So, now it is time for the next confession: I feel like such a pushover. A chance opportunity arose for one of my children and I bent myself into a pretzel to make it happen for her. Later, she shared that she was unsure if she wanted to take advantage of it. Enthusiasm for the idea made it much more valued than it actually deserved. This scenario has repeated endlessly—me or my husband putting ourselves way out there to make something happen for one of our children. The child, apparently not realizing the lengths we parents have gone through to make it happen, takes it for granted that of course it will happen. Or else they are amazed at the cranky parental response when they decide at the last minute, they really don’t want to do it after all.
We even have a name for this parental behavior in our house … mom and dad can work miracles if you give them 24 hours notice. What makes us as parents go so far out of our way for our children? Is it a way for making up for all the things we wished we could have done as a kid that never materialized? Is it guilt for all the things we say “no” to when asked? What drives us to make it happen? Why do I do more for my children than I would think to do for myself?
It is an odd situation I repeatedly create for myself. And it feels contrary to the no-nonsense attitude I try to maintain with my children. Am I conveying the message that if the story is really good, I will fall for anything? Are they secretly working the potent sad eyes like Puss in Boots in the Shrek movie (and yes, my children had the poster on their wall for weeks before I realized they were using it to practice that look in the mirror beside the poster)? I wonder if I undermine myself by appearing to be such a soft touch in these instances. Or does the unpredictability work in my favor?
Only my children know, and they are not telling. Since I am the bad cop most of the time, do they read more (or less) into my largesse when I capitulate easily? Listening to them and their friends in the car, I have noticed older children and teens try to pigeonhole their parents into behavior equations. If I say this or do that, I will get this kind of reaction from my mom/dad. If my parents react like this, I can mediate the reaction by acting this way. Having lived with us for so long, they know what buttons to push to get the type of positive (or negative) outcome they desire, sometimes better than we know ourselves. After all, they have the energy to devote to solving the equation and the motivation to figure out the system and make it work to their favor. And far fewer distractions than those overly stressed parents.
My children are smart enough not to put it into words, but I wonder sometimes if they are playing the “if you loved me, you would let me do this…” game. The more outrageous the request, the more they feel the need to be acknowledged and loved. Or is it the desire for stronger boundaries, pushing with “the ask” to determine where the lines are they shouldn’t cross with their parents? I have heard both theories expounded at length by friends who are parents, but I don’t know if I buy into them. I remember just enough of being a teen to not remember being that calculating one way or another.
Then again, I was a rather naïve and idealistic child, far too bouncy to track behavioral responses in my parents. I was much more interested in my friends. And I was amazed at those friends who tried the “if you loved me” game on their guilt-ridden parents and doubly amazed that it worked so well. To me, it felt wrong, manipulative and controlling. Even if it worked, the end result was not worth the soul-searching it would cost me to get there. Hopefully my children understand and respect that. So, how about you?