“Mom, you have to stop,” Katie tells me firmly but still calmly. Thank goodness she’s patient.
“You know,” I said, “I think I am having an epiphany. I need to unlearn how to parent you. I have been doing these things since you were born and now I need to stop doing them. And that’s going to be hard.”
I went on telling her that from the beginning, I had to anticipate what she was doing, redirect her or tell her what to do almost all the time. From brush your teeth to look both ways and everything in between. As I broke it down – and as she caught on and started thinking of things on her own – we both realized how many things parents do all day to help their kid grow up.
But, as a very smart therapist once taught me, the habits we learn that once served us well, often become bad behaviors when they are no longer needed. This was truly one of those moments. I realized I need to unlearn parenting.
It’s super hard.
I am basically trying to break habits that I have worked hard to cultivate to keep Katie safe, to teach her to be a good person, to care for others, to stand on her own. Now I need to shut up because I did my job. She’s good. Really good but me telling her what to do now is driving her crazy. And I can see how parents fall into power struggles with their kids at this age – 13 (almost) – because we have been telling them what to do for ages.
But now, it’s time to trust them and let them figure it out. They know. Seriously, I know she hears me in her head. My work here is done. If I want to have a relationship with her going forward, I need to stand back and let her go it on her own. Will she screw up? I certainly hope so because that will only positively reinforce my voice in her head.
Of course I’ll be there if I see her making big mistakes.
But my approach will be different. Offering her suggestions and alternatives but shutting up in between so she can weigh the options and make her own sound decisions. Oh yeah, and I still have to shut up. Talk less. I tell that to myself all the time. It’s horribly difficult. I pride myself on being right. But that doesn’t matter. Right this time is backing off and butting out.
We ended our talk with me asking her to be patient with me. That unlearning takes time. That I would totally blow it and tell her to wipe her feet before going inside and to brush her hair before we leave and all the other little things we have done for so long to get to this wonderful place of self-sufficiency.
She promised me she’d cut me some slack. And she told me she’d be happy to start telling me what I needed to do on a regular basis. Sounds lovely.
I hope I don’t pitch a fit.
2 thoughts on “Unlearning Parenting”
Yup, Give 'em the tools and send them out to sea in a flaming viking ship of our own design. It's so hard to let go. Be prepared to relapse into parental micromanagement on a regular basis.
Especially in those teen years when it's hard to differentiate between a request for safe boundaries from a normal trial and error learning curve.
I love this! You say so much, so well, in, actually so few words. I'll be rooting for Katie, knowing that no one i know could have given her better "legs" to stand on. And I also hope I never have to witness you "pitch a fit."
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