It's official! Yesterday we celebrated my older daughter's eighteenth birthday, and I have successfully raised another human being from birth to adulthood. My daughter is an artist and poet. She has worked since age 14 and has never been fired or failed to take her commitment as an employee seriously. She is excitedly preparing to leave for college next month, paid in part by a generous academic scholarship she earned with her hard work during high school.
I am very proud of the young woman I raised, and I think her father and I are successful parents. However, this result doesn't mean that every moment of parenting was flawless or that we didn't have a time when we were failing miserably.
So in honor of my firstborn, who taught me almost as much as I taught her, I'd like to share a few lessons I've gleaned.
ONE. COMPLIANCE AND COMMITMENT ARE NOT THE SAME
We've always had expectations in our house about doing your part. At a young age, this related to putting away toys. Not cluttering the front entry with school bags and lunch boxes followed and expanded to include tidying the teenage bedroom. I've never achieved a commitment to these expectations at any stage. I could get compliance by helping, supervising, or threatening punishment, but the ownership always remained with me.
For a large portion of my daughter's school years, I resented her non-compliance. I experienced her lack of concern for my wishes as disrespectful and her failure to comply as defiance. I personalized her behavior as a judgment of me, which caused me to take on the work myself until the resentment boiled over, and I once again forced in-the-moment compliance. For years, we did this dance until I permitted myself to stop cleaning for her and let it go.
TWO. PEOPLE TOLERATE YOUR CONCLUSIONS BUT ACT ON THEIR OWN
As a parent, there is a strong obligation for the health and safety of your child. My daughter has always been an independent thinker and somewhat fearless. Before middle school, I enjoyed that God-like position in which she accepted my guidance. As we approached the teen years, the voices of her friends and peers held more sway. I could have a completely calm and rational conversation with my daughter in which she'd nod her head in agreement about not turning off the phone tracking app. Three days later, she'd be giving me an excuse about the app running down her phone battery, and so she turned it off. My conclusions were my own and she wasn't buying into them.
THREE. RESPECT IS THE OTHER PERSON'S TO GIVE, OR NOT
I grew up in a home and era when respect for authority (e.g., parents, teachers, law enforcement) was the social norm. I did not see myself as equal to these authority figures, and I expected swift and harsh punishment for defiant acts. Times have changed. I assumed that being a tough and yet caring and generous parent naturally earned my daughter's love and appreciation. I was greatly disappointed as her struggle with self-esteem and identity turned into an attack on me and my husband. These were the most trying two years of parenting that required professional counseling and guidance to navigate. Once we broke through our daughter's barrier to participating in family therapy, we learned to communicate with one another in a way that allowed mutual respect to re-emerge. I am so grateful for our decision to seek the help we needed.
FOUR. I AM NOT MY CHILD, AND SHE IS NOT ME
I'm not sure that Dads experience this the same as Moms, but I felt judged as a parent from the beginning. I saw my child's behavior as a direct reflection of my skills as a mother. If my child crossed a line she shouldn't have, I was responsible for her poor choice. There was a co-mingling of responsibility to teach and accountability for decisions at the heart of my parenting choices. I still remember when the therapist told me that my daughter would make her own decisions and that I couldn't control her. It was such a relief to have that burden of responsibility lifted. Additionally, I learned that I needed to let go of my self-imposed responsibilities to make everything right for her and the other members of my family. My definition of success as a mother was the biggest contributor to my own unhappiness; an extremely important lesson to learn.
I am a Gen-Xer. I entered a patriarchal work environment after college. Many of the assumptions and beliefs that tripped me up as a parent are the same assumptions and beliefs I have worked to change in every size organization. My daughter helped me see that the new parenting model is grounded in the principles of leadership. Luckily my younger daughter is reaping the benefits of my learning. So perhaps we will avoid the tumult of early high school with her.
If you feel like your workplace is a battleground between employees and management, perhaps these lessons will help you craft healthier relationships built upon respect and appreciation for one another. I can firmly say that the reward is worth the work!