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.

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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.

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8 Comments

  1. Love this. I always find it sad to read the advice that we shouldn’t be friends with our kids, that we have to be the strict disciplinarian instead. I started out that way too – it still breaks my heart that I tried cry-it-out, time-outs etc. I wish I could go back and change it. But now I know better and (most times) I do better. I want my child to treat me and other people with respect, so that’s what I need to give him. And right now I have a tween a bit older than yours and we love spending time together. We also know when to give each other space. And yeah there are ups and downs, esp when we’re both tired and hungry, but we trust each other, we respect each other and we genuinely like each other so, so far, it all works out.

    I see the difference in how he is with me, and how he is with his father, who uses the strict disciplinarian, mustn’t be friends with your child approach. I see which of us he chooses to hang with, to talk to and to trust, and I realise I must be doing something right.

    The universe must be trying to enforce something for me. Alicia Bayer also had a great article out this week on Attachment Parenting Pre-teens and teens. (http://www.examiner.com/article/attachment-parenting-101-how-does-ap-apply-to-teens-and-pre-teens)

  2. Oh my! YES! I just posted today about maybe what you could have felt when your kids were little…because that’s where I am at…13, 9, 7, 4, and 1 year olds. I am at a very challenging and exhausting point, but BUT I want to enjoy every bit of it and be happy with it…even the hard parts…because they will be up and gone so quickly. I like how you put it…that we will be adults together with our children for far longer than parent/child…that really puts it in perspective!

    :) Lisa

  3. Absolutely fantastic post! Love Love Love!!

  4. nancy coralsky2000 /

    I did all that mother stuff all the following rules putting them to their own beds listening to them cry when my heart was breaking… started motherhood 33 years ago i took a class on step parenting class then taught the class to other parent, It went with no punishing let the kids deal with what they need to do be their with for them… It felt natural, don’t freak out cause their room is dirty as long as it doesn’t get into my area i am ok with that. If they want to b pigs go for it…thier is such bigger problems out in the world, the boys were told that we are the cool parents we don’t care what they do, my 17 year old said cause i dont do anything wrong… we talk about it. I decided a long time ago to let the parenthood com naturally and it did. I have 5 boys form the ages of almost 33 to almost 15… they are wonderful humans have hearts and souls compassion and empathy for others and i feel i made the right choices not always perfect but if they end up loving the world making a difference in the world and being happy my job is complete… just my thought. I could go on for ever about parenting but i wont be i have to say this one job that I have worked that came natural and with all the ups and downs there were more ups then downs and i feel complete thanks for sharing i will definitely follow you!!!!!!!!!!!! keep up the good work!

  5. Yes. Yes, yes, one hundred times yes! This is truth.

  6. I want to be like this. I /know/ it’s the right way. It’s not how we’re working it yet, sadly. I have a 7yr old and a 3yr old. I’ve just started unschooling and I think this style of learning only really fits with this style of parenting but my husband doesn’t agree. He wants firmness, rules, time out, parents are the bosses so tow the line parenting. And I’m stuck in the middle and its causing problrms :(

  7. Jocelyn swanson /

    I love this concept an would love even more to learn how to embrace it. My trouble with the idea stems from this question: how am I as a parent who’s sole job is to create a well rounded functioning part of society supposed to handle situations where they have zero interest in doing the things that actually need to be done? Such as homework and school and dental hygiene just for starters. How do you encourage them to do these things (which in my eyes are a MUST part of life) while still allowing them to make up their own minds and do what’s best for them? Do I really let an 8yr old fail through school because he would always pick playing over school work ? Or my teenager who absolutely could care less about caring for his teeth (weeks at a time he will go without I have discovered!) do I let him have life long dental issues that he will regret much sooner than he thinks? I want to trust the process of them disco inch themselves but also feel like its my job to give them skill sets that they have zero understanding to as why they are important to them. I have skills, knowledge, and understanding. While they don’t care right now necessarily I think they would be mad at me later down the road for not giving (forcing on them really) some “tools” for life. Number one that I can think of is that sometimes life is shitty an it requires an ungodly amount of work. Also things are not fair and never will be and that’s ok. Hard work creates wonderful outcomes etc etc etc. I don’t know. Parenting is so internally difficult. Always fearing the outcome and never feeling like anything you do is ever enough. -joss

  8. Jocelyn swanson /

    Trying to instill the concept of hard work and perseverance if I never make them do the hard work and just leave it up to them…