31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Kids Hold Parents In The Palm Of Their Hands

Single with Children: Kids hold parents in palms of their hands

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 09/25/02

A friend recently told me about a magazine cover on a parents journal she saw a few years ago in which there was this outstretched, oversized hand of an infant holding two much smaller figures, which happened to represent the baby's parents. The point was that many times it is the children who hold the real power.

I thought about that picture and, even more, about the theory it implies. And then I considered how much more power that child's hand could possibly possess were the parental figures in that hand pared down from two to one. To say the balance can be a little out of proportion is more than an understatement. If we have more than one offspring, we're outnumbered!

Let's face it, parents work very hard to make their children happy. It's an innate response, and we're not simply talking about small children here. It would seem that just as our kids grow up in size and weight, they also grow in expense. That cute little plastic barn with the sweet little animal figurines might have been a delightful present at 3 years old. At 15, it's the mega cool, steel truck outfitted skateboard that brings a smile approaching the one that used to be delighted with the $5 Slinky or bottle of bubbles. In my own experience, I'm lucky if that skateboard is still usable after four months, and that's a generous measure of optimism. Usually they break and crack long before I would ever have imagined.

This begs the question: Where do we draw the line? When is "enough enough?" and how often do we employ good financial common sense and use the word "no?" I know that for me it's a hard word to mouth, and I'm pretty certain it takes more out of me to say it than for my teenagers to hear it. They seem to recover much more quickly. Why is that? Because I have a feeling it's their job to ask for the moon, and sometimes we mistakenly believe it's our job to deliver it, on a silver platter, with a few stars thrown in as a garnish. Common sense flies out the most available, open window. Haven't we all seen it whizzing by?

Another form of control that is common in one-parent families was so eloquently illustrated when a friend recently shared her greatest fear in assuming the role of single mother. She told how, in the first couple of years she was head of household over her three middle school- and high school-age offspring, she was almost frozen with fear at the possibility she would somehow disappoint her children and cause them to no longer want to live with her. She had just gone through a very painful divorce and lost the love of her life. She couldn't imagine what she would do if her children suddenly decided that they no longer wanted to live with her.

For a while, she jumped through hoop after hoop and fetched everything she possibly could in order to cater to their wants, long after taking care of their essential needs. One day, after an especially exhausting day at work, one of her kids casually mentioned that if she didn't get the item of the moment, perhaps her other parent's home might just be a good place to move. Her daughter knew instinctively which buttons to push and it nearly always worked like magic. But my friend, on this day, found she was spent, not only financially but emotionally as well.

Though trembling on the inside, this very tired Mom marched up the stairs and with every ounce of courage she possessed, firmly but kindly informed her daughter that she would simply not be able to fulfill this latest wish and that, if this young lady was truly miserable living in the home she had worked so hard to lovingly establish and provide, Mom wanted her to be happy and was willing to help her pack if that was the choice she wanted to make.

My friend reported you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Her daughter had expected no such response and had no intention of following through on her idea to move away from home. It was on this day that the power shift occurred and equilibrium was achieved. Of course, she said, when she left her daughter's room after making this bold offer to help her pack, it took hours for her heart rate to return to anything resembling normal. It was, however, a necessary gesture in order for her to re-establish control.

Sometimes, the frightening actions we must take also are the most critical and essential. It's funny, but when someone asks me how to handle a given parenting situation, I could easily give them a very reasonable, grounded, even psychologically correct response without batting an eye. But let that same question come up in my own situation and, factoring in the emotions, feelings and deep love that involves being a parent, the easy answers become fuzzy, blurry and anything but rational.

Love has the powerful ability to mask our clarity. It makes a mockery out of objectivity and ability to reason. As parents, we have to hold on tight to the reins that steer us toward the best decisions for our children. Sometimes, it's a wild ride, and you have to hold on for dear life.

I'm finding it more important as time goes by and my kids grow up to focus on the wisdom of a well-placed "no" and all of the free and wise lessons that go with this two-letter word that is not a rebuff nor a measure of how much I love my children.

The most amusing part of it all is that while I'm still obsessing over how painful it is to deliver the bad news of a "no," they have not only completely recovered but also have moved on to contemplating the next item they can request before I catch my next breath.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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