The note that greeted me on a particularly stressful Monday started this way:
Dear Mom and Dad:
I am not a child anymore. I am 13, not 3. I do not like being treated like a baby because I am not one and I do not act like one. At some point in every parent’s life, they must let their child learn from their own mistakes. I think, along with many other parents and students, that time is now. I’m a grown-up so treat me like one.
There were several other paragraphs, complete with angry punctuation; it didn’t take a handwriting expert to see that the boy was mad. So what prompted my cherub to take pencil to paper and write his Monday morning missive? Me.. Yep, I had the audacity to make him go to bed before midnight on a school night. What kind of mother does that??
Now a little back story. We had just returned from Spring break where the rules flew as free as our hair on the beach, so having to tamp down on Sunday seemed especially cruel to Cole. The last straw came when I heard him VC’ing (video-chatting for the uninformed among you) with his cousin. At midnight. On a school night. I’ll let that sink in a moment.
After I went upstairs and took the laptop, he ostensibly went to sleep. Now I know he wasn’t sleeping; he was penning his mission statement.
The thing is, with a kid like Cole, “Because I said so” is as useful as lips on a chicken. It just doesn’t work. You need to be calm and rational and explain, in multiple steps, many times, why things are the way they are. And so that’s what I did when he came home.
“Cole, I have no problem with you setting your own bedtime. I think it’s a great idea in fact. But what you must know is that with privilege, comes responsibility. So you can stay up late but I think you’re going to be pretty tired from your job.”
“The one you’re going to have to get in order to pay for your part of the mortgage. There’s also the food you eat, the Internet you use, oh and let’s not forget the cell phone.”
Cole’s eye grew large as he mentally tallied what he was up against. I continued.
“Since, you’re not old enough to work outside of the house, what dad and I will do is come up with chores that will be the equivalent of those costs. By my count, you will probably be working from the time you get home from school until you fall in bed at night, which will probably be around midnight. I don’t think you’re going to have time for those other things and even if you did, you’d be too tired to enjoy them.”
Cole protested a little but like I said, when you explain things to him, he gets it. My boy got really quiet and introspective; this was not going at all like he had planned.
“Mom that’s not fair. What kid has to pay a part of the mortgage and all those other things?” I did not bring up the fact that earlier in the day, he had called himself an adult. In writing. Several times.
“Being a grown-up isn’t fair. Mommy would have liked not to face the health challenges I have had, but it didn’t work out that way. I would have liked for the last several years to be a bit easier on our family, but that wasn’t in the cards. Cole this is what life is. What being a grown up is. It’s not all fun; at times it’s really hard work.”
We sat in silence for just a few seconds though it felt much longer.
“Don’t be in such a hurry to grow-up, bud. There’s plenty of time for that. Right now enjoy being a kid and all the things that go with that. Yeah, you have to follow the rules and obey your parents but you know something? As parents go, we’re pretty cool even though you don’t think so right now.”
Cole didn’t say much but he got it. How do I know? Because later that night when he was sweaty from playing hoops and riding bikes, he lay down next to me and told me so. Reluctantly, he agreed to chill out on the growing up thing for now. I figure that will buy me roughly 45 days to work on my next eye-opening example.
What about you? Have you ever had a child in a hurry to grow up? What did you tell them?
More from GEM:
I’m thrilled to be partnering with Hallmark in 2012 for its “Life Is A Special Occasion” campaign. Of course, the characters in my rantings are real and the opinions are all my own.