07/07/2013 08:53 am ET Updated Sep 06, 2013

Parenting With A Wing And A Prayer


I didn't go through teenage rebellious years until I was 42 years old, when I ran away from home and did most of what my friends had done in high school.

I was a perfect child with an intense desire to please my parents, and a profound fear of disappointing them. For my parents this was great. My father ordered me to be home by 9:00; I was home by 8:59. My mother asked me to wash the dishes; I asked if the floor needed cleaning, also.

I've never figured out how my parents did it. None of the tactics they used worked for me with my children.

As a teenager my mother described how easy it was to become pregnant. According to her a man and a woman could be a city block apart, but his sperm had the ability to travel highways, jump fences, and leap tall buildings toward a goal of reaching that woman. I believed my mother, and that belief kept me scared and virginal.

Years later I praised her for telling me that preposterous story to keep me on the straight and narrow.

"I didn't make that up," she glowered. "It's the truth."

I tried that yarn on my kids and they laughed in my face. They had what I hadn't... Sex Education.

My parents were loving, demonstrative and consistent in their expectations and promises. They ruled with iron hands and velvet gloves. I don't remember my mother ever raising her voice or losing patience. It wasn't necessary.

As a parent I, on the other hand, was not like my mother. When reasoning, begging, bribing, negotiating and shouting didn't get my daughter to clean her room, she returned from school to find everything she owned on the front lawn where I'd tossed it out of her second floor bedroom window; a humiliation she still admonishes me for.

My father told us daily, "Children are to be seen and not heard." So, when I had children I determined that they would be allowed to have minds of their own, and I let them know that their thoughts, opinions and ideas mattered.

And then, I lived to regret it.

My daughter was in kindergarten when she asked which dress she should wear; the pink one or the yellow one.

"They're both nice," I answered.

"No. You tell me," she insisted.

"You're old enough to decide for yourself," I prevailed.

"I can't," she whined. "You tell me. You tell me."

Thinking that perhaps she wasn't yet mature enough to make such a decision I yielded to her whimpering. "I like the pink one," I said.

She promptly selected the yellow one.

It got worse from there.

As the years passed my children's decision making abilities developed as I'd hoped they would, but I was challenged every step of the way. Rarely did their conclusions match mine, and often their decisions brought dire consequences, but in the end they were better prepared for life than I was.

The price I paid for being unconditionally obedient was exorbitant. I was in my late thirties before I realized I had the right to my own thoughts, and it took several additional years before I found the courage to express them.

Unlike me as a child, my children were not perfect. They were normal children, reaching, growing, challenging and testing. That is, after all, their role. They are parents themselves, now, and my only prayer is that the words I spoke to them so often during their formative years, have remained with them: "I hope to God I live long enough to watch you go through the same hell with your children, that I went through with you."

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