Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mommy Wisdom

A frustrated father told me about his week, struggling to keep his pre-teen on track. He described it in terms I remember from going through it with my own child. I remember focusing on giving direction, keeping boundaries firm, containing my child in a context I could control.  
Looking back, we had some good results with two clever insights and solutions.
The first important piece had to do with our understanding each other.  The words were never sufficient to convey the whole of the moment.  That was perhaps most of the difficulty we all experienced.
When a child asks permission to do this or that or perhaps to go off with friends, dad has concerns.  Is it safe?  Is it supervised?  Is it with good people?  Is it good behavior?  Is it in conflict with other priorities like homework?  Is there risk?  A child doesn't have those kinds of concerns, at least not early on in the transition to adulthood.
Our first clear success came over the issue of bedtime.  It was becoming a conflict item, so mom and daughter talked it out, and my daughter came to talk to me one evening.

After affectionate pleasantries, she began, "Dad, you know how when you go to bed, sometimes you want to read for awhile or something?"
I acknowledged that I did and that I didn't go to sleep on a schedule.
"I'd like to be able to do that sometimes," she concluded.

So we talked and agreed that the important thing wasn't that she went to bed at any particular time, but that she got the sleep she needed and got up when called.  I released her from a specific bedtime and told her she could decide for herself as long as she got up when I called her in the morning.
I noted that she had expressed her desire graciously, and that she had heard and acknowledged my concerns.
The result?  She went to bed when she was sleepy, often earlier than what had been the mandatory bedtime. Sometimes she would read a bit before drifting off to sleep, and she would (usually) get up the first time I called. The conflict disappeared, and the relationship grew a bit.  She was 9 or 10 years old at the time.
The magic moment had actually preceded our conversation.  She and her mom had talked, and her mom had explained that whining wouldn't help but that if she made a reasonable, thoughtful request, I'd probably work it out with her. It was a new realm she was entering, taking the initiative and resolving important issues. Mommy wisdom.
The second and perhaps more important element is visible in the conversation.  The non-verbal content is changed. We moved from a me-against-you conflict (where we both had good reasons to disagree over 'bedtime') to an us-together reasonable discussion as we listened to each other and offered ideas.  We both learned.
It's perhaps worth a reminder that the 6th through 12th years (generally speaking) are where the emerging adult first begins to practice making the decisions we're teaching them how to make.  
Just a thought.