Saturday, October 21, 2006

Parents To The Rescue

“No pain, no gain” is usually associated with physically working out. But it also applies to psychic pain, and I think many parents in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are guilty of perhaps trying too hard to protect their children from both.

I know I have done just that on more occasions than I probably should be admitting to in print. Yesterday New Canaan CARES presented a seminar entitled, “Resisting the Urge to Rescue our Kids,” and that presentation will be repeated in April. It’s both informative and squirmily enlightening.

I experienced plenty of physical and psychic pain as a kid growing up in the 1960’s and ‘70s – skinned knees and elbows, the random leg gash from a bicycle kickstand, measles, mumps, not to mention growing up in an alcoholic household, dinner-less nights spent in my bedroom for disrespecting my parents, and a few misguided groundings. Out of four kids, I think only Jack has gotten a skinned knee, although Lord knows Blake- the twice-deployed to Iraq Marine – now has his fair share of close calls and emotional scarring.

But I have most assuredly been in “fix-it” mode since first becoming a mother. I gave in to whining, pleading, tantrums, campaigning. Just over this past weekend, Janet was insisting that she needed a dress for a Bat Mitzvah (not occurring until May!) by Sunday. She presented and presented and justified her case and immediate need with a tinge of seventh-grade whine that finally wore me down. As she walked away, triumphant, her older brother, Kenny proclaimed, “Winner and still champion…” This from the one child I have tried to “fix” the most.

Kenny recently had some financial troubles, which most recent college grads without full-time jobs are wont to experience. Rather than have him go through the agony and embarrassment and learning experience of moving out of his apartment to the rent-free room at home until he is gainfully employed, we rescued him with a quick trip to the ATM and our bank’s website. Good instinct on our part, or enabling decision? We want to help, we want to throw a life-line. Yet no pain, maybe no gain.

I am getting better at maintaining a “grounding” with Janet and letting Jack know in no uncertain terms that speaking disrespectfully will land him in the dog house as well. It’s not easy, though, morphing ourselves less into friends and more into parents.

My parents were more authority figures than buddies, at least until I reached my 30’s. Even still, there was always a modicum of fear inside that I would “mess up” and be sent to my room, figuratively speaking. And I think many of my friends feel the same way about their own parents. Yet our kids aren’t so much “afraid” of us; we shake our heads as to why, when the answer lies right within us.

It’s complicated. We want to be the nice guy, but we want our children to respect and obey, and conversely we want to protect them from pain at all costs.

What will be the price we eventually pay? What will our children have to pony-up emotionally and interpersonally down the line?

It’s not wrong to want to be our kid’s hero; it’s completely natural and do-able. I guess, however, that it’s wiser to be at once the hero and the villain, all rolled up into one loving parent.

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