Parenting 101: A parent’s job is not to make her child happy.
Apart from the difficulty of making other people happy, anyway–trying to control other people’s emotions is pretty much always doomed to failure–happiness, as a goal, is much too transient, much too shallow.
R was probably no more than two years old the first time I had to suffer through this lesson. He needed to take antibiotics. He refused to. Brute force wasn’t working anymore and was also really, seriously unpleasant. So I waited him out. Sixteen years later it still sticks in my memory as some of the most miserable hours of my life. It took about two, maybe three, hours of me saying, “The next thing that I am going to do is help you take your medicine,” and “no, sweetheart, you may not have a snack (story, playtime, walk, video, diaper change, NAP!) until you’ve taken your medicine,” until it was finally in him and we never had to do it again. I spent a lot of time wondering in the moment whether maybe threatening to spank him and/or actually spanking him would be less like torture, but in the long run, I had no regrets. He took his medicine after that, every time it came up.
When he was nine or so, I got to be the mean parent again. We moved to Florida. I can vividly remember being in the car with him as he told me that Florida was a place where people came to die and that he didn’t belong here. It made me laugh, but I did feel bad. But we didn’t move here because I thought he’d be happier here–I thought he had a better chance of getting a better education in a state where I could afford a private school for kids with learning disabilities. I was right. But he wasn’t happy about it.
And then when we moved to our current house, he told me no. He didn’t want to go to the school I’d found for him. He didn’t want to move again. I told him I was sorry he felt that way. Because I’m the mom and it wasn’t my job to say, “let me give you everything you want, let me do what you think will make you happy.” It was my job to look at the choices and do my best with my adult knowledge to do the thing that would help him most in his journey to adulthood.
All that ought to be comforting. And it sort of is. But sometimes being the parent is really hard. I wish I could just make him happy.
Hampshire College in Massachusetts is his first choice of school. But they didn’t come through with the kind of financial aid that would make it possible without him accumulating many, many thousands of dollars in debt — well over the $20K that might be reasonable and up into the $50K range or higher. Part of me wants to be a wishful thinker about it — someday maybe I’ll start earning serious money again and be able to help him pay off those debts — but a lot more of me thinks bankrupting your future because you liked the college town environment is absurd. And so I’m being the bad guy.
It’s really hard.
But Parenting 101: It *is* my job to raise him to be a smart, responsible, independent adult, capable of making realistic choices. My wishful thinking would not serve him well. I will survive being the bad guy this one more time. I do hope it’s the last, though. I’m sick of being the bad guy.
My mom told me throughout my young life that she loved me with all her heart, but she was not my friend, she was the parent and I was the child. I hated some of the choices and decisions she made for me.. By the time I finished college and was working and on my own we did get the chance to be friends. She was my best friend, the person who taught me how to make my way in the world with and without her. With her was better.
Be the good parent a little while longer, the fun and friendship will come soon enough. Oh, and when the time comes, you can spoil his children with no remorse.
Ah, I so look forward to that grandparent stage! It’ll be a lot more fun. 🙂
Matt Davis said:
Hang in there Kid! As a grandparent I can assure you you’re on the right track. It sucks, but somebody has to do it. Just be thankful you don’t have a partner that wants to be the buddy leaving you to be the bad guy alone. Not fun. But it does get better, especially when your child becomes the parent! (PS- Love your books!)
Hey, Matt, sorry I didn’t see this before, but thanks for the encouragement! And I’m glad you like the books!
Judy, Judy, Judy said:
More parents don’t understand this than do. And they think I;m weird for parenting this way.
Oh, yeah! It seems like everyone around us is simply taking on the debt. It turns out that the government makes you go through a great little learning module before giving you loans, though. Type those numbers in and it shows the compound interest, the years it’ll take you to pay it off, the amount of money that you’ll be paying every month, etc. I wish I’d known about it before I started lecturing him about debt, because the reality got a lot clearer after we started typing numbers in!
Being a parent is really hard at times. For me, it was having to strip a feverish child of their clothes because they would have a convulsion if I didn’t, while the child cried and said I was making them cold. Every. Single. Time.
I feel for you.
Oh, that sounds grueling. But convulsions are terrifying!