It is a balmy late October morning: my 14 year old is wearing his warmest ski jacket, gloves, a scarf and a woolen cap pulled over his eyes. His backpack is weighing him down and he has a vague resemblance to Quasimodo as he walks out the door yelling, “bye Ma!”
It is in the single digits with the wind chill on a dark December morning. My 16 year old is wearing a light fall windbreaker unzipped with no other protection from the elements in view. He towers over me, looks down and thanks me for lunch as he walks out to the bus.
As you can see there are no battles about how my children are dressed when they leave the house. I have long since learned to let them be the judge of their sartorial needs. Too cold? Too hot? Mismatched? I have learned the hard way that family peace is hard to come by when my children are battling me over how to dress themselves. I thankfully learned this particular lesson back when they were in Kindergarten- (after 4 long years of pulling, tugging and tears). Despite my worst fears, my boys didn’t get sick more often than others, or teased about what they were wearing.
From the time children hit the terrible two’s straight through young adulthood, parents are told, “Pick Your Battles”. Two things have always bothered me about that advice:
1) We just want to do right by our kids. We never intended to go into battle!
2) How can we know which are the valiant fights until we have been battle tested?
As a parent of 2 teens, I would love to tell you that I have come through the other side and can spare you the scars. I haven’t and I can’t. But I have learned a few things which might help you and your kids.
Clarify what you value, and be consistent
In our family independence has always been extremely high on our list of values. Our boys can make meals for themselves & do their own laundry. They also chose the high school they attend and figure out how to allocate their time for study and “chilling out”. We celebrated the driver’s permit as wildly as the first solo bike ride to town. This has meant that other values like safety and efficiency have taken a back seat. Of course we also care about those things, and yet we make a conscious choice not to fight those battles.
Kids need to learn to trust themselves; help them
We don’t have to look much beyond our own psyches as parents to know how challenging it can be to trust our own instincts and listen to our gut. For our children, external sources of judgment and validation abound: TV, teachers and team mates, stickers & report cards. They can serve to educate our children yes, and muffle their internal voice as well. As parents, we are uniquely able to create space for that still small voice to be heard. When we indiscriminately pull rank, and insist on our way, we make it harder for our kids to listen to, test and assess their own gut instincts.
Looking for a way to get started? Try this:
Sit with your husband and talk about some key moments in your life. The moments that decades later, you can still recall with vivid clarity. As you speak about these moments, see if you can help each other uncover what was so important to you about them.
What were the values that were being honored in those moments?
Where else in your life do you find yourself defending those values? (hint: Look to what really ticks you off, too. Sometimes our anger clues us in to the fact that our deepest values are being stepped on.)
Now talk about where there is alignment between your values. And how would you prioritize them when it comes to your children?
What is worth fighting for and what might you loosen up about?