I’m not a tiger mom. My kids have been clear about the fact that Peter and I had certain expectations of them, but I have not been a demanding, meany cat mommy. I’ve subscribed much more to the school, and lived in the era, of “prasie your children for breathing” parenting. I still coo when the dog poops (he’s almost seven).
Encouragement is king. But to me, coddling is not so cool. Peter is a bit of a cajoler, while I am more of a straight shooter. I offer praise heartily, but if I have to ask you 57,000 times to walk the dog and you tell me that he doesn’t really need a walk (which has been on his schedule for his whole life), I’m no longer on your side. I think the parent child thing should be a little bit quid quo pro. We do stuff for you and our family, you do stuff for me and our family. That just seems like a good business practice, right?
But like many other parents of my generation, we didn’t demand a whole lot in this area, and I’m here to say that we probably messed up. Yes, indeed. My daughter’s room looks like her brother’s before her, a tornado of clothes on the floor, an unmade bed, papers from school strewn about like tumbleweeds. My son, who’s dorm room, I just saw for the first time this year, is still decorating in early “Pigpen”. Clothes spilling out of the closet, a bed that smells of alcohol (I took a nap in it, and got drunk on the fumes), and shoes all over the place. His poor beleaguered roommate had clothes hanging in his closet, worthy of a spread in Real Simple magazine. Yes, despite my nagging, whining, and yelling about keeping their rooms clean, I might as well have been talking to the grass in the backyard for all the good it did me, or my kids.
I once got an A on an English paper in high school. This was a cause for celebration and I was really proud of myself (I was not an A student, although I should have been). I showed my dad. He held it for a minute, and then said, “I can’t read your writing.” I will never for as long as I live, and well after I die, forget this. But I did go on to become a writer. So there’s that.
Have I failed as a parent not to have taught my children how to responsibly take care of themselves when it comes to their personal belongings? Probably. But what I’ve realized is that there are some things that can only be learned through trial and error. At some point, some roommate, or romantic partner will hate the way my kids fail to tame their mess and things will change. The same goes for Ally’s snide responses to something she doesn’t want to do that we ask her to do, or Jake’s inability to complete a task he knows is important, when he’d rather watch a game, or go to a party. There is, plain and simple, only so much a parent can do. And what we fail at, has to be learned another way–out there in the real world. Is that bad? Should I feel pangs of guilt and like Fiona Failure? I could, but I’m not going to. I’m going to stand by and encourage as the real world responses to their imperfections force them to make some changes, and secretly think in my head, “I told you so.” See, kids get it when they get it. Sometimes it’s because of you, and sometimes it’s despite you.