I’ve got to admit the question flashes through my mind constantly. Not having ever discovered the definitive parenting manual, I end up winging it most of the time.
The lucky part is that my kids, by nature, need very little discipline. I don’t say that with blinders on. I know where my son and daughters’ weaknesses lie. My kids just don’t end up blatantly violating the boundaries I’ve set up. The hard part is that my kids are very different from one another and need varied styles of guidance and encouragement.
Last night I winged it.
Last night my 13 year old daughter presented me with an almost exact duplicate of a situation that I encountered with her older sister just two years prior. And about halfway through last night’s event it dawned on me that I handled the two girls’ dilemmas completely differently. Exactly opposite in fact.
To be honest, it was so bad that I found myself wanting to say to my daughter last night, “Um, don’t tell your sister that I’m doing this for you. She”ll get upset”
Aand there’s your sign.
There’s your sign that someone feels guilty. Secrecy.
Here’s the situation. Tell me what you think:
It’s late in the afternoon on a Fall weekend that the kids are with their mother. In a perfect world I’d have some awesome plans for myself to go out, maybe even on a date. But I don’t. Daughter calls me up and asks if I’d drive her to to a haunted house because Mom can’t or won’t. I don’t have anything else to do so I say, “Sure.”
Up to this point the two situations are almost identical, just a couple of years apart.
I’m free. The kids want to go be with friends. They’re reaching out to me because Mom is unavailable. It’s a little annoying that it’s last minute, but they’re teenagers… I ended up refusing to take daughter A, but gladly taking daughter B. Is that fair?
The situations were almost the same. Here’s where they differed…
Daughter A: 2 years ago I was unemployed with very little money and driving an unreliable car. I arrived to pick up daughter A and asked where the haunted house was. She gave me the address and it so happened to be on the opposite site of the metropolitan area we live in. An hour away at least and a good $20 in gas! I asked how she was getting home and she replied, “I’m not sure. I think one of my friends’ sister is driving us back.” At that point I said NO. She threw a fit, I held my ground at NO and she proceeded to lose it some more. I took her out for some Taco Bell. We sat in the car in the parking lot to talk and she began to regurgitate all her 14 year old problems to me… and sitting there listening to my little girl talk to me was one of my favorite parenting nights ever. She asked to spend the night and I blogged about it here.
Daughter B: I now have a decent job and a reliable, economical car. Daughter B calls up last night to say she had arranged to go to the haunted house with a couple of friends. Two of them bought the $25 tickets online just before the third, whose parent had previously agreed to drive, called to cancel. She had arranged it all ahead of time and it fell through. I said that I’d take them if the other girl’s parent would pick them up. Agreed, and all was OK. I was available. I had the means. They had a certain ride back.
Unlike this title implies I am confident I made the right parenting choice in both situations. What causes me hesitation, though, is directly related to my son’s mission farewell a couple of months ago.
In a few years I can picture myself sitting in an LDS chapel for daughter B’s mission farewell listening to her utter the same words her brother did… saying essentially that the only valid family is a Christ-centered family. It disregarded any parenting that I had done over his 18 years and made it appear as if his mother and her husband were his only valid parents, his only valid family. Never mind the hours I’d driven in his behalf, the tears I’ve wiped, the underwear I’ve laundered, the vomit I’ve cleaned, the ceremonies I’ve attended, the meals I’ve cooked and the values I’ve taught.
It left me wondering if I’d done it right. Did I do this to myself by parenting essentially with my head down, ignoring the LDS upbringing with his Mom, not nurturing resentment and conflict? Did I passively turn myself into a putz?
Experience tells me that any small move I’d taken to talk to him about his mothers religion would have alienated him and driven a wedge between us. I can and actually do say slightly more with my daughters. But with him I had to make a different choice.
Still, it was an anguishing experience to sit and listen to the utter lack of respect or honor that my 18 years of fathering him had earned me in his eyes. It made me feel like a putz rather than the parent that I know I am.