to do the same thing tomorrow … I need to see the big picture. I know that they have so many other things to do than become zombies in front of another screen. I know that too much screen time is, let’s not sugar coat it, bad for their brains. I also know that giving in now will make next time even harder to say no. The bottom line is, does the situation in question align with our parenting values or go against it? The answer to this question makes it easier for me to stand my ground. On the contrary, it also helps me determine when I’m just being a stick-in-the-mud. Perhaps my first inclination was to say no, but after thinking about it going with the flow (aka: what the boys want) is okay. I’ve had those moments too. I make sure they don’t talk me into them too often, but they are old enough that every once in a while, winning me over is okay. As long as it doesn’t conflict with our family rules and our values, it models flexibility and critical thinking: two things I also want to instill in my boys.
2) My husband and I need to be clear in our family rules and values. This is perhaps the most important tenant of parenting because it is the pillar against which we evaluate all our parenting decisions. If it goes against our rules, who we are, and what we stand for, it doesn’t happen. But, if we didn’t know what those values were, we would waver when challenged (by our kids, friends, teachers, and other parents). For our family, our faith largely determines our values. The degree to which the issue in question aligns with or challenges our faith helps determine our action. To make our values clearer and more concrete for our kids, we have a list of “Lahner Family Rules.” Each Fall before school starts we sit down as a family and revisit and revise our rules. We type them up and hang them on the wall so we can easily consult them when necessary. Go ahead, roll your eyes. I’m used to that.
3) I’ve realized that adult friendships cannot trump parenting decisions. Let’s face it: Having kids risks changing adult friendships. Maybe we realize we just parent very differently than our friends do. Maybe our kids don’t get along with our friends’ kids as well as we get along with their parents (did you follow that?). I’ve determined that some of my friendships involve their kids and mine, and some of my friendships involve adult time only. I’ve realized that the mix of my kids and some of my friends kids is like oil and water. Taken individually, they are all great kids. But put them together, and they rub the wrong way. So, I’m either present to supervise these interactions, or I get together with these adult friends sans kids.
Maybe other friends simply don’t respect your parenting values. Maybe they always let your 12-yr. old kids watch R-rated movies when attending sleep overs at their house. Again, maybe these are friendships you continue without the company of your children. Differing parenting styles doesn’t have to mean the end of your friendship; it just means that your friendship changes to accompany your parenting style.
And, along the way you are bound to find those special, amazing friends. The ones who respect how you parent. The ones who call you and ask if it’s okay if your kids watch such-and-such a movie, or eat such-and-such. They are the keepers, the gems you will hold dear through your parenting journey. The ones you would never have discovered if you simply succumbed to peer pressure.
These points-of-reference simply make it a little bit easier to make decisions when I’m caught off guard, or simply too tired to put more thought into an on-the-spot decision. I know sticking to my guns will be even more difficult as they get older, but I’m thankful for today’s challenges because they strengthen me for tomorrow’s battles. Battle’s that will undoubtedly involve eye-rolling and sarcastic remarks from my own 16-yr olds. But, I’ll have grown some pretty thick skin by then.