Heading into Unknown Territory

School is finally out! It finished officially yesterday, so we are slowly moving into summer mode.

I do love summer – even though I work and technically, it is no different than any other time of year for me! But the kids have fun at camps, we do take time off, and the evenings are longer and we have more time to just be together with no homework to worry about!

But before summer came along, we had a couple of tough issues to deal with around here. Gabe is turning 13 next week and I suppose there will be a sharp learning curve as he becomes a teenager and all the others follow closely behind. Now we enter another unknown territory. These past two weeks we have had to deal with some pretty big issues, which really relate to core values of honesty, trust, freedom and responsibility.

One thing that is particularly challenging in a blended family is having to deal (or not deal) with the other biological parent. Now I know that even in nuclear families two parents may disagree on a tactic or strategy or consequence, but it really is a challenge when there is such a hostile relationship.

One of the several situations this week that we dealt with related to the fact that we did not think Gabe was old enough for a certain item he desperately wanted: an ipad. Yes, it is cool. Yes, it is very cool. But does a 13 year old need that? Should they be given this? Are they responsible enough for it? Should they not earn it somewhat? Is there a way for a 13 year old to even earn something like that at this stage in his life? We felt that it was a bit much. However, he received it as a gift from his mother a couple of weeks ago.

At first, we didn’t want him to use it here. Then push came to shove, and we agreed he could use it without the internet (just play the games/apps). We thought it was a good compromise. But really, it still didn’t sit well with us.

Then we had some other issues (not directly related to the ipad, but related to trust, responsibility, honesty and freedom) this week which highlighted just how Gabe was struggling with the maturity process and we realized that giving him freedom, when he does not have responsibility, was a mistake. Our gut feeling to set limits was right and we should have stuck with it.

We sat down with him, discussed the issues he was having, and told him that we had decided to go back on our decision to let him use the ipad here. Now, we can’t say he can’t have ipad – it was his mom’s decision to buy him one. And I don’t want to judge her on her choice and right as a parent. However, what we realized (and I’m glad we are realizing this now) is that as parents, we can’t succumb to the pressures we may feel from others or from society in general – about parenting. Our gut for our children in our home was one way, but we didn’t follow through with that gut feeling due to the pressure of feeling like the “mean” parent. We felt bad about going back on what we had told him, but explained that as parents it is a learning curve for us too, so we will make mistakes and will have to make changes along the way.

Around the same time of dealing with these issues and struggling with wondering if we were doing the right thing for our family and for Gabe in particular, my Mom sent me a few articles (which she often does) about parenting. These articles made some important points that comforted me in the decisions we made this week as parents. Let me share some exerts that struck me:

In an article entitled: “Guidance: Teaching Children the Law of the Harvest” by Wallace Goddard, I read the following:

“It is our job as parents to help children get what they want in a way that we feel good about.” In other words, we honor their preferences–but within the bounds set by wise and loving parents.

This paired nicely with another article by Richard and Linda Eyre entitled “What Entitlement is and How it Grows in our Kids”. In this article, they quoted from a book entitled “Living in the age of Entitlement, The Narcissism Epidemic”, by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell:

It is increasingly common to see parents relinquishing authority to young children, showering them with unearned praise, protecting them from their teachers’ criticisms, giving them expensive automobiles, and allowing them to have freedom but not the responsibility that goes with it. Not that long ago, kids knew who the boss was—and it wasn’t them. It was Mom and Dad. And Mom and Dad weren’t your “friends.” They were your parents.

Then Twenge and Campbell get at one of the true causes of entitlement:

The sea change in parenting is driven by the core cultural value of self admiration and positive feelings. Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.

These comments really made me think. They were speaking to me directly. I often tell my kids they don’t need me to be their friend – they have lots of those. They need me to be their parent. They only have one Mom, one Dad and in our case, one Stepmom (or Smom as we call it here)and one Stepdad. I need to be acting in that valuable and unique role and not slip into the “friend – I want to be cool role”. Being the parent doesn’t preclude you from having a friendship with your child – but it is a very different friendship and comes second to being the parent.

Gabe was a bit mopey for the remainder of the week. Rob just simply told him what I suspect we will be telling our kids a lot over the next few (decade or more!?!) years: “I know you may not like me that much right now. I know you may not believe that I am doing everything I am doing out of my love and concern for you. I’m ok with you not being happy with me right now because I know that I have your best interest at heart and care so much about you. Maybe one day you will understand”.

This is going to be an interesting few years.

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