As a new parent I recall the sympathetic looks that often flashed my way when I tried, sometimes more successfully than others, to corral two preschoolers. People would quip lightheartedly, "they just don't hand out a manual when they send those kids home, do they?" Or, in more stressful moments overhearing during a fray that "there really should be a permit required before some people are allowed to have kids."
When the girls were younger, upon learning the class called "Love and Logic" was being offered locally, my husband and I embarked on our first structured parenting class. Surely, our path had been previously travelled by others far wiser, so why not learn from experience? The class soon clued us in on the beauty of allowing kids to make choices, like whether they wanted corn or carrots for dinner, and how shifting control on small decisions often diffused parental frustration. We learned too that natural consequences offered a meaningful alternative to "I told you so," and our vocabulary adjusted, extending words of sympathy to a freezing kid who just happened to refuse a coat on a sub-zero day. Merrily we sailed toward tween years, still firmly at the helm of the ship.
Recently, realizing the choices have become more complex than "juice or milk with that?" I was intrigued by the Family and Intercultural Resources Center (FIRC) offering for an "Active Parenting for Teens" class. Sure, it may have been the fact the whole concept of "logic" flies in the face of adolescence, or maybe recognizing that "like" is more than I can muster during some of our trying teen moments. Since the kids had graduated to new experiences, a parental brush up seemed in order. Besides, this surely was my kind of class. Written on the welcome page was a true welcome, "we know your schedules and life get crazy, please join us even if you arrive late."
When I told the kids I was off to a parenting class they initially pleaded with me not to go. What if someone actually saw me there? Or worse still, what if I actually knew some of the other parents? Their fears were not unfounded. It seems many Summit County parents of teens are willing to once again sit in a classroom chair, one size too small, for a couple of hours each week in search of pearls of parenting wisdom. So popular is the class that an extra session had to be added, something the folks at FIRC kindly accommodated.
The first lesson from our first class wasn't really related to a specific parenting skill at all. Instead, I learned it's OK to acknowledge that the answers to the teen years (and beyond) are not innately imbedded in a mothering gene that only I have not fully developed. There's also great comfort in knowing we're not alone in thinking there must be more to learn out there.
One of our first homework assignments was to take time to have fun with the kids. So I did. When they asked me what I learned in parenting class I calmly explained our teacher thought it important to expect nothing less than complete submission (and adoration) from our teenagers. Maybe that was not the kind of "fun" our facilitator imagined. Our daughter didn't buy it either. She was however fixated on the fact we learned full development of the cerebral cortex typically doesn't occur until the age of 26. We then both imagined all the behavior she thought she just might be able to pass off on brain development for the next 13 years, or so.
The day following class our oldest made an off-the-cuff comment that it's really "weird" that we are the only thinking species that studies how we think. I then thought we likely occupy the same weird spot as the only species that takes the time to examine how we parent. My thanks to FIRC for letting us be weird together.
Cindy Bargell lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.