I Am Friends With My Kids.
Parenting is a tough gig, mostly because no one knows if they’re doing it right. We’re all flying blind here, in the ultimate mash up between doing (or not doing) things based on how we were parented, how our friends parent, how the doctors say to parent, how we wish we were parented, and whatever Oprah says. A common theme through the ages is this idea that we parents are the disciplinarians, we teach lessons, we give tough love, we get our kids to tow the line, we put our feet down, we are firm and if needed scary. Being friends isn’t high on the list…in fact, it’s usually on the other list of things not to be. It’s too equalizing, too familiar, too soft, too indulging, too unrealistic.
17 years ago, I jumped into being a mom with both feet. Looking back, I don’t look much older than a child myself, ha.
I tried parenting by the book for the first few years. Time outs, punishments, star charts, rules, firm hand, in control, dishing out lessons left and right like the ice cream man slinging frozen treats at the playground. Except less tasty and fun.
I’ll tell you something. I hated it. It felt unnatural to love something like my own flesh and blood so so so much, and then sit and listen to them cry for me when I sent them into a time out or banished them to their bed at night. It was exhausting being a rule enforcer. It felt strange to my punk rock spirit to now become “The Man.” It didn’t seem right that here I brought this precious bundle into the world only for us to become Public Enemy No. 1 to each other.
I didn’t become a mom for this! I was getting wrinkles from all the added stress, and that was the tipping point. I will not age prematurely over this! I will find my own way that will preserve both my sanity and my vanity!
I started with the premise that I don’t think kids are assholes. Well, actually, kids are kind of assholes. They are the tyrants and dictators of the human world. My sister’s 3 year old likes to hit and bite her when he’s angry, and that’s kind of a dick move there buddy. So I guess I started with the premise that kids are like feral animals, and I stopped taking everything so seriously and so personally. I believe kids do the best they can with what they have, and when they know better they do better. It’s a long process–18 years if you go by the legal age of adulthood. Raising a kid is a motherfucking marathon, not a sprint. I don’t know how I made it through those early days, it’s a trauma that like childbirth has been erased from my memory. But I do know that I believed that if I just kept treating them respectfully and modeling the right words and behaviors, that was the language they’d learn as they were figuring their shit out.
I stopped giving punishments. I stopped making hard and fast rules. I stopped being “The Man”. I want my kids to be responsible for themselves and self reliant. I want them to act with integrity to their truth, not mine. In doing this I discovered that there’s a connection that happens when you work with your kids to figure out what behaviors work, don’t work, and why instead of enforcing rules “because I said so”. There’s a learning process in teaming up with your child through misunderstandings that isn’t there when you lay down the law and end the discussion with a punishment instead of a heart to heart. Principles have become our guiding force and it’s been so fulfilling to watch my kids discover their empathy, integrity, compassion, ethics, and moral code.
I asked Naturalist, who is 17 now, what she thought about not growing up with rules and punishments. “Well, following rules or avoiding punishments never became my guiding force. We kind of came up with our own internal rules about how we treat ourselves and others. For me, it boils down to respect…respect for myself and respect for the people around me.”
That’s not a bad summary of how things are around here. I think kids need and deserve our respect as they grow themselves up, not our ideas about how we think they should grow up. I think they need and deserve our trust and confidence, not our fears and misgivings. I think they need us to show up for them, to be there for them, and to love them unconditionally through all the bumps in the road. I think they need our friendship most of all. The parent/child relationship is a formative bond, and every great relationship is based on a solid foundation of genuinely liking the other person for who they are and trusting that your emotions/thought/boundaries are safe with them.
In the short term, I am a power figure to my kids while they grow up. The balance is tipped unequally while I’m the one doing the feeding/cleaning/caretaking/keeping them alive gig. But in the long term, they will be adults and equal with me for a far greater amount of time. I want that to be full of an awesome connection so that we can be a support to each other throughout our entire lives. Eventually I will need them to be there for me, to change my diaper and do my grocery shopping.
Right now, though, I am living with two teenagers and a tween. People react as if this must be the worse thing in the world. “Oh, TEENAGERS! You must be going crazy!” But no, no I’m not. I genuinely like who my kids are. We feel safe with each other, and have amazing discussions. We give each other space when we need it. We realize that we’re not perfect and allow space for growth and understanding.
In short, we are all friends here.
This is why I became a mom.