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“Because I Say So” The Words You Swore You’d Never Say

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.

Susan Borison

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.