I had an epiphany this week. My husband is away on travel. I am up against the teenage angst all alone. The first morning that my husband was gone I had a go-round with my son. His response? “No. Sorry I reject your grounding…” Yup. You heard me. He. Rejected. My. Grounding.
I was furious. I was irate. I was beside myself over what I thought were the behaviors and actions that caused the tete-a-tete. I thought I was angry with his dishonesty, his arrogance, his disrespect, his noncompliance, his rudeness, his attitude and all of the other things that led to the escalation of my grounding him. Then the icing on the cake was his simple dismissal of me – and my punishment.
I called my husband later that morning. I was still upset. I was trying to calm down. Usually by at least telling the story, I find a way to decompress but after talking with my husband I was still fairly shaken up. I called my mother. We talked for quite a while. I relayed the story and all of the things that had transpired between Son and me that morning.
I said to her, “I don’t know how to parent this.” Over the course of the phone call, she remained calm. She was supportive and talked me down to a calmer state. You see when my son decided to lie to me about something really ridiculous; I knew that he was lying. So I set out to prove to him that I knew he was lying. The entire episode escalated into a fairly emotional situation before 7 a.m.
This started a long process of thinking for me. Why did I set out to prove that I knew he was lying? Why did I do that? Why didn’t I just look him in the eye and tell him that I knew he was lying and leave it alone? Well, I think that I felt like it was my job to “parent” the dishonesty. To let him know that I knew he was lying, hoping that he would admit guilt and feel remorseful and we could move on. But he was not going to admit anything. In fact, he was going to go to great lengths to continue the charade. With every decision that he made to continue to be dishonest, I was further angered.
The lie? School uniform pants. That’s right. School uniform pants. It was time to drive them to school and when I looked over I saw that my son was not in his uniform pant. He was in a pair of khaki pants, several sizes too big, several inches too long, that he had worn for the past 3 days. How did I know they were the same pair of pants? Because they had a stain on the back right leg of the pant that I had stared at countless times over the course of the past 3 days…
So when I called him on the fact that he wasn’t allowed to wear those pants to school because they were not the assigned uniform, he began his web of deceit. “What do you mean?”
He knew what I meant.
He also knew that he wasn’t allowed to wear those pants to school.
He also knew that if he were “caught” he would receive a referral.
He also knew that I had spent hundreds of dollars on his proper school uniform attire.
He also knew that I knew that those pants were not to be worn to school.
But his answer?
“What do you mean?”
I sent him back upstairs to change. After he came back downstairs, I saw him carrying the pants (among other clothing) out to the garage. When I asked him what he was doing with those clothes, he informed me that they were his change of clothes for P.E. But I had SEEN the Khaki pants in his hands all balled up and KNEW what he had taken out to the garage. I KNEW he was lying….About…A…Pair….Of …Pants…???
I walked upstairs to his bedroom and looked around. Nope no pants. Walked into the bathroom. Nope no pants. Looked in the dirty clothes – Nope no pants. Yet when I questioned him, he gave indications that I was crazy and didn’t know what I was talking about – and began mocking me.
I walked out into the garage and looked for the clothes. I couldn’t see them. I stopped for a moment and felt as if I would burst into tears. I was exhausted by the entire thing. The constant lying, the sneaking, the fact that I was trying to decode the words and actions and figure out what he was trying to get away with.
Without wasting too much more time on the story, I can tell you that it ended poorly. It ended with me furious that my son would continue such a farce and make fun of me to the point that I was in tears. His brother eventually stepped up to defend me. Asking him to stop. Pointing out his transgressions. Explaining how disrespectful he was being…then just flat out calling him a jerk.
I was beyond exhausted. It was draining my soul. Depleting my spirit of joy. Knowing that he was lying and being deceitful over a pair of pants and ruthlessly trying to get to the bottom of it. It had affected the entire morning and the family.
Eventually it suddenly it hit me…
I know that he is lying. I told him that I knew. That should have been sufficient. I didn’t need to set out to prove anything – I should NOT have set out to prove anything. It only hurt me in the end. My son was not concerned – he would not admit guilt. He would hold onto his lie until the end.
I’ve thought about this for nearly 24 hours now and this is what I have determined.
I am trying to parent preemptively.
I am trying to cut my son off at the pass of wrong doing.
I am trying to be the one to “save” him from his bad choices.
This is not an effective way to parent.
I should have let him wear those pants. Let him get the referral. Let him tell me all the lies that he wanted to and just continued to let him know that I was aware of every lie he was telling. I should have let him receive the consequences for his poor choices.
But instead I ran around engaged in battle with him - trying to keep him from doing something that he would get in trouble for and in the end I grounded him anyhow for being so mouthy.
Preemptive Parenting. (After I determined that this was what I would call my parenting tactic - I Googled Preemptive Parenting and apparently it is a specific way of parenting though I couldn't find much about it and I am not using it in the same connotation.)
I am thinking that when my children make a poor choice perhaps I should allow them to see it through. So that the child understands the real consequence.
I’ve taught my children right and wrong since they were babies. As teenagers, just a short time away from leaving and being on their own for college they are going to have to make their own decisions without my being there to stop them at every turn that they make a bad choice. Intervening every time there is a bad choice – is backfiring on me. They are finding themselves angered by me. I am the point of consequence for the bad choice. This is not good for our relationship and not good for their development. But it seems to be the way of parenting by many these days.
We don’t give kids the chance to fail or make mistakes so that they can feel the impact of their choices and know that they don’t want to repeat that behavior. We step in when we see them heading into muddy waters and pull them out rather than just pointing out that it is there and perhaps they should walk around it.
My mom reminded me that it should be sufficient for me to state the rule. To lay down the law of acceptable and unacceptable – right and wrong. Then allowing them to make their choice. When a bad choice is being made – a verbal reminder should be enough. She used the toddler and the stove scenario. “That’s hot. Don’t touch. Never touch that. You shouldn’t touch that.” Say it 100 times but that child will still keep reaching to touch it. Does that mean that I am supposed to camp out in the kitchen 24/7 and make sure that child doesn’t touch it? Nope. I need to turn my back and live my life – knowing I warned. I did my job. If the child touches it, I am pretty sure that child learned the lesson.
I find that the current parenting trends are to “camp out” and try to keep our children from making bad choices. But that just isn’t feasible. At least not for me. If I keep stepping in, how will he find his own way. Though he doesn’t realize it – what I did yesterday morning was a form of “bailing him out.” I allowed him to disrespect me in an effort to keep him from getting in trouble at school. What was I thinking? I was thinking – I didn’t want my child to get in trouble and it was my job to make sure that it didn’t happened.
And now I know that that is furthest thing from what I should have done. I should have said, “That is not the proper school attire. If you choose to wear that to school, you could get into trouble for it.” Then let the decision be his – then the discipline would be his. No hassles for me. Lessons learned by him. No morning turmoil affecting the household.
But instead it turned into a battle of wills between the two of us. Him wanting to purposefully break a rule and me fighting to save him from the bad decision.
I will tell you that I put the “non-code” pants into the washing machine before I left for work last night. When I got home last night – I found that he had taken those pants out of the washer and put them in the dryer preparing to wear them to school today. (I knew he wanted them badly to have made that attempt.)
But knowing what I had finally figured out yesterday – I applied a whole new strategy this morning.
I took those pants out of the dryer and brought them into my room. This morning after his shower, he headed to the laundry room. I saw him and said, “What are you looking for?”
Son: “My pants are down here.”
Me: “No they aren’t.”
Son:“Yes. They are.”
Me: “No. They are not.”
Son:“What are you talking about?”
He looked into the dryer and then questioned me.
I said, “Those are not school pants. Where are the school pants that I bought you? Is there something wrong with them?”
He said, “They are all broken.”
I said, “Broken?”
He said, “Broken!”
He comes into my room to show me that the clasps on his pants have “pulled off.”
I ask him, “How long have they been like that? Did it ever occur to you to tell me that you needed new pants?”
So 24 hours later after the initial showdown – I finally understand what in the world the whole lying pants fiasco was about. He needs new pants. But he was choosing to wear the wrong pants, rather than informing me that he needed new ones. He was choosing to solve the problem in a lazy and incorrect way.
It doesn’t change the fact that if he wears the “non-code” pants he is going to get in trouble – but at least I know why he was fighting for the wrong pants. It sure would have made life a lot easier if he had just told me that he needed new pants…
So when I was angry and locking horns with him – I was giving his poor choice too much of my energy. It wasn’t MY choice. It was his. Yet I was the one exhausted by it.
I am going to try to spare myself the drama and the fatigue in the future and eliminate “preemptive parenting” from my lifestyle. Putting up constant road blocks for my children's journey is time consuming and exasperating to them. I think I'll just hammer down a couple of warning signs along their journey and see if they choose to heed the warnings. We shall see what happens on those sharp turns.
I am going to try to implement a policy similar to:
“You break it. You buy it. No buffer.”
I’ve taught you right from wrong…
You break the rule – you’ve bought the consequence – I won’t buffer it.
Because you see, if he goes to school in the wrong pants and they give him a punishment – I am pretty sure that he won’t look at the Dean of Students and say “I reject your punishment.”
…No. Words and attitude like that are reserved for the parents of teenagers.
...Cause we're special like that.