Life is a journey - this is mine.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trust, Control and being a Dad

A constant factor of being a parent is understanding your kids maturity level enough to be able to discern the amount of independence you grant them. For example, an 18 month-old who's just started walking certainly isn't mature enough to realize the danger of walking across the street without guidance, but a 6-year-old likely is. That stuff is pretty easy to figure out for most parents, we simply call it common sense.

As kids get older, though, the level of discernment needed is greater, AND we have to be letting go of our own desires for our kids; the control. That's a little harder.

It's been said that if you have the power to destroy something, you have control over it. Thinking about that for a minute in human relationships, the power to destroy is given by trust. As we divulge more and more intimate details of ourselves to another, we're also extending more trust. Reciprocal trust is relationship, and the control is cancelled out by mutual maturity.

As a parent, we start out the complete trust of our kids. As they grow, we have to reciprocate that trust depending on their maturity level. We yearn to turn our kids free, to see them succeed, flourish, stumble, learn, grow... but they won't get there unless we do this job well, unless we give them the tools and the freedom to make their own choices, and let them suffer the consequences of their choices so they can learn - and ultimately learn to own their own lives. Lots of cultural and sociological pressure is against that, though.

All that said brings me to today's challenge as a Dad. Today, I got an email from my son's school that he has neglected to turn in several assignments. It's been explained to him in the past, and enforced, that his time is his to own. We will help him organize his time and schedule IF he asks for it, but ultimately, it's his responsibility to decide what to do with his time. We've set the expectation that he will do his work and should he fail to do his work, he will suffer the consequences of losing that freedom. So, I informed him tonight that he's lost his freedom for Halloween - a night he's been looking forward to for weeks. I took away trust, and exerted control.

Damn, that was hard.


Unknown said...

Wow, I needed to hear all that. I'm scared to death of my daughters growing up, since I don't have experience working with kiddos that are over 8 or 9 years old.

I admire the choices you are making and the lesson Nick is learning as a result of your parenting. That's what parenting is all about. He's lucky to have you.

Bruce Milne said...

Yep: I'd agree: an essential ingredient.

I'd also throw in that growing kids don't have all the info they need, to choose wisely. So you cannot ever give enough data points to let them chew on.

Sometimes I'm guilty of doing all the thinking, and telling them the reduced options, without letting them work them through so they can own the choices.

Very much more with my son, who struggles with organization. It helps him a *lot* to itemize all the the things that need to be owned: and ask him who is owning which thing: find out the assignements, schedule them, listing out the steps to do the assignment, focusing on the next step, doing the next step. Part of being a kid, is not being able to boot up the organizational landscape.

I find it helps if he has to choose to own or not, the parts. If he says he owns, then we remind him of what he's planning next, and he's not allowed to get cranky, because he's owning it. If he says he can't own that, then the parent does and tells him when to do it: and he can't disobey because the parent is owning it.

Clarity seems to difuse the lack of ownership.