My kids — a 15-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy — regularly inform me how much more their friends are allowed to do. And the sad fact is, the kids aren’t lying. Their friends are allowed to do more. Lots more. How am I to respond?
Back in the old days — the mid 1970s — when we threw other parents at our parents, they knew it was mostly bluff. Many, if not most, parents thought and did somewhat alike. So, when we negotiated with Mom by citing Faith’s mom, who trusted Faith to set her own curfew, she was pretty secure replying, “Well, Faith isn’t your mom, I am.” Or “When you live at Lucky’s house, you can do what he does.” Or my dad’s classic, “If Marlin jumps in the lake, are you going to jump in, too?”
Nowadays, as more parents get more lax, the stronger parents are feeling isolated. Further, as you’ve noticed, this guilt-by-comparison tactic is no longer mostly ploy. It’s fast becoming reality. Any run-of-the-mill kid, without conducting even one tracking poll, can cite 10 or 12 families whose standard and supervision are more kid-friendly than yours. And since kids judge quality by the numbers, you are supposed to feel pretty Neanderthal about that. Indeed, the standard rationale underlying all comparing is, “How can all those parents be wrong, and you be right?” To which savvy parents could reply: “They are, and I am.”
To avoid being bullied by the “You’re not mainstream” accusation, hold fast to several truths.
— There are parents out there who think as you do. They may be invisible to you, as some may be keeping a low profile for fear of being targeted as “too strict” or “too controlling.” Then, too, your teens, even if aware of such cultural cave dwellers, are not about to suggest them as good role models. Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear, “But Mom, Gabby has no cell phone, is only allowed three hours of TV per week, and does chores until noon every Saturday. His parents are just too cool.”
— Consensus parenting is not wise parenting. The majority often doesn’t provide a good example. If your way isn’t aligned with the groups, it may be that your way is better. By statistical definition, the higher you go, the less like others you are. So, if Gil’s parents jump in the lake, are you going to jump in too?
— Numbers can indicate preference and not “rightness.” If 83% of 13-year-olds receive more than your son’s $5 per week allowance, or if 96% of 15-year-olds have their own rooms, as my sister used to say to me: “So?” Your parental judgments are based on your life, your morals, your family, your kids. You’re not wrong because most choose differently. You may be perfectly right being 1 in 100, given your unique situation. Sometimes just being your youngsters’ parent makes you right.
— Your kids may be trying to cast you as a lone parenting wolf, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely running with the pack. Somewhere in their little psyches may lurk, despite all the bluster and recriminations, a little bit of gratitude for your tough but caring stance. For the moment, their upset is their ruling emotion, but don’t discount a delayed reaction born of security and respect. How delayed? When they have teenagers? Actually, it could be happening even as they speak, though they’d never admit it.
Your kids may judge your parenting by what they feel now. But the true judge of your parenting is what they think 10 years from now. Something tells me they’ll be pretty grateful for their army-of-one Mom.
For more of Ray Guarendi’s wit and wisdom, go to DrRay.com.