Did you ever compete in an Egg Drop Competition for a high school science class? It’s a science experiment where you drop an egg from a certain height—maybe 30 feet—in some protective device. There is only one rule: Don’t break the egg.
My parenting style is a LOT like an egg drop experiment. I don’t know exactly which device will adequately protect my children, now ages seven and eleven, but I know my aunt Maureen’s back-in-my-day approach doesn’t quite fit my vision for success.
Do I take the egg crate approach and try to buffer my children from all sides? Do I try a simple parachute that softens the blow but allows some impact? There are lots of parenting books, blogs, websites, etc., that have The Perfectly Right Approach™️. But I think it’s important to keep in mind the end goal: to raise functional, content adults who know how to navigate the world around them.
Teaching my children how to navigate the world comes with some missteps. I frequently need to remind myself that my children’s budding independence is their path forward. I’m seeing it already in my 11-year-old daughter: the desire to do things herself, to speak back when confronted, to fight over the necessity of daily showers (that struggle is VERY real!).
I walk a fine line between assertiveness and micromanaging as my children grow. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that my kids also walk a fine line in their personal growth and independence. For my daughter, this is the line between back-talk and discourse. For example, the other day I asked her to pick up her clothes because, “Your bed is not where your dirty clothes go.” She gave her dirty clothes a disdainful glance, then told me, “It is now.”
We had a gentle—God help me, I kept it gentle—come-to-Jesus moment after that, where I explained the acceptable way to handle a request from her parents. She listened, held back an eye roll with every ounce of her being, and later (later than I would have preferred) apologized.
This was a “contain the sass but don’t break it” moment for me. Sass will serve my daughter well in adulthood, allowing her to discard requests that don’t suit her goals. But right now, it’s infuriating.
Life would be so much easier if telling her, “Do it because I said so,” worked for every situation, but I save that gem for only when I address her physical safety or hygiene. In other situations, a voice that sounds suspiciously like my mother’s warns, “Blind obedience isn’t healthy either,” and that “Questioning authority is a marker of healthy independence.” So, I try to find other ways to explain right and wrong.
Another milestone for growing independence is my daughter’s desire to do things on her own. Though right now the idea of growing up is still very tedious to her, she told me yesterday that she’s stressed about the idea of growing up. “You have to get a job and make money or else get stuck living at home in your parents’ basement when you want to get out!”
I told her that was silly—we don’t have a basement. Then we chatted about how important it is to find a job you truly love, one that fulfills you, and about how having money allows you more freedom to do what you want.
Our talks now are a far cry from our fairytale and make-believe talks from just a few years ago, and they seem like they’re getting harder—she’s 11 and we’re talking about college majors, already?! Plus, the sass is strong with this one. How am I going to handle the sex talk looming on the same horizon as entry into middle school? I’m not sure I’m ready for it.
So much weight seems to rest on my conversations now, even when my daughter’s mood vacillates in the span of seconds. When she’s sassing me, I have to remember that my daughter is asserting her independence, and that it’s an important phase, as necessary as it is inevitable. I tell myself to ride the wave and mitigate stressors as best I can while she’s still around. (College is only seven years away, and who knows where she’ll fly to?) Then, I acknowledge her sass, we talk about how she can speak her mind respectfully, and we discuss safer ways to accomplish her goals.
Parenting is a social experiment and the greatest challenge I’ll ever complete. I’ve learned to take the advice that works for my family and discard the rest. I keep my eye on my goal to raise functional, content adults. Yes, I still fight with my daughter about daily showers. Even so, I make sure that I don’t forget the most important rule: don’t break the egg.