By Lisa Sugarman
There’s no way to sugarcoat it, raising children is mind-blowingly challenging. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. Parenting is bitter, it’s sweet, and it’s everything in between. It’s a 24/7, 365 job with no combat pay, no mental health days, and no formal retirement option. Parenthood is a one hundred percent baptism-by-fire commitment that’s impossible to prepare for, regardless of how hard we try.
The thing is, though, at the very same time that it’s grueling work, it’s also the single greatest thing any of us will ever do. And that’s the takeaway.
The funny thing is, while there are plenty of experts out there offering guidance and support and endless resources for how to do it “right,” being a good parent has much more to do with instinct than anything else. Because what the books and professionals say doesn’t always work in every situation, no matter how rational or sensible the thinking may be. And that’s because successfully parenting our kids is a bit of a crap shoot when you get right down to it. What works in one family with one dynamic will fail miserably in another family with different dynamics.
Any of us who’ve ever tried to follow the Standard Rules of Engagement with our kids (i.e. patience, tolerance, boundaries, etc.) knows that those things don’t always work, regardless of how tried and true the rules may be. Sometimes good parenting is just a matter of knowing your own kid and, as WebMD says, adapting your parenting style to fit your child.
Look, we all have the same goal of helping our children grow into respectable, kind, self-confident people before we let them loose in the world, but we can’t always accomplish that goal in the same way our neighbors or friends or family do. And that’s okay. In fact, knowing that it’s alright do a little Jedi parenting and let your inner Yoda guide you is sometimes the best parenting strategy of all. Because sometimes you just have to trust the little voice inside your head.
Take a situation that happened to me years ago when my youngest daughter, now fifteen, discovered the fine art of door-slamming.
Dave was away on business and my older daughter was out somewhere with friends. Libby was in a mood, as tweenage girls can often be, and didn’t like whatever it was that I said to her when she came home from school (probably Hello). That dislike of the sound of my voice evolved very quickly into her storming down the hall and into her room with, you guessed it, an insanely loud door slam.
Now this was uncharted parenting territory for me because, at least up to that point, neither of my kids were door-slammers. So my initial reaction was to calmly get up from my desk, walk down the hall, and respectfully remind her that doors are never deliberately slammed in our house. Come to think of it, I think I actually gave her the benefit of the doubt that it accidentally caught some mystical backdraft of air in the hall and slammed itself.
Well, I’m sure you can guess what followed. I hadn’t even gotten back to my chair when she did it again. And then one more time just in case I didn’t feel the tremor of the last one. Needless to say, this time I didn’t give her the benefit of any doubt. After asking her why she was obviously slamming her door to get my attention, and getting only a shrug in return, I made it unmistakably clear that if she did it again we’d have a problem. This time I took a hard line and told her that her behavior was unacceptable and that if she was upset about something we could talk it out like semi-civilized people.
She just stared me down, leaving me no choice but to deliver an ultimatum. We don’t slam doors in this family. But you’ve just slammed the same one four times, even after I nicely asked you not to. So if I were you, I’d think long and hard about slamming it again. Because if you do there’s going to be a consequence and I promise you that you’re not gonna like it. To which I got a dead-calm silent stare that followed me right out the door.
Yup, she did it again. God, kids are dumb. Love ‘em, but most of the time they’re their own worst enemy.
Ok, so what was my next move? Well, secretly, I didn’t have one. It was all a colossal bluff. I had to act fast and at least give the illusion that I had the upper hand. That’s when I knew I was going to have to think outside the parenting box and get creative to make an indelible mark on her memory of this incident. So that’s exactly what I did.
I walked, in one fluid, deliberate motion, straight to the junk drawer in the kitchen and grabbed the flathead screwdriver. Then, with the swiftness and stealthiness of a ninja, I went into her room and quietly popped the hinges off the door. As I’m sure you can imagine, she was absolutely dumbfounded.
And as quickly and quietly as I came in, that’s exactly how I left. With her bedroom door under my arm.
It lived in the garage for three days and she never even considered slamming a door again. Oh yeah, that happened.
So it’s like I said, sometimes as parents we have to go off the grid to find the right path for us and our one-of-a-kind little family. Sometimes, in order to find what suits us best we have to wing it a little. Ok, a lot.
To this day, though, single greatest parenting moment in my career.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and select Whole Foods Market stores.