Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I'm Feeling Pretty Good About Us

Several years ago I began to question the value of my bicycle helmet. I continued wearing it, of course, but was having a hard time conceiving of a scenario in which it would be necessary. Naturally, it was around this time of supreme cockiness that, while coasting into my own driveway, I hit a patch of moss which threw me to the ground with such suddenness that I wasn't even able to get a hand down to break my fall. And yes, my helmet prevented my head from injury.

So indeed, I'm fully aware of the folly of cockiness.

Yesterday, as I was preparing to head home for the day, I checked my phone to find that my 16-year-old daughter Josephine had left me a message. In it she informed me that her friend Emma, a girl my wife and I love, had an extra ticket to the Lady Gaga show down in Tacoma, that she had already finished her homework at school, and that she would be driven there and back, "kind of late," by Emma's father.

I know that most of the readers of this blog are years away from parenting a teenager, but let me tell you, it's all part of the same thing. Parenting is a long game and you'll be in my shoes sooner than you think. There was a brief moment during which I thought, Wait a minute! I'm the dad; don't I get a say in this? I tried to summon up some concern, maybe even a little outrage, but it wasn't there. Her homework was in the bag, Emma's a good kid, she already stays up "kind of late" every night, and a trusted parent is doing the driving (and as it turned out even attending the show with them). As for Lady Gaga, I like everything I know about her, with the exception of her music (too pedestrian for my tastes). 

In other words, my 16-year-old child had made her own decision. She had considered her other obligations, the company she would be keeping, the late hour, and transportation, lining things up so that she could take advantage of a surprise opportunity to see one of the world's most famous women live in concert. She's only a couple years away from what the law calls adulthood: she should be able to make most of her own decisions by now.

And that's what parenting is, after all, preparing children for the day in which they will be making all their own decisions. They are born needing us to make 100 percent of their decisions for them. You get about 18 years to help them shift to making 100 percent of their own decisions, and the only way to do this, really, is to give them as much practice as possible. This what we've been doing since she was very young, gradually playing our more and more rope, ceding her more and more responsibility for herself. Last night she made her own decision because had she waited until I could answer my phone it would have been too late to take advantage of the opportunity. I like to think I was in Josephine's head at least a little. I'm proud that she didn't feel she needed to call me for permission, but rather to inform me that she'd thought things through, how she'd thought things through, and provided me with all the information I needed to be at ease with her decision. During the past several years, I've been telling her that I always want to be able to say "yes" to her, and that her job is to make that easy for me by providing information about when, where and who, coming to me with fully formed plans, and by creating a track record of honesty and trustworthiness. She's made a habit of doing that. She made her own decision, doing so by asking and answering all the questions I'd have wanted asked and answered. This is exactly where I want her to be at 16-years-old.

I know that we remain parents our entire lives, but for me the days during which I'm her surrogate decision-maker are nearly over. If nothing else, last night tells me as much. I expect there are still parenting challenges ahead, so I will guard against cockiness, but this morning I feel pretty good about us.

I was asleep when she got home last night. She woke me up to tell me she was home and also to inform me that Lady Gaga is a genius. Genius?!?! Okay, so maybe she's not ready to make all her own decisions . . .

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Misty said...

Great line, "You get about 18 years to help them shift to making 100 percent of their own decisions, and the only way to do this, really, is to give them as much practice as possible."

Thanks for the reminder!

Kris Parfitt said...

Outstanding post Teacher Tom. I'm quite proud of you and your daughter.
Kris Parfitt

Stacey said...

Way to go Teacher Tom! You are raising a responsible adult.

From a daily reader who does not comment very often

Anonymous said...

I love this post. It really puts parenting into perspective and explains your ultimate goal of making a child a good decision maker.

Kerry said...

Love this one, Teacher Tom. As the parent of an almost-20-year-old, congratulations--it's great to know that we "dun good."