Parenthood (Tuesday nights on NBC), is one of my favorite shows to watch. These days I usually cannot stay up that late, so my DVR and I are BFFs. (You should see what happens in my house when my husband or kids mess with my DVR schedule for my shows.) I don’t watch TV that much, but I do have some favorites that I like to record, then watch after I put all four kids to bed. I’m not one for daytime TV…I’ve tried to watch Oprah and Ellen, but I get antsy and feel like I need to be doing something more productive during the day, so my TV time happens at night. Generally, my husband, who works a crazy schedule, comes home sometime after the kids are in bed, says his hellos and heads back downstairs where he is fixated on the never ending loop of SportsCenter . For whatever reason, last night, he got home early, and I happened to be watching Tuesday night’s episode of Parenthood, and he sat down to join me.
What I love about this show is that it always seems to capture some moment that is currently happening my life. Or maybe I just project myself into the show, like when you think every song played on the radio is intended for you and your life? I also love the characters. In fact, the names, Dax and Crosby, were in the running for a long time for one of the twins.
This last episode had great topics in it. Death; addiction as a hereditary disease; both parents working together as disciplinarians; and what to do when your white, suburban, 16 year old daughter is in love with a black, 21 year old, recovering alcoholic who didn’t finish high school and is working as the manager of a soup kitchen. Though all the topics caught my attention because, as a parent, I have either already dealt with, or will have to deal with the issue in the future, the later is the one that stuck with me the most. Mainly because as my husband and I silently watched Adam and Kristina deal with this situation, we both were wondering how we would handle something like this with our own daughter.
I totally get where the writers were going with the plot line of the story. She is a 16 year old, white girl living a suburban lifestyle. Her grandmother introduced her to the ways of serving her community by helping others and bringing her to a local soup kitchen where she meets the manager, Alex. Alex is a 21 year old black young man whose father was an alcoholic and mother died when he was young. He came to this same soup kitchen for other reasons, he was the one who needed the help. He became an alcoholic at an early age, and never graduated from high school. With all that being said, the writers now throw into the mix, just to amp up the drama, that he is very well spoken, he is respectful, he is ambitious, and he is sober. And he happens to be in love with Haddie, and vice-versa. This part of the story makes the parenting decision very difficult, which you can see Adam and Kristina struggling with this as they discuss amongst themselves, and then announce to their daughter she is no longer allowed to see Alex.
As I am watching this, I can’t help but think about what I would do. I go back to my own parents telling me about the difficult choices they have had to make as a parent, and sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong. It’s always a gamble. You just have to roll the dice and see what happens. And then there’s the whole “you never know what you would do or how it would affect you until you yourself are in the situation.” But I also like to practice the idea that if you think it, it will be. In fact, I recently read an article in the Dec/Jan 2011 Parenting School Years edition, “How to Teen-Proof Your Tween” by Linda Rodgers, about how to deal with your ‘Tweens when the topics of drugs, alcohol, sex and general independence comes up, in regards to expectations and assumptions. What Rodgers was basically saying is to consider raising our expectations as parents because if you assume the result is going to turn out one way, then it will. “If you expect negative behavior, kids will behave accordingly. But if you expect compassion and thoughtfulness, that’s what you’ll get.”
My husband posed the question to me, “What would you do?”. The first thing that popped into my mind was that Adam and Kristina did not give Haddie a choice. They didn’t give her the opportunity to discuss with them her feelings, or work together as a unit to find a solution. It’s my opinion that if I intend to be actively involved as a parent in my children’s lives, then I need to let them be actively involved in their own lives as well. Even as toddlers, I gave my kids choice. It, of course, was the illusion of choice. They could choose between two colors, two outfits, two snacks, etc, that I had chosen for them. This was my way of guiding their choices. As four and six year-olds, they are still given choices, though now they understand that at times, they are guided by my influence, because as their parent, I generally know what is best for them. They are only 4 and 6, so it’s not too difficult for me to know that right now. They will ask me if they can choose something, or they will offer me a way that allows them to be more involved in the decision. For example, my son and I would fight constantly over school lunches. Me wanting him to have the whole food, organic options, him wanting hot lunch from the school cafeteria each day. We negotiated (yes, when he was 5) that if he ate his lunch Monday – Thursday, then he could have hot lunch on Fridays. He accomplished this. So as a 1st grader, he wanted more freedom in his choices. He asked if he could still have hot lunch just once a week, but could we look at the menu together and decide what day he wanted to have it. (He was getting tired of pizza every Friday). I thought that was fair, as it is his life and his diet. My job is to guide him to make healthy choices and to understand the whys behind nutrition and what it means for his physical and mental stamina and growth. To my surprise, he makes healthy choices. He checked out the calendar for this week, saw there was a chicken teriyaki with rice, and waited for his hot lunch to be today. The other evolution of school lunches with both my son and daughter, is that they now make their own lunches. I was super hesitant at first figuring I could do it faster and with less mess and control, knowing I was putting healthy options in there. But they wanted to do it, and I do have two babies to also tend to, so one day I turned my “No” into a “Yes” and now it is one of their chores. I love listening to them discuss what they are going to put in their lunch. We first talked about having a balance of foods…one protein, one diary or carbohydrate, one fruit or veggie and one sweet. They understand protein can be meat or meatless and they know what those options are. They stick to that balance, and they are very proud of themselves and their lunches! (They are mom-approved before the lunchbox closes).
Finally, I let them choose items in the grocery store that they can put into their lunches, which gets them even more excited to make their lunches. But again, we visit choice and discussion. They ask for things their friends have…like cheese and crackers in the little packages. My husband and I made the decision to offer our children whole, healthy and organic foods. I read labels for calories, fat, sugar, i
ngredients, organic and preservative free foods. I research nutrition to make sure we are offering them things like omega 3, DHA, calcium, and other essential vitamins and minerals. It’s only natural that after all this hard work and time to understand what I am buying for our family to consume, that they understand why as well. And again, the best way to guide them is to explain to them the “whys”, so that they can make their own choices, little by little. If they ask for the cheese and crackers, I explain why I prefer other options, but if we can find a healthy alternative, then yes, we can buy them. They get that and they are OK with it. Then they look for the alternative or find something else they are satisfied with.
So what is the point of all of this…going back to Parenthood and Adam and Kristina’s difficult decision. My point is that exactly. It was their decision. They didn’t include their daughter in the decision. Never asking her once what she thought about it, or what she would suggest knowing their fears and concerns. Never giving her the opportunity to make a choice based on their guidance. Never testing their work as parents to see what she would do. And, so as it is in TV land, what does Haddie do? She declares that she hates them and rebels by continuing to see the boy anyway. Not to say that if my husband and I took the time to have this conversation with our daughter, that she wouldn’t do something along those lines anyway, but I’d like to think that by proclaiming our fears and concerns to her, and including her in the conversation, that maybe together we would all come up with a solution that would work for everyone. Each child is different and needs different nurturing, and from what I can tell so far about Haddie, just by watching these last few months, is that she is mature enough to handle such conversations.
I have adapted some of my parenting style from my own parents, but the one thing we often disagree on is giving my children a choice. You will often hear my mother say, “She is four, you don’t give her a choice.” I can see why she would think that at times. There is a lot of control and decisions based on fear or love in parenting. When you look at the big picture though, that thought process is generally what is good for you, or works for you as a parent, and it is not teaching or including your children in shaping their lives, it’s making their lives happen for them. Of course, there are times when, yes, there is no negotiating. They cannot play in the street, or drink poison, or go to the park by themselves. You can still explain the whys behind these things, but it’s what I call non-negotiables. When you start to see your child as a little human, it is easy to see their life is full of possibility, and as parents, we can use our thoughts, actions and language to show them how to unlock that universe of possibility.
Martha Beck had a great quote this morning, “Today notice which of your actions are driven by fear, and which by love…” I love this because I think as parents, this comes in and out of our thought process without us really being present to it. The natural thing to do is to guide by one emotion or the other, but without conscientiously thinking about it, we may not be offering our children the right guidance. What we do because of fear may block them from exploring different options, and even though we may do something out of love, it could send the wrong message. I am connecting this with my intention of creating a universe full of possibility for my through my choice of language because my actions, thoughts and beliefs is what chooses my language. They all have to be cohesive in order to maintain integrity to my intention, and I must be present to all of these things each day in order to be integral to my intention.
Probably I should have stated this at the beginning of the post, but these are obviously my opinions on parenting. This is my first rodeo as a mom of four, so not always sure I’m doing it right. I had great parents, who made mistakes and made great parenting decisions. In no way am I encouraging you to change your actions or beliefs about parenting, I’m just sharing my journey and the choices my husband and I have made based on our own experiences as children, not as parents, and what we have learned as adults. Parenting is ever evolving. It changes with the generations, though some things remain a constant. But I love this shift in consciousness about the way we are parenting our children. Feel free to share with me what has worked for you, ideas, thoughts or some tips on your parenthood journey.