I have a 12 year old. He is not quite a “teenager” but for all intents and purposes, he acts like one (which is not all bad by the way – I happen to very much enjoy teenagers). I am deeply aware that I am firmly entrenched in early adolescence with my boy. Yesterday morning, he was tired and did not want to go to church. I have felt that way many times myself, and so I decided to allow him to lay low at home while the rest of us went to church. I told him, however, that staying home from church did not mean he had permission to play video games the entire time we were gone. I understood if he was tired and needed to lay low, but I was not going to reward him with endless video game time. I also told him that I wanted him to do his laundry and clean his room while we were out.
On the way home from church, I stopped at the park with my younger two. While we were there, my 12 year old called me and asked if he could play video games. My first instinct was to say no, but I held my tongue and asked if his room was clean and his laundry was done, and he said they were both done. So I decided that since church was technically over and the other two were having fun that he could at that point, play video games.
When I got home a little while later, his laundry was running, but I went upstairs to discover that his room was not cleaned up. I was very angry and frustrated and I called him upstairs. I reminded him of the conversation we had when he called me and that he had said that everything I asked him to do (laundry and room) was done when in fact, it was not. He claimed he did not know that I expected him to clean his room. This really angered me, and I raised my voice and started ranting. But I quickly realized that this was creating more distance between us instead of less. He pointed out that I was still yelling even though he was actively cleaning up his room (which he was). So I shut my mouth, took a deep breath and went inside myself for a minute. I sat there in silence while he looked at me. When I spoke, I was much calmer, and I explained to him that I do not know if he heard me or not when I asked about his room (only he knows the truth). All I knew is that I knew that I asked him and I knew that he said it was done. I told him that I try very hard to give him my undivided attention when he talks to me instead of only half-listening because that is one way that I honor him as my son. So I know what was said but I was not sure if he was giving me the same consideration when we spoke on the phone. I explained to him that his actions made me feel like he was not respecting me, and that he was not honoring my requests. I further went on to explain to him that the next 8 years of his life (adolescence) are going to be one long string of compromises.
I told him that my ultimate goal is to raise him to be a competent, successful, independent, happy adult. As far as his room goes, when the time comes in his life that he lives alone, he can keep his stuff any way that he wishes. But when he is in college with a roommate and if he chooses to get married, he is going to have to be able and willing to live in a civilized way that these other people can tolerate. I am looking out for his future relationships by insisting now that he keeps his room clean and puts away his clean laundry. I further explained to him that there will be some things that I am willing to “give in” to his wishes on completely when I feel the opposite way (when I do not feel as strongly about the issue at hand). There will be other times when he wants something one way and I feel strongly about it and am not willing to compromise and that is just the way it is. But far more often than not, if we want to get through his adolescence not only loving each other, but actually liking each other and for him to become a successful, independent adult on the other side of it, we are going to have to compromise.
I did not really want him playing video games when he called me yesterday, but I felt that it was fair to allow him some time to play if he had done all that I asked of him.
During the rest of our conversation, he was much quieter and paid much closer attention to what I was saying (rather than just arguing), and was much, much less resistant and argumentative. We ended that conversation with us understanding each other, feeling closer to each other, and with him having cleaned his room. And we got to that place without any need for punishment because he had not cleaned his room. And I feel confident that the next time I make a request of him, he is going to try much harder to honor it.
There are five reasons why Adolescence should be renamed The Fine Art of Compromise:
- Compromise promotes a spirit of cooperation between parent and child. I hear many parents lament “the teenage years.” But I am here to tell you that there is no reason the teenage years have to be a combative struggle of “us against them.” When we are willing to compromise with our children, we feel more connected to them and them to us. Maintaining a loving connection is a wonderful way to help our children move towards adulthood.
- Compromise models for our kids how to get along with others. No one would ever advise a colleague that the best way to get what they want in the workplace is to rant and rave and insist that things get done exactly the way they want them done. Nor would we do that with our friends. Why do we get caught in the trap of thinking that is the way to deal with our kids?
- Compromise helps our children to begin making their own choices, preparing them for adulthood. When our kids were toddlers and preschoolers, we could teach them how to do something and insist that this was the way they needed to do it. (And there are many of us who can even vouch for the fact that this method does not even work with certain young kids!) But when our children approach adolescence, those are the years when they are seriously training to become adults. It is our responsibility as parents to allow them some freedom (through compromise) to begin to make some of their own choices, by not insisting that things get done the way we would want them done. And then when they make a mistake, it is also not our job to give them the “I told you so” speech, but to stand with them, empathize how it feels to make a mistake and then support them in figuring out how to address their mistake. (But that is for a different post!)
- When we compromise on some things we can more easily hold our ground on others. We can certainly hold our ground on whatever we wish, but I’m talking about when we can hold our ground and our children will respect us for it, even if they don’t like our decision. For example, I firmly disagree with allowing phones in the bedroom at night and I will not compromise on that. Even though my 12 year old does not like it, because I compromise with him on other things, he respects and honors my rule on this issue.
- When we are willing to compromise, our children see us as someone who is in their corner, standing with them, instead of against them. How many times do we see adolescents who truly think that their parents’ ultimate goal is to make their lives miserable? There is nothing that says teenagers must think that, and I know plenty of teens who do not think that in fact. The most important thing for the long-term health of our relationships with our children is that they know in their hearts that we are standing beside them, in their corner, as they grow into adulthood.
This is a mindset that I have evolved into over the past several years, through my own coaching, reading the inspirational wisdom of such people as Cathy Cassani Adams, Dr. Shefali Tsabary, Carol Tuttle and Katrina Kenison, and allowing my children to raise me into the parent I want to be as I raise them into the young adults I wish for them to be.
Erin, I love this essay for so many reasons, among them the sense of deja vu I had while reading. How well I remember almost the exact same scenarios! I didn’t always handle them this well, and there are many I wish I could “do over.” But I suspect my sons wish they could have some do-overs, too. Your boy is a lucky guy and I’m sure he learned a lot from this Sunday experience. Thanks so much for sharing your story, and also for including me among your “mentors.” (I think we mentor each other, every step of the way!)