Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I was a well-behaved, respectful child/teen/adult whose mother snooped and took things out of context. So, I rebelled where I knew it would hurt.
As I look ahead to when my children are teens and adults, I want to be respectful and informed. I want to be the parent they turn to, trusted and sensitive and firm. I’d love to hear your advice on privacy, snooping and boundaries to keep in my mental filing cabinet.
This is such a hard thing to pull off, because so much can happen between plans and results. You know not to repeat your mother’s mistakes, but that leaves a full menu of new ones to order from. Plus your kids’ temperaments will affect the outcomes so decisively that you’ll often feel ridiculous for even thinking you can plan ahead.
So, here’s my best shot: Be transparent about the way you’re going to supervise your kids; be calm and accepting when they tell you an embarrassing truth or admit fault or confess weakness, no matter how riled up you feel inside; if you slip and behave in a way you regret, apologize to them for it sincerely and fully; and believe in them for who they are, versus how you always hoped they’d be.
I’m sure others will have a lot to add, so fire away.
Get worried if you see a child spiral out of control – if grades start to drop or there are problems sustaining friendships. Look for those very real warning signs. I understand it’s difficult to watch kids spread their wings and make choices you disapprove of, but how else will they learn if they aren’t able to make choices and then deal with the consequences? I made some pretty questionable choices in college, but I swear I’m OK today and learned from all those experiences.
Love them wholeheartedly and let them know. Often. That will bring them to you in beautiful ways.
Here’s what my parents told me: (1) We will know two-thirds of what you don’t want us to know (not by snooping, but because we were teenagers); (2) You can call us anytime or anywhere and we will come for you; (3) We promise not to yell at you until you’ve recovered from any theoretical hangover you may have.
Others will have to decide if that’s good parenting, but it gave me a risk-assessment tool (“Is it worth a 66 percent chance of Mom and Dad finding out?”), a safety net and a guarantee of compassion.
Tell stories about people who are having normal lives despite teen pregnancy, alcoholism, mental illness, etc. It’s important to establish those as things that aren’t the end of the world – and also to establish them as things that Can Be Talked About in This Family.
Also, as they get older, instead of saying, “No,” say things like, “My concerns are the lateness of the hour and the lack of adult supervision. Can you see solutions?”
Thank you, everyone.
It’s a tough transition from holding kids back from peril to holding oneself back as they manage perils themselves. There’s no perfect answer; there’s just working hard to raise them and then trusting the results.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.