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Learning to parent from the back seat

By MIMI BECKER

Coffee with Mimi

There are some functions of parenthood which captured my heart as well as my sense of parental duty. Babies can’t bathe, dress and feed themselves. Providing for these needs takes quite a lot of time and energy right when you are sure you don’t have it. What you have of it, is sleep deprived. Yet, the simple act of a warm bath, fresh smelling pajamas, a quiet rock and last feeding of the day wash away all doubts.

Fast forward through all the years of childhood. There is a constant flow of activities and demands from all angles. Each child seeks his or her own path which parents must negotiate. There is a fine line between encouraging the exploration and knowing when to step in to head off a painful or inevitably undesirable outcome. Sometimes subtlety in parenthood is not warranted and angry fallout from a flat out refusal must be withstood.

The problem is you never know which is which, and when is when, at the time. It is definitely not as easy as a bedtime routine. The reckoning in the short term is often overshadowed by the pace of life and years later you think, if only I had…

Sometimes things work out in our favor and with a wry chuckle.

At this stage of life, our role as parents is officially, advisedly, conducted from the back seat if we can manage it. Life isn’t swirling around our living space. Yet, the parent radar is accurately sensing the changing weather patterns in email, text, phone calls, or lack thereof.

In recent weeks, our children have all faced grown up decisions. Just as we did at the same stage in life. Move or stay put. Buy or sell. Change jobs. Change careers.

Of course, we have opinions. Pretty good ones, too.

I’ve learned with one child to have both opinions. Whichever argument the child has at the moment, I agree. You think you should buy a new house and sell your current one, why? Sounds good. You are considering staying and adding on, why? Sounds good to me.

Saying “no, you can’t be a Ninja, or whatever, for Halloween because I do not have time to make a costume and I will not spend money on such,” was a whole lot easier than keeping my opinions neutral about a monumental purchase and life altering event such as a house purchase. Sure, it is their house, but don’t we always feel responsible for our offspring’s choices? Forever.

Weeks pass. House decision unfolds and is resolved. Buying new, renting old. Will you help me make new slipcovers? Sure. Now this is a topic on which I will definitely offer a solid opinion. Neutral color, sturdy, washable, replaceable fabric (you have dogs). I am not the least annoyed that such a mundane matter, one which requires relatively few dollars and a weekend of time, was the one on which I was specifically consulted.

If I had taught her to sew when she wanted a particular Halloween costume, I wouldn’t be spending the weekend with her and sharing her plans for the new house now. Sometimes, we accidentally do the right thing while defying the experts The problem is we don’t know that at the time and one size doesn’t fit all.

Coincidentally, another child is also facing some living space choices right now. Different child. Different story. You want to live in that part of town? You will need a roommate. The roommate wants a first floor apartment, the second floor unit has a fireplace. Which is more important? You like your furniture, tell her why. Compromise is important, but living arrangements affect your outlook on life. You need to be clear at the outset of any successful deal. My advice was sought on every detail of the search for the perfect solution to a new home.

The minute by minute progress of the process was discussed in multiple phone calls. Second, and third, guessing abounded. I was running out of answers to the multitudes of options and issues being considered.

Finally, a decision was made. First floor, her furniture, roommate gets covered parking. I didn’t know that was a point of negotiation. Moving end of December, will you help?

Sure, hauling furniture and boxes in the cold will be my pleasure.

But, Mom, the roommate has a strong personality with strong opinions, and so do you. You can’t arrange the furniture the way you want. Well, how about that? My child who considers all others before herself has determined the parameters and laid down the rules. For me, too.

For me, being a parent is a never ending quest to figure out how to be a parent. There is no assurance that what I did, or said, yesterday is the thing I should do today.

The Pollyanna approach would be that they keep asking. Instead of worrying they got the wrong advice, or no advice, or did the exact opposite of the advice, I should be happy they communicated at all. It’s my parental pleasure to figure out the rules of the day.