Sunday, September 27, 2015

Judy - Implementing the TRC Bank #27


TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO MAKE DECISIONS


The TRC bank (Trust, Respect and Confidence, see Try A Little TRCallows parents to fulfill their primary function, that of mentor. By instilling values we teach them to make correct choices. Lloyd and I always felt that by age fourteen they should be able to make most of their own decisions. As mentors, we didn’t work hard to raise a bunch of independent thinkers only to clamp down on them when they started to think independently.


One spring we bought new bunk beds for the boys’ room. I listened as Lloyd discussed with 13-year-old Aaron how to arrange the room. Aaron asked, “Where should we put everything now?” Lloyd answered, “Well, it’s your room. How would you like it?”


Aaron thought a few minutes, then with Lloyd’s help they moved around the furniture. When they were finished, Aaron had done a good job of putting together a livable bedroom for himself and his brothers. But not matter how it looked, it was now his room, and he kept it cleaner than he had before.


Homework is another area for developing confidence.






I didn’t have to remind them to do it; by the time they were in middle school they knew better than I the stomach-churning consequences of unfinished assignments. Their homework was their business, not mine. I knew I would have resented it intensely if they came home from school and nagged me about the dishes not being done, or inquired sarcastically when I was going to make my bed.


This was not to say we were not extremely interested in how they did. If they brought home a poor grade, I hied myself down to the teacher to understand what happened and what we could do about it. And we helped when asked. I saw Lloyd struggle mightily with “word problems” and I had my share of typing late night term papers, and of course science fair projects often turned out to be major family undertakings. But in general we tried not to thrust our eager help on them uninvited.


The same went for bedtime, within limits. I tucked in the little ones with songs and stories, but by age 12-14, their bedtime was more their own affair.


They could stay up as late as they wanted until 11:00 pm, which was lights out. They could get up as early as they wanted and most of the family was up by 5:30 or 6:00 because of paper routes and early classes. Having said that I have to add that I’ve seen cases where kids have so much homework they are up till the wee hours of the morning. I think this is terrible, and parents should intervene if possible to avoid this situation. If there’s nothing you can do, I don’t see any harm in letting them sleep all day on Saturday if they can.  





I didn’t feel I was abdicating my role as a parent when I let my kids determine their own choices. On the contrary, besides making deposits in our TRC bank, I was preparing them to leave home successfully and be independent. Decisiveness is a skill we learn by making decisions, some of which may turn out to be wrong. After all, they do have “teenage brain” which is undeveloped and not quite mature. But it’s much better to make a few wrong choices while still at home where we can help than in the unforgiving world outside.


When I mentioned to other parents that teenagers should be able to make most of their own decisions, there is usually a gasp and a shocked, “No way! My son/daughter couldn’t possibly...” It that’s true, it’s because the parents have not taught them how or let them try.


WITHDRAWALS


Parents do have to make TRC withdrawals at times by setting rules for the family. We found it much easier to set limits before the teen years. We didn’t have many rules, but were were serious about the ones we did have. I tried to save my TRC withdrawals for important things and not expend much energy on trivial matters like haircuts. Or course your idea of what is important may differ from mine. So decide how strongly you feel about an issue before you make an issue of it.


Some of our statutes were unpopular--no single dating before the age of sixteen, for example. We acknowledged their feelings but still expected them to obey. A common statement heard about the food at the dinner table was, “You don’t have to like it; you just have to eat it.” The same principle applied to family rules.


It was especially beneficial if the kids themselves could help formulate the rules as much as possible. As a family we tried to foresee and discuss potential problems. If 11-year-old Ben asked, “Mom, what would you do if I shaved my head and pierced my eyebrow, nostril and tongue?” or 17-year-old MaryRuth asked, “What if I went out on a date and didn’t come home till 5:00 am?” No matter how outrageous the possibility, I tried to remain calm and discuss consequences. Talking it over ahead of time would, I hoped, head off the actual occurrence.


But not always. Once I was home, reading a book and minding my own business, when Ben came home and said, “Look what me and James did at the mall!” I looked up and saw he was wearing an earring. For once I was caught by surprise and my careful facade shattered. I screamed and fell off my chair. Ben quickly exclaimed as he helped me up, “Not really, Mom. See they’re fakes that peel right off. Although now I know how you really feel about it.” Because we laughed about it later, this experience turned out to be a deposit and not a withdrawal.


If we can live and let live as much as possible, instead of trying to direct their every move, we can go far to bridge the generation gap as well as make necessary deposits in our TRC bank. I can testify that it is even possible to enjoy your child’s teenage years.





Sunday, September 13, 2015

Judy - Try A Little TRC #26


When some of my children were teenagers, they came home from school one day and told me about a big discussion they’d had at lunchtime. Their friends had enumerated all the things their parents did that drove them crazy. They mentioned such parental foibles as refusing to let them choose their own friends and clothes, nagging them about chores and schoolwork, and showing a general lack of trust and respect. My kids said they had nothing to add to this litany of complaints and felt left out because things were different at our house.




I remembered with gratitude a speech I’d heard from Stephen Covey many years before. I’d never forgotten it and tried to live by it. Covey said that in any relationship, but especially with our teenage children, we have a TRC Bank. The currency in this bank is Trust, Respect, and Confidence. As in any other bank, we need to keep the deposits ahead of the withdrawals. Whenever we demonstrate trust in our children, respect their abilities and opinions, and show confidence in their decisions, we make deposits. When we have to rebuke them, criticize them, or even just set limits, we make withdrawals. If we have not made enough deposits to cover those withdrawals, our relationship is overdrawn and on the way to bankruptcy. On the other hand, if we have a healthy balance in this bank, we add to their self-esteem and strengthen our connection.


One summer I worked part-time in the women’s section of a large department store. While there I saw the same scene enacted repeatedly: a mother and her teenage daughter waging a fierce argument over which swimsuit to buy the daughter. Looking at the suits, usually I couldn’t see much difference, even in price. I could understand the objection if the daughters wanted something totally sheer or a string bikini, or if it cost the earth. The argument, however, was usually over taste--the mother’s versus the daughter’s. These mothers were making withdrawals on already shaky accounts over something that was essentially unimportant.


I wanted to shout at them, “For heaven’s sake, she’s going to wear it, not you!” I knew when the girls were forced to submit, they would be resentful every time they wore that blasted swimsuit.


When my own girls wanted to buy swimsuits, I assumed they knew our standards of modesty, recommended what they should spend, and let them do their own shopping. They were capable, intelligent girls, and their taste in clothes differed from mine because the current styles were more important to them. If they did make a mistake and buy something horrible, they soon knew it by the reaction of their peers without my saying a word.


Of course I didn’t teach them to buy clothes that summer. Even in first grade they had definite ideas about what they liked to wear. When we went shopping, I mentioned price and modesty and then let them choose their own clothes.


There are many other ways we make TRC deposits and withdrawals with our kids.


TRUST


I once heard an example of parents not trusting their son, a 13-year-old seventh grader. Two of the boy’s classmates accused him, as a joke, of threatening them with a knife in English class. The vice principal investigated and was about to call his parents when the teacher said the accusation was ridiculous and nothing had happened. The boy was relieved because he told my son, “My dad never would have believed me. He would have believed those other guys, and I don’t know what he would have done to me.” Whether this was true or not, he believed it. He honestly thought his father had no trust in him.


I’ve been asked, “What about friends? What if your child suddenly takes up with a real scumbag?” When I was a teenager, one of my best friends had a boyfriend her parents didn’t like. They constantly criticized him and finally forbade her to go out with him. Like a Victorian heroine, she left the house with her friends, then left us to meet him. We watched this go on for months and often talked about it. Frankly, we didn’t like him either. Our teenage wisdom told us her parents were going about it all wrong. “If they had trusted her,” we told each other, “she would have seen by herself the kind of guy he was.” Eventually, she told us she was only dating him to spite her parents because by then she didn’t like him either. Meantime, she had wasted nearly a year on that loser.


RESPECT


Our neighbors had a teenage daughter who babysat for her two little brothers after school while her parents worked. She told my daughter she didn’t mind babysitting so much, although it was hard to clean the house, do the laundry, and fix dinner when she had a lot of homework. But what infuriated her almost to the point of running away was being taken for granted. Her parents disregarded her efforts, and treated her the same as her brothers--ordering her to go to bed, criticizing her clothes, etc.


As I listened to this girl talk to my daughter, I could see she was crying out for respect and appreciation. Her parents could have made large deposits in their TRC bank if they had treated her as a third partner in the family organization. They had given her many adult responsibilities with no adult rights and privileges. I knew two other families in almost the same situation, and in both cases the girls left home prematurely: one married at sixteen and the other ran away and got pregnant. A little appreciation would have made a big difference.


A less spectacular but still important way to show respect for children is to believe them. When mine told me they didn’t feel well enough to go to school, I always let them stay home and it never got out of hand.

Once my 10-year-old daughter had just had a new haircut. As she was about to leave for school, I said, “Your hair needs brushing; let me do it.” When I brushed it all the curl went out of it, and she sank down on the stairs in tears. She sobbed, “I just spent an hour trying to curl it with a curling iron. Now they’re going to say I look like a boy again!” I felt terrible for her and I said, “Honey, do you want to stay home this morning? We can fix your hair, and you can dry your eyes. Then I’ll take you to school at lunchtime.” And that’s what we did. On the note to her teacher I said she wasn’t feeling well that morning--perfectly true.


I shudder to think what would have happened to our relationship if I had ignored her feelings, rushed her out the door because she was going to miss the bus, and sent her off to school in tears. Admittedly this was easier for me because I wasn’t rushing off to work myself. But even if i had been, I like to think I would have found some way at that moment to ease her bruised feelings, maybe simply by acknowledging them.




CONFIDENCE


One day Kristen, 15, came home and told me about a conversation she’d had with a friend at school. Her friend had complained, “Don’t you hate it when your mother tells you to do the dishes, then says, ‘Be sure to scrape the plates and don’t forget to turn on the dishwasher.’ Don’t you hate it when she tells you step by step as if you didn’t know anything?”


Kristen replied, “I sure would if it ever happened.” She told me she was glad that when I gave her a job, I let her do it. In other words, I showed confidence in her ability. She had been doing dishes, as well as many other chores, for years and by now we both knew her capabilities.


I saw the sad results of too little confidence and too much parental interference among my college roommates. One of my first roommates agonized every morning about what to wear because her mother had always laid out her clothes for her. When she left for college without her mother, she was in trouble. Several other girls could not make themselves study because the habit had never been internalized. Their parents had always told them when to study and how to do their homework. Suddenly, there they were, far from home and on their own, nobody nagging them to hit the books, and they folded. Because their parents evidently had no confidence in them, the girls failed to develop the necessary skills and confidence in themselves.



Today we would call these people “Helicopter parents.” It’s my belief they do their children no favors. I would even go so far as to say they are crippling their kids’ ability to navigate in the real world.


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