Daddy don't you walk so fast
August 14, 2007 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I am a father of a soon to be 14y/o son and an 11 y/o girl. Both me and my wife lost our fathers when we were about 10y/o (hers died, mine split) so we are blazing new territory here. We are basically clueless as far as how we should not only discipline but simply how to act or know what to expect in terms of what is normal for both our kids and ourselves with our kids. Is there anything out there that can be used as a guide to help us understand how to parent our children without having to pay someone to attend a touchy-feely conference?

I tried Googling but can't seem to pinpoint good sites that give anything more than a "...listen to your kids and love them like angels...*sigh*" Even though that's of course sound advice, I want answers to questions like, "How did you manage when you found your kid heavy petting his girlfriend" or drugs, or whatever. What did people do, what backfired, what worked, etc etc.... Message boards are good, combination boards and info sites are better. Is there such a place or thing?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't really know where to find that kind of stuff, but my advice (feel free to skip if you don't want to hear it):

Personal opinion (from my own fairly recent experience as a teenager at home, which doesn't count as a lot, I understand) , but if they're consistently doing well in school, cut them some slack with drinking/pot & the like. Honestly, sitting on the computer and playing video games for 12 hours is worse than a night of social drinking or a bit of smoking in my book. This is definitely very individual, but as long as they generally listen to you and will do things you really want them to do (as opposed to just things you'd sort of like them to do), and are generally respectful and appreciative of them, don't underestimate the effect that just making it very clear you don't approve of a certain type of thing will have. My parents were permissive of a lot, but I'd know when they weren't OK with something, and 95% of the time I'd respect that, because I knew it was actually a big deal to them. My $0.019999.

posted by devilsbrigade at 7:55 AM on August 14, 2007

I didn't have a father either, but my kid came out alright, despite me and the wife not reading any books. Who has time to read books when raising kids and working?! You probably know more than you think you do.

Basic rules I followed:

1. I'm their parent, not their friend. It's not a popularity contest, where I have to be cool in order to be loved and respected.

2. Listen to'em. Give them choices as much as you can in their own life, but push them (example: "I know the sushi looks gross, but try several pieces first before deciding it's gross. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it again ever, but at least try it." Warning: this could backfire if they grow to love sushi.)

3. Know your kid(s). Realize that want works with your neighbor's kid might not work with yours.

4. Be firm and consistent in discipline. Explain to them why you are punishing them and how they can avoid punishment in the future.

5. Talk to other parents for ideas, espeically if they're friends of the family, they often have insight into relationships or character you might miss.

6. Don't bitch about their room, clothes or taste in whatever. They're finding themselves and you're an old fart anyway.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:01 AM on August 14, 2007 [4 favorites]

I would recommend reading this excellent AskMe thread: What does it take to be a dad?"

There are some amazingly heartfelt and open answers to that question, both how to be a dad and how not to be a dad.
posted by nelleish at 8:11 AM on August 14, 2007

A couple of books: A Fine Young Man, and The Wonder of Girls, both by Michael Gurian. We have two sons and we have A Fine Young Man and The Wonder of Boys on our bookshelf. Both have been helpful to us, especially my wife who didn't understand our boys as they came into adolescence. Based on the reviews at Barnes and Noble, though, I'm not sure Gurian has as deep of an understanding of girls as he does boys. But I like his books about boys.
posted by Doohickie at 8:24 AM on August 14, 2007

I have heard lots of good things about this book: Hold on to Your Kids.
posted by xo at 8:33 AM on August 14, 2007

Seconding Brandon Blatcher. This is how my folks raised me, and I thank them every day for it.

Also, making your kids understand that "cool" things like driving a car, staying at home alone for the night, are responsibilities. You trust them with these responsibilities, and if they handle it well, they can move on to larger responsibilities/"cool" things. My Mom and Dad motivated me by explaining this to me when I was young.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 9:09 AM on August 14, 2007

Just a couple of more things from a father of two teenagers:

1. I second everything Brandon Blatcher said.
2. Say "no" less but mean it more.
3. Never yell. Not just because you shouldn't but because in the real world no one yells consequences at you. Don't pay your taxes and the government doesn't yell at you; you just get penalized. Consequences come as a quiet yet undeniable fact of decisions.
4. Oh, and it helps if you try to "like" your kids as well as "love" them.
posted by lpsguy at 9:20 AM on August 14, 2007

lpsguy's #2 and #4 are really important too.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:28 AM on August 14, 2007

I'm not a parent but my adolescence was really bad and I think there are plenty of things that my parents did wrong (and that I did wrong, too; I'm not completely blameless in this).

The most important piece of advice I can give is to not take things personally. My mom in particular took everything I said and did to heart. She was insulted that I didn't want to spend time with the family or that I spent a lot of time in my room, by myself, reading. She thought I purposefully kept my room messy just to annoy her. She basically took anything I did that was wrong as a giant middle finger to her face. She thought it was a judgment on her when it was, IMO, perfectly normal teenage behavior.

So don't take it personally. You're the adult and you should remember that the teenage mind doesn't work the same way as an adult's. If anything, their minds work like a toddler's. I think a lot of the onus is on you to remember that - that whatever is coming out of your teen's mouth is not necessarily how they really feel.

But it was the cause of so many fights and so much tension that it's only been about 3 years now that we can actually talk like human beings (I am 27). It was very painful. I hated my parents for about seven years and I wish that I didn't.
posted by sutel at 9:45 AM on August 14, 2007 [4 favorites]

rather than setting a list of never-ending rules for you child to follow, its far better to set general principles, and that within those principles they have a relatively amount of autonomy.

sometimes kids will push against those outer boundaries just to check that they are there (and you have to reinforce that, yes, they ARE still there even though you're not on their back about it).

thus -- you must clean your room every saturday morning is a rule that is unlikely to be very successful or, if you do enforce it, is likely to cause seething resentment. in contrast, "we're a family and we'll have to clean something -- which room do you want to clean?" is far more likely to win (possibly grudging) acceptance.

the kids who go fucking nuts with booze and drugs in college are always the ones who had the strictest and most specific rules at home.

remember: principles over minutae. you've got to leave enough room for your kids to fuck up and make mistakes while still letting them know that you'll catch them if necessary.
posted by modernnomad at 11:39 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

the kids who go fucking nuts with booze and drugs in college are always the ones who had the strictest and most specific rules at home

So true! I didn't have a curfew or a set of strict (or even explicit) rules placed on me as a teenager (aside from basic human things, like "don't rob a 7-11" and "don't kill someone"), and when I went off to college I was blown away with both how common such restrictions had been for my peers, and how irresponsible they sought to become now that the rules had been lifted or changed. I'm not saying I was some amazing paragon of maturity, but aside from normal hormonal argumentative BS that usually was resolved by the next day in a round of "hey, I'm sorry I was an asshole, but I was really stressed out" or something, my teenage years were infinitely easier than they could have been because my parents saw that my grades were good, my friends weren't dying of heroin overdoses, I was applying to college, and I seemed happy enough most of the time (which, well, I was), and that there was little they could do to improve on that with lectures or hectoring.

My parents could also be convinced to change their minds if I or my brother had more information from a trusted source than they did about something. This was huge, because I knew my ideas were only as good as the information I could find to back up my side of the story (be it favoring a certain restaurant, a vacation, or a university). Essentially, I felt like I had a lot of decision-making power, at least in some areas, and because I'd participated fully in making the decision, it was both more fulfilling to know I'd chosen something awesome, and much harder for me to complain about an outcome's illegitimacy and unfairness if I decided the thing sucked (which didn't even happen that often in the first place).

So my best advice, then, is to approach your kids from a position of trust to begin with, let them build on that trust that you've already given them, and remember that they may end up being more driven and ambitious than you were at that age and may very well know more than you about a particular subject, in which case you would be wise to listen to them and reward them for their focus. Note that I haven't mentioned a "system" or a "set" of expectations or rules; the only rules I grew up with were organically derived from the trust and responsibility that I'd assumed when my parents ceded it to me.
posted by mdonley at 12:04 PM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

Seconding Hold on To Your Kids. The book both is and is not about what you are asking about. It is not a guidebook that gives you ready-made answers to common problems, but it does explain why you do not need such a book and it talks about what is *really* important.
posted by davar at 3:21 PM on August 14, 2007

principles over minutae. you've got to leave enough room for your kids to fuck up and make mistakes while still letting them know that you'll catch them if necessary.

So true. Doing stupid stuff is part of growing up. I definitely made mistakes as a teenager. Knowing that my parents had expectations for me but that they trusted me to make good decisions was key. The expectations weren't something they stated out loud so much as demonstrated through the decisions they made in their own lives.

Knowing that, in the end, they'd do anything for me even if I had brought a situation upon myself was the best feeling. I didn't want them to have to catch me, and things balanced out.

Spend time with your kids. My dad would do anything for me (still would), but he was always caught up in making enough money for us to have a decent life (he grew up very poor). Even now, when I go home and ask him to shoot hoops with me there's maybe a 40% chance he'll actually do it. He wants me to move closer to home, but he is still trying to learn how to put spending time with family over making money to support said family (never mind that all of us have jobs and support ourselves).

People say it all the time, but that doesn't make it less true: spend time with your kids (even at the awkward age when they resist it). My dad loves the Harry Chapin song (Cat's in the Cradle), but he's still trying to learn that lesson.

As for the parents as parents, not friends issue: people have different ideas about this. Personally, the idea that parents cannot also be friends to their children is a little bit scary to me. This may be because I'm older, but in my case my parents are both my parents as well as friends. Not in the sense that they try to impress me with their coolness (this was never something they modeled anyhow), but rather that I can talk to them about most things. I enjoy spending time with my parents, and I know that they will be there for me in ways that no friend my own age ever would. Maybe "friends" isn't the right word after all; they're so much more than that.

I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but hopefully it helps. I know you're feeling uneasy because you and your wife grew up without dads, but if it's any consolation my parents' fathers were both faaar from ideal. My mom and dad made a conscious decision that they were going to be the best parents they could for my siblings and me, and they figured it out from day to day. I think the main thing they did was probably making the decision to put their kids, and our family, first (even if not always in the ways I would have liked).

The fact that you're asking this question is a good sign!
posted by splendid animal at 3:33 PM on August 14, 2007

i have no experience in being a parent, so of course I have all the qualifications to tell you how to raise yours :P

So feel free to ignore everything I am about to say. But a friend of mine who has raised three wonderful kids, despite coming from an abusive background himself always says.

"Don't raise your kids to goody-goodies. Raise them to be functional members of society"

When I think about it , I would be more worried about a kid who doesn't do anything wrong, than one who occasionally slips up. I also think it boils down to respect. Don't assume your child is naive or foolish, try to teach them the skills to confront difficult situations, rather than rag on them when they do the 'wrong' thing. Of course, your house = your rules, so make sure they are fully aware of the consequences if they transgress.

Anyway - good luck!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:04 PM on August 14, 2007

I know he's been completely discredited and was in fact an abusive monster and dishonest researcher, but this book by Bruno Bettleheim is the best parenting book I ever read.

It's really just a well-written compedium of common sense advice. Highly recommend it.
posted by nax at 7:38 PM on August 14, 2007

Handling the big problems (sex too early, drugs, things that ruin lives, etc.):

1. Make sure you have your own values on what is acceptable and what is not. If you did walk in on your son and his girlfriend "petting", would you be appalled, or understanding and cautious? Be honest.

2. Play the "What would you do..." game with your wife. Discussing the scary scenarios makes you less paranoid, and also helps prevent them from ever happening.

3. Ask your kids what they think is acceptable behavior and discipline. Listen sincerely, and agree and disagree (with conviction) when appropriate. Do this early and often.
posted by lisaici at 11:42 PM on August 14, 2007

I must comment on this "your house = your rules" line. Please, it is _not_ "your" house. It is your family's house, and the kids are part of the family. If the "your house" crap gets too thick, your teenager will tell you where to stick your house, and leave. Perhaps rightfully so.

Be aware of any masculine tendency you might have to create pecker contests with your boy. In general, don't do it!

I caution in general against anything as counter productive as using chores as means of punishment. This teaches a very bad lesson that work = punishment. Don't go there.

Make every effort to avoid any punishment that is so onerous as to be life-changing. Stuff like grounding that lasts so long as to encourage rebellion is to be avoided. Teens perceive time very differently.

Don't fall in the common trap of thinking of adolescents as "children". This is demeaning and doesn't encourage maturing. Sometimes, you have to remind them they are minors, but a bit of sympathy may play well here. Adolescents really get screwed by modern society. Plenty of things to do and places are provided little kids, and plenty for adults. Too little goes for adolescents. (this was a recognized problem in the 60s/70s, but somehow seems forgotten)

Allow your young adolescents room to be childish when they are inclined. Different teens mature different ways at different rates. Support and encourage, don't push and ridicule.
posted by Goofyy at 6:49 AM on August 15, 2007

First, don't believe everything other people tell you about your kids. Have the conversations with your kids that make particular kinds of gossiping about them pointless. (This is probably on the top three list of things that me the most pain in my teenage years.)

Second, boys and girls are biologically different: Your daughter can come home and say, "I'm pregnant." You know it's hers, but you might not know who the father is. Your son can come home and say, "Three girls say I'm the daddy." You can't be guaranteed that they're his, but it's far from impossible. Having the talk is no more or less important with either of them. Talk about it!

So really, that's just one thing. Communication. Practice it now, because it only gets harder.

posted by bilabial at 7:21 PM on August 16, 2007

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