“When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.” – Erma Bombeck
Ugh. I hate arguments, especially with my kids. My eldest and I argued this morning about earning back an important lost privilege. Rules were laid out, and as of the deadline, I (the Tyrant) didn’t see the progress required to give it back.
So, the obvious next move is to revise the agreement and put a new and improved contract in place. Pretty straightforward, right?
Ah, if only it were that easy.
Teens are some of the most argumentative critters on the planet. In a way, they’re supposed to be since they’re posturing for their independence, but as parents we’re responsible for seeing that our children behave in a way that will pave the way for a smooth transition into society. It’s up to us to ensure our teens feel the sting of not following the rules, and alternatively, the rewards for playing nice.
My eldest is a very strong-willed young woman. She has been since the day she made her entrance into the world. I knew I had my work cut out for me when she refused to stop crying for her newborn photo at the hospital. She always made sure that her preschool classmates were clear on which toys were HERS (usually all of them). She was committed to being opposed to her bedtime. We had to sit on her to get her to do homework. Contention (rather than compliance) has been the rule.
And I gotta tell ya, after 18 years, I’m tired!
Even at nearly 18 years of age, the resistance is still there, but now there’s a new sense of urgency. Our young adults need to shift from arguing and ignoring the rules to doing whatever it takes to become self-sufficient. Part of a successful passage to adulthood is learning to conform to the norms of society (while still keeping your individuality, of course!)
In order to enjoy the daily comforts of modern life (food, water, heat, clothing, transportation, Starbucks), we need money to pay for them. Contrary to our kids’ opinions, currency doesn’t just fall out of the sky.
So, how do we get money? By finding a job.
How do we find a job? By putting ourselves out there and applying for work.
How do we keep a job? By being responsible and following the rules. Rules like getting there on time, doing your best work, making a good impression, and showing initiative. But try to impress this on a resistant teenager, who’s still enjoying free rent and board, free groceries, warm clothes and free transportation.
Honestly, some days I’d rather slam my hand in a car door.
But I digress. What if your child believes they have kept their end of a bargain but you “keep changing the rules so they can’t have what they want”? What’s more, they’ve “been doing everything perfectly and you’re just committed to keeping them frustrated”?
It goes a little something like this:
“Mom, you don’t want me to have what I want so you only focus on what I don’t do rather than what I have been doing! You make the rules, I follow them, then you find an excuse not to give me what I want and torture me! Why should I do anything you ask? You’re just going to change the rules again, keeping me from having what I want! Why should I even trust you?”
Oh, they’re good. They’re really good.
I happen to have been born on a Saturday, but not last Saturday.
First, stay calm (good luck with that – I nearly imploded into my Honey Bunches of Oats, but it’s good to have a goal.)
The secret here is to observe immediately that you are being diverted. Your child is trying to wear you down and distract you from the facts. We need to remind ourselves that the rules and consequences set up between you and your near-adult have far less to do with completing specific tasks and everything to do with encouraging a mature attitude towards responsibility.
Then, step back and look at the data. My child feels that she has been putting forth the effort to earn back her privilege, and as a parent I haven’t seen the progress. Since my teen and I are rarely home at the same time, it’s not always possible to determine whether or not chores were done, rules followed, or jobs applied for. This leaves us vulnerable to a misunderstanding. So let’s fix that, right now.
I’ve chosen to document what I require of her to earn back the all-important privilege in question. When she arrives home today, she will find a piece of paper posted on the fridge – a list of chores to check off and a place to indicate how many jobs were applied for each day. We will each sign at the bottom, indicating we both agree and understand the terms. This will help ensure that communication is taking place – both of us will know that she is doing the work and that I am being made aware of it.
We’ll see if this helps get us back on track. If it doesn’t, we’ll go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan we can both live with.
In the meantime, I’m going to go soak in a hot bath and figure out other ways I can make my teenagers’ lives miserable. According to them, it’s what I live for.