Jacksonville, FL

Parenting Decisions Keep Getting Harder and Harder

Modern Parent

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Zach Lucero
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Decisions, decisions. So much of being a parent involves making decisions — some easier than others.

It starts on Day One. The moment you give birth. What will you name your baby? Will you breastfeed or bottle-feed? Use disposable diapers or cloth?

As your child grows, so does the need to make bigger and bigger decisions. Will you send him/her to preschool? If so — which one? Enroll in half-day or full-day kindergarten? Expose him/her to sports, music, or other extracurricular activities, and at what age? When will you allow your child to stay home alone — while you run to the corner store, go out to dinner, or even for longer periods of time?

Deciding on boundaries for teens.

The teenage years become more complex. Will you set a curfew? If so — what time? Will you allow your child to drive when he/she becomes of legal driving age? How will you discipline when rules are broken?

Every one of these decisions is obviously made on a case-by-case basis. Kids are all different, and so are their parents — their values, beliefs, and personal circumstances.

- Some decisions are based on what others are doing, like whether your friends and neighbors are allowing their kids to ride bikes to the pool.
- Others are based on necessity, like whether you let your child stay home alone from school, sick with a cold, because you can’t miss work.
- And often times, decisions are based on pure gut instinct, like whether you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when you’re put on the spot with a late-night phone call and your child is asking to sleep over a friend’s house.

Now add alcohol to the mix.

Some of the toughest decisions arise when kids are toying with the idea of underage drinking. Not everyone goes through this phase, but I suspect more kids do than their parents care to know or admit. Looking back, I can recall the circumstances of our oldest child’s entry into this phase of her life. The friends she’d had since middle school started to cut her out of things and stopped inviting her to gatherings. She started coming home from school for lunch because she had no one to sit with.

Months later, everything smoothed itself out. Her friends welcomed her back into the fold, and her social calendar was once again full. Little did we know at the time, but the reason her friends had temporarily cast her aside is that she wasn’t willing to do some of the things they were doing at those gatherings. They didn’t feel comfortable having her at a party when they were drinking, and neither did she. Once she gave in to the peer pressure, she was back in the club—an unfortunate but timeless reality of the teenage years.

Here’s where it becomes most apparent that decision-making is rarely black-and-white. Shades of grey become the norm. What do you do when you discover that your child is drinking? To make sure they’re safe, will you pledge to pick them up from anywhere, anytime, with no questions asked? Or will you ground them if they get busted? Prohibit them from hanging out with certain friends? At certain houses? And what will you do if they want to drink alcohol at YOUR house?

That’s one decision that was never hard for us early on. Even though we were more aware and more lenient with our second and third kids, we were never known as the parents who allowed kids to bring alcohol to our house. That was a no-brainer, as it was just outside our comfort zone.

Admittedly, with our oldest, we passed judgment upon the families who hosted teenage parties. We didn’t understand how they could condone such behavior and put their families at risk if the police were called to their homes. Hadn’t they seen the signs posted around town that read, “Those That Host Lose the Most?” Even worse, what if one of those kids was involved in an accident coming from one of those parties? Most of us know at least one young person who tragically lost a life due to drunk driving—a parent’s worst nightmare.

There seemed to be a pact amongst the parents who decided to provide a safe place for their kids to experiment, an unspoken code that my husband and I were never privy to — as if we, too, had been excluded from a seat at the lunch table.

In retrospect, we’re grateful our kids had somewhere to go other than our house. We live in a close-knit community and know most of our friends’ parents. Whenever someone got into trouble, there were plenty of adults around that had their back. It wasn’t uncommon for the adult host of a teenage party to call another parent to come to pick up a kid who’d had too much to drink. And kids’ car keys were always collected at the door. So, even though I never wanted to be one of those parents who allowed kids to drink in my house, I found comfort in the fact that those that did were keeping my kids safe. If they’re going to do it, I’d rather have them doing it in a safe environment instead of sneaking into an unsupervised house, a public park, a car, or who knows where. That’s how I learned to stop judging.

Sometimes the decisions are unknowingly taken away from you.

I remember at one point with our oldest — the summer before she left for college — wondering whether we should expose her to the effects of alcohol before sending her off. I’d even had a conversation with my husband that perhaps we should sit her safely around our kitchen table and give her a few beers so she would know what it felt like to lose control.

- Before she wasn’t surrounded by a group of people who loved her.
- Before she was gone from a town where many people knew and cared about her.
- Before she found herself in a frat house with a group of new friends who may or may not have her best interests at heart.

That was until I realized she’d already been there, done that. I roll my eyes now at how naïve I’d once been.

The advantage of hindsight

I’m in the home stretch now. All three of my children are legal adults, and only one is still not 21. Those years of parenting teenagers have been the most challenging by far. I know I’ll never stop worrying about them, but I imagine it eases up after they gain their footing as adults—at least for longer periods of time.

Worry is part of the job, and when you’re in the midst of it, it doesn’t matter what you’re worried about. I’ve endured just as many sleepless nights worrying about whether my kids would ever sleep in their own beds or make friends at a new school as I have to wait for them to arrive home safely from a school dance or hoping that they’d get into the college of their choice.

The anxiety and emotion that you pour into parenting remain pretty consistent. The consequences are what continue to grow in magnitude. That’s not to minimize the early decisions in any way. If you’re a new parent trying to get your newborn to take a bottle, that’s stressful. Parents of toddlers have their hands full trying to teach their children to be more self-sufficient and get along with others. Teaching kids to tie their shoes, learn to read, and share their toys requires just as much stamina as coaching them on how to be kind to others, stand up to bullies, and say ‘no’ to peer pressure.

But somewhere along the journey, something interesting happens. The element of choice that once rested solely in the hands of the parent transitions to the child. Not all at once, but slowly with time. Instead of making decisions for our children, we begin teaching them to make them on their own. And when you get to the point where I am, you realize how each one of the decisions you’ve made along the way plays some sort of role in forming your children’s decision-making skills.

Moving forward, the choices they make in selecting a college, a career path, a partner, and a lifestyle are all part and parcel of those that were made for them earlier. I look forward to seeing how that plays out. What will my kids do with their lives? Will they find a fulfilling career? Get married? Start a family? Where will they choose to live? To travel? How will they spend their spare time? Will they give back if they can? Hopefully, they’ll understand that the choices we made for them were made in their best interests — even if it didn’t seem like it at the time.

Letting go of the influence you have over your children can be liberating and disappointing in the same breath. It’s like passing the baton in a relay race. You do your best in getting to the next leg of the race, and for a while, run side-by-side with the next runner until you’re both ready to make the exchange so he/she can continue without you. But even when they’re running on their own, the ground you’ve covered to get them there plays an important role in how they approach the finish line.

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