Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good Parents

We just had our two eldest grandkids with us.  I realize I don't have a lot of parenting experience.  I was Ben's mom and I'm Sam's mom.  That makes two kids.  My two grandkids aren't a bit like Ben OR Sam.  (who is?)  I also spent decades teaching Sunday School for 2 and 3 year olds.  TnT aren't 2 or 3 any more!  They are 10 and 12 and they need a LOT of attention.

They live in Portland, OR and we live in Chicago, IL so although we love each other very much, we don't really know each other very well.  We felt each other out, gingerly.  I asked myself, "What do they need?" and they asked themselves, "What are Baba's rules and how seriously do we have to take them?"  

The answer to my question is limitless and the answer to theirs, apparently, is "not many and not very."  I told them I had only one rule: Respect.  We must respect ourselves, each other, the planet, other people, other people's things etc. etc. etc.  They thought that was pretty cool.  Only one rule!  And immediately began testing to see what that meant.  

What that one rule means, as it turns out, is: constant, non-stop examination and discussion and reflection.   Is it respectful to oneself to allow one's sibling to annoy, tease or insult one?  NO.  Is it a respectful response to that annoyance to slug them until they cry?  Well, probably not.  Let's talk about this.  What would be a more respectful way to ask that person to stop?  Hmm.  Tough question.  Slugging just feels soooo good.  Well, how about if we change roles?  If you are teasing your sibling, how would you like to be asked to stop?  

This requires further conversation into the subject of "respect means actually honoring your sibling's request prior to getting slugged."

Then there's the question of bad language.  What words are appropriate for a pre-teen to use?  And why do we giggle so much when we think someone might possibly be about to use one of the forbidden words?  They arrived on my doorstep with a firmly ingrained list of forbidden words.  I assume these were decided upon at home.  Which adds another question to my list: What are the rules their parents feel strongly about that I should be endorsing, but with which I (as an aging hippie) have no real, personal connection?  So I have the silent, invisible presence of my son and his wife.  I'm trying to translate their rules into something understandable from the comments of my two astonishingly young grandchildren.  There's not a lot of mature understanding of WHY the rules are what they are and I suspect some of the rules are made up on the spot for the convenience of one or the other sibling.  I'm pretty sure, "We get to spend any money we find on the floor at the corner store" is not a rule in a household where they are very particular about what goes into their children's mouths.

Still, by the end of their stay, we were making some real headway into understanding each other's boundaries.  Our conversations were getting shorter, I had only to shout, "Respect" several thousand times a day and seemed to be getting shocked and thoughtful faces and better behavior.  We had discovered our own acceptable swear words and there was a lot less giggling. These included, for example, "What the Cermak do you think you are doing?" and (for some reason) "Oh Howie Mandel, I stubbed my toe."  And we had established that money on the floor almost certainly fell out of GC's pocket and should be returned to him.  (Grandpa Charley)  However, money can be earned by performing various chores and ONE trip to the corner store a day is acceptable since a modicum of junk food is almost required when visiting grandparents and there's nothing in the house but salad and stuff. (Oh groan, Baba's food is BORING!)

What I never did seem to make headway on was a clear definition of truth. Truth for them is a very soft subject.  Their truth may be defined as "The story that is going to get me in the least amount of trouble."  They did learn to ask first.  My mantra was "If you ask, I'll probably say yes.  If you don't, I most certainly will say no."  They had trouble believing that no means no, but I think they were sort of getting that as well by the end.
I adjusted, they adjusted.  I think we are approaching mutual respect and understanding - which is a very nice addition to love!

Good parenting requires that you pay enough attention to your kids to know what kind of parent they need you to be today.  This is the reason why there are at least 365 different theories on parenting - they are each right about once a year.  It also explains why there are no perfect parents - no one can surf that shifting wave perfectly every time.

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