Seeking (Non) Parenting Advice
Children are funny little creatures. Between the ages of around four and six they are, in my eyes, hilarious, easy to fool and easy to impress. Once they pass about 8, things get much more complex. Especially if said children aren't your own.
This March break I find myself spending time with two such beings, ages nine and 13. There are many other kids in my life, of various friends and relatives, but these are the two I spend long stretches with. I love and feel very comfortable around them, but the older they get the harder it becomes to get inside their heads. Can real parents relate?
Having decided to have a stay-cation while most of their friends are out of town, there is a lot of time to sit around and think up things to do. This tends to louden my inner voice calling out, do they like spending time with me? Do they like my cooking? Why don’t they put dishes in the dishwasher? Are they bored? Do they think my ideas are dumb? This morning I suggested taking the dog for a hike, one kid agreed but I fear only because she’s being polite and the other said he just wants to watch TV.
Being a non-parent, I have a unique perspective. I don’t worry about the things their father does, like how they’ll buy a house when they’re older or will they get caught up with a bad crowd. Or I think about them in a different way anyway. I am no parenting expert (who said anything about parenting? That’s not what this is.) but when I first met the little darlings a few years ago I developed key guidelines for my own behaviour that helped set us off on a solid path:
- Kids are like animals – they smell fear. The best way to develop an authentic relationship is to not try too hard. Let them come to you.
- Be honest. There is always a way to give kids the real story, even if it’s a very simplified version of it. This allows for learning opportunities and growth. Most importantly it makes them feel respected.
- After the age of about 5, don’t treat them like kids. Treat them like regular people. I’m learning that when given the opportunity to think like a grown up they start acting like one. The 13 year old in my life keeps showing me she’s more mature then a few 50 year olds I know.
- Be careful with discipline. Unless they’re behaving like hellions and setting fire to the sofa, it’s tough to send them to their room and you might just be setting yourself up for a good dose of, “you’re not my mom!”. I find a gentle approach of telling them how I feel when they do certain things or letting them know it would really help me out if they’d take out the garbage makes them feel accountable and will usually get you what you want.
- When in doubt, serve white food (pasta, bread, chicken strips, Rice Krispie squares).
- Above all, be a friend. Being interested in their lives and letting kids know you can be a sounding board and source of support is the foundation of a lasting relationship. (It’s also an opportunity to learn what’s really going on in the world. I had never heard of Kik.)
As the kids in my life age it seems my guidelines need expanding as I sense I’m becoming a bore. This is something I didn’t anticipate. As we get into the years of being obsessed with all things related to boys, girls and their iPhones, I sense a waning interest in anyone over the age of however old Taylor Swift is. (Which is a lot younger than me.) I can’t get them talking the way I used to. Sometimes I don’t know the answers to their Crack Trivia game app (why does anyone need to know who invented the bi-focal?) I could use some help. Please send your thoughts and survival skills, especially if you have unique ideas for what to do on a cloudy Friday afternoon! In the meantime, I’m making them go for a hike.