My husband and I just had the same old parenting fight again. Not a fight exactly—more of a continuing ideological disagreement. He thinks I do too much for our kids; I think he expects too much from them.
My Husband’s Approach: Let Them Struggle
He grew up very independent and from age 12, took care of himself with minimal assistance from his parents. He worked thirty hours a week during college. These experiences have definitely influenced his parenting style; he is a firm believer in “hard work builds character.”
Sometimes it’s almost as if he enjoys watching our kids struggle. Whether it’s supervising the Soviet-style outdoor projects he comes up with, such as moving rocks outside from one place in the yard and then back again three weeks later, or watching one of them spend long hours on a difficult calculus assignment, he loves watching them labor. For him, the struggle is some sort of guarantee that they are becoming independent and self-sufficient.
My Approach: Let Me Mentor Them
I, on the other hand, believe more in the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. Don’t expect a 15-year-old to know how to paint the garage unless you show him how you want it done. You shouldn’t expect a teenager to know how to negotiate an apartment lease.
I will often step in either to demonstrate or to help complete a given task alongside them. Of course, because my kids are shrewd and lazy, they learned pretty young that I am soft, and if they did a really bad job at something, I would just take over and do it myself. Even though they are now 20, 18, and 17, I still feel that my job is to help, guide, and intervene. Fine—I will admit that it also makes me feel good to be needed.
A Real life Example of Our Duality
Case in point: our college son started a co-op this semester and needed to provide his new employer with a canceled check for direct deposit. He had almost a month over break to figure out what he needed before orientation, which he, of course, didn’t do until the night before.
He came to me in a panic and said, “I need a canceled check and I forgot to order any!” As usual, I came to the rescue. With great foresight, I had kept one of his checks in my wallet, and frankly, congratulated myself for being Johnny-on-the-spot.
Far from being impressed, my husband was exasperated—with me. “You do too much for him! You should have let him figure that out himself so he learns to plan ahead next time.”
Oh. Maybe in the purest, most objective light, he has a point—but hardheartedly holding out and telling our son to order his own checks and then to wait four weeks for the bank to mail them seems like a Pyrrhic victory to me. I give him the blank check, and he orders the checks this week—it’s all good, right?
In Search of Moderation
My goal, I guess, is balance—to moderate between extremes in the hope that in the middle lies the sane, practical approach that will ensure that our kids know that we are here to support and help them find their way, while making sure they don’t become lazy slackers playing Xbox in our basement at age 30.
At one extreme, there are the parents moving to follow their kid to college. In my opinion, that’s a bad idea for everyone involved. On the other hand, there are parents who don’t seem to be involved enough in the big decisions, often with devastating consequences for their kids. Yep—moderation. And remember, you can always find other people’s bad decisions to make yours look perfectly reasonable.