Before I had kids, I was going to do everything better. I wasn’t exactly sure better than what, but I was confident that I would do better. My first commitment—I would never answer a questioning child with, “Because I said so.” That promise was a result of vivid childhood memories of a parent responding with that very phrase. The response felt dismissive and created a sense of powerlessness. Because of that ingrained memory, I made the vow and I kept it.
When my children were younger, there were endless, “but whys?” Occasionally I managed to offer a satisfying answer. When that didn’t work, I adopted deep, rhythmic breathing and willed myself to ignore the whining. For years I stood proud, somewhat smugly, with the knowledge that I had succeeded in keeping my promise.
Over time, I had developed some confidence in my parenting skills, until one day the rules instantaneously and dramatically changed. With the blink of an eye, my sense of mastery (or self-righteousness) disappeared, replaced by a parenting abyss called adolescence. Years ago, when I made the vow, I never anticipated the teenager who could say, “but why?” over and over and over again until my rising blood pressure was visible. I never anticipated that I myself might feel anxious or out of control and that, in that moment, I might simply need obedience.
I humbly confess that, in the heat of the moment, “never” did turn to “sometimes” and I have uttered the words “because I said so.” I feel awful about breaking my promise to myself and my children. Even worse, however, was that my response was completely ineffective.
Breaking A Promise: Didn’t I Want Better Parenting Choices?
I’m left trying to find a new response, an effective response. “Because I said so” is a power play. It told my children that I was the boss of them. Now I’m wondering whether adolescence has toppled that tower. Have we entered a new space where I barely even get a vote? I cling to the belief that I get a vote, even a deciding vote, yet my teenager does not agree with me. Therein lies the harsh reality of a home with an adolescent—the new game has two competitive teams, each determined to win.
I do not want my family divided into two teams with one ensuing winner. My goal is one team—my family—with me as the parent who still parents. I don’t feel done. Based on my parents’ model, I am under the impression that a mother’s job is never done. However, it seems that I must morph along with my changing teenager. The rules of parenting have changed. If I am to have any impact on my teenager’s life, I must learn a new language.
Maybe this will work better. “As long as you are living under my roof…” Darn, I made a vow never to say that one either.