Like many women with a less than cordial relationship with her bathroom scale, I’m aware that I have a natural weight, the number my body veers toward when I forget I am on a diet. And now, after 14+ years of parenting, I’ve come to believe that I also have a natural inner parent, the one who I always seem to resort to being, despite my attempts to heed the advice of parenting books and articles, and other apparently “better” parents.
This occurred to me during the past week as I’ve pondered how to motivate my ninth-grade son to be less of what his English teacher calls “a minimalist” and what I call a plain, old under-achiever. With report cards issued and parent-teacher conferences underway, I’ve heard some parents talk about how they react to grades they believe are too low (which is often different from a universally acknowledged “bad” grade). There are phones and laptops taken away, video game privileges revoked, and even grounding.
I have considered such steps, too, but ultimately I hesitate – and not only because I’m not sure those methods work. I hesitate because after all these years, I’m getting to know myself as a parent. While I might look at other (stricter) parents with envy, thinking that they have the answers to automatically get their wayward teens in line, I know that I can only parent….as I parent. Which is to say that if were graded on “consistently enforcing rules,” I would get a B-minus, at best. On punishing, I’d probably do even worse.
My son knows it, too. When his friend’s mother asked the other day if he ever got grounded, my son said “naah, my Mom knows it doesn’t work.” He might have meant that getting grounded wouldn’t motivate him to work harder in school, but I think he also meant that we both know that grounding doesn’t work for me. I’m sort of like those goofy parents in the movie Easy A who can’t say “you’re grounded!” without laughing.
Going with my inner parent would be easier, of course, if I didn’t have doubts, which it seems that all parents of teenagers have, particularly if they ever converse with other parents. This weekend, when a mother of older teens told me that yes, she punishes disappointing grades by taking away cell phones, computers and television privileges, I went on my typical roller-coaster of doubt and started thinking perhaps I really should do the same. But when I asked her if the punishment works, and she said “Absolutely, we do it all the time,” I couldn’t help asking myself the obvious question: if you have to do it all the time, how is it working?
This brought me right back to where I am and need to be: muddling through in the way that comes naturally to me, and makes sense for my child. I am not a total slacker – I am trying to help my son with time management and discipline and meeting higher expectations. I will continue to seek out and try new methods that make sense to me. But to try to turn into a different kind of parent is a sure way to fail both myself and my child. He has to follow his path, and I have to follow mine.