I am writing this on day seven of an eight-day vacation with my bride of seventeen-plus years, and my three sons, aged 15, 14 and 12. We have enjoyed amazing adventures and wonderful family moments, but as is the case in all families… there are limits to how much togetherness one can truly tolerate. Lucky for us this vacation appears to be just the right length.
From the day they are born, all children test boundaries. When our first child was born in 2000, my Father (who at that point had 30+ years of experience as a pediatrician) offered us only one piece of parenting advice. Holding our day-old daughter in his arms, he looked up thoughtfully and said,
“Make no mistake about it… you start raising your teenagers, today.”
As our oldest grew, and we added to our family at a brisk pace, and the sage words of my Father echoed in my ears every time I was tempted to give in to the boundary testing antics of our four children.
I have certainly made a misstep or two along the way. One in particular, I remember involved our son Lewis when he was eight weeks old. My wife had successfully led us through two weeks of Ferberizing. Lewis was resisting at every turn, but we were making measurable (albeit slow) progress. One night, we were all sleeping soundly when Lewis awoke in his crib and began to cry.
We were at the point in the Ferberizing process where, when the child cries, you can place your hand on him and comfort him, but you CAN NOT pick him up. If you do, the baby assumes (and rightly so) every time he wants to be picked up, all he need do is cry.
If you pick the baby up you pretty much become his “bitch.”
Since it was my turn, I dutifully hopped out of bed and went to the crib. Over the next thirty minutes, I made many unsuccessful attempts to comfort young Lewis. With a full workday ahead and precious few sleeping hours remaining, I did the unthinkable… I picked him up. He immediately quieted down, but as I turned around I found myself in water much hotter than that of a crying child. My wife stood in the bedroom doorway not at all pleased. As she removed the now docile Lewis from my arms and placed him back in his crib, she calmly but forcefully stated, “You picked him up. That’s two weeks of work down the drain. Now we have to start over.”
I never picked up a crying infant again.
We now have four teenagers (well almost, the youngest is 12.5) and it is clear our high expectations have had their intended effect.
However, as I stated above, children test boundaries. At first, the best course of action is to do whatever it takes to keep children from crossing all boundary lines. What’s interesting is over time, the manner in which you handle these battles changes. As they become more independent and make their own decisions, your parenting techniques must be adjusted accordingly.
The other night on vacation, we were all enjoying a relaxing cocktail hour. All the adults on the deck were enjoying adult beverages and the kids each had a soda. As my sister-in-law was taking soda orders, one of my boys made a snarky comment requesting a beer, and it reminded me of a situation from my youth, almost exactly thirty-one years ago.
It was a warm Saturday evening in the summer of 1985. My brother and sister were out for the night, and after dinner I found my sixteen-year-old self, hanging out on the screened-in porch with my parents.
We were just enjoying the evening, chatting about who-knows-what, when my father rose from his seat and proclaimed he was going to get himself a Gin & Tonic. He turned to my mother and asked if she would like one. My mom is not much of a drinker, so I was surprised when she said, “Yes, I’ll have one.” He turned toward the kitchen and as he walked away I said, (in the same snarky tone I heard from my son the other day) “I’ll have one too.”
My father did not break his stride and continued on into the kitchen.
I assumed he would simply ignore me, but when he returned to the porch, he held three icy, lime-garnished glasses. He handed one to my mother, but before he took his seat, he walked over to me, handed me a glass, and looking sternly into my eyes said, “Every drop.”
He had taken my smarmy attempt at crossing a boundary line and instead of simply standing firm and saying “no,” he grabbed my arm and pulled me over to the other side.
I’m pretty sure the drink only had a splash of gin in it, but being the dutiful son I finished every drop, including the lime and all of the ice. Not long after I found myself feeling a little sleepy, so I excused myself and went to bed.
My parents exchanged a brief “knowing glance” and said not a word.
It would have been much easier for my dad to do what I expected, but instead of ignoring the wise-ass comment of his sixteen-year-old son, he opted to thrust me into the adult world I was all too eager to join.
This experience taught me two things:
1 – My parents were willing to give me enough rope with which I could hang myself.
2 – Be freaking careful what you wish for.
My Father zigged when I expected him to zag and I am all the better for it. As your children make the transition from little kids to developing adults, be sure to constantly pivot to keep them on their toes. If you regularly surprise them, they’ll be hard pressed to ever be one step ahead of you.
If you start raising teenagers when they are infants, you’ll be ready to start raising adults when they are teens. Once they pack-up and leave, they can only take with them what you’ve gievn them. When the time comes for my kids to venture out into the world, I sure hope they take… every drop.
I covered a similar topic in Chapter 39 of my book The Penny Collector. The chapter is called “Bluff In Poker Not Parenting,” and if you click on the title you can download a free PDF of the chapter. If you like what you see in this little snippet, I encourage you to consider the whole book. Just CLICK HERE to learn all about it.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved