I learnt quite some time ago to choose the fights I have with my son carefully. Every phase of his life, there was at least one constant battle I was fighting with him about.
Battles are common, big and small, and it's impossible to avoid them altogether. There are basically only two types of battles - the ones that really aren’t worth fighting and the ones you can’t afford to lose. As adults, we have a better understanding of keeping the peace when we can and drumming up the noise when needed. So why do we sometimes unnecessarily allow minor issues to turn into massive issues?
Sometimes, after conversations turn into arguments, and everyone has had their time-outs, we look back, and we can't even remember how the arguments even started. But words have been exchanged, tempers flared, and relationships a tiny bit strained. Why we do this? We don't mean to, but I think the stresses of life contribute to the minor sparks, and we make it a big deal.
I'm a single parent to an only child. I made a conscious decision not to be a parent that nagged. I knew this wouldn't work because all the nagging will only end up being background noise. Incessant nagging would only make it difficult for my son to differentiate between the critical issues and daily tantrums we'd both be having. I needed my son to really listen to me on significant matters.
Normally, I'd play out what I would say and what my son would say and have a mock conversation in my head, even if it was just about cleaning his bathroom—a little crazy but what I thought was necessary. I needed tack. I didn't want to say things I'd regret, and I didn't want him to feel pressure for stuff that didn't really matter.
But then I realised that all the pussy-footing, strategising, and treading lightly was a bit bullshit! As long as there are no health, safety or other dangerous risks involved, I decided to let my son make his own decisions and then let him face the consequences for his actions, if any. Doing this, I found that there was nothing to fight with or against.
Our kids are not our enemies. We don't need to win every battle, every argument. It's a learning process for both of us. Staying out of their way to make their own decisions allows them to grow. We are here to help them grow.
I just decided to let some things slide. I mean, what are we talking about here, messy rooms, sleeping all day, up all night, constantly on junk food...these battles are not even worth fighting about when you really think about it. You have not failed as a parent if they don't follow the norm of what people would do. They are in the process of growing up - some are okay, and some need to express their rights to have a messy room or be able to say no to family outings or follow you to the grocery store. It doesn't define them as human beings; they just need space to find their own way and individuality. At least, that's what I think.
I followed the saying that I'd heard a million times before - Don't Sweat the Small Stuff! And I'm glad to report back that we're both happy and we actually enjoy each other's company!
These are the few battles that I choose not to sweat!
Bedroom Mess & Equally Messy Bathrooms
My son used to be a neat freak. So very neat it was almost borderline OCD. He used to have everything in place, vacuumed his room weekly, wiped down all surfaces, and have absolutely no clutter in his room - it was perfect, and I was very proud that I didn't have the same issue that I had heard about teenagers' messy rooms. But now, he's gone over to the side of the spectrum. Initially, I couldn't stand it, so I cleaned his room for him, but then it got a bit too much, and not forgetting, the whiff of socks and feet I'd get every time I opened his door was painful. I realised my constant nagging about him cleaning his room only fell on deaf ears, so I stopped. It wasn't worth the stress.
I stopped saying anything about his room and let him have the freedom of staying in a pigsty if that was what he wanted. I'd sometimes tell him how funky it smelled, but that's as far as it goes. As long as the mess and smells are confined within his space, I'm okay. Now he cleans it once in a while when it starts to bother even him!
I don't even want to mention the state of his bathroom, which he keeps saying is clean. For now, I'll imagine that that bathroom doesn't even exist!
Spending Time Together...... Especially With Me!
He used to jump at every opportunity to go out with me - even if it was as mundane as going to out to do the laundry. Now he hardly wants to step out the house, or his room.....unless its to see friends! I used to force him, and there was so much resistance that our outings became not so enjoyable. It was pointless. Sometimes, on our lunch or dinner dates, if I make a slight detour, I can feel his energy change without even looking at him or him having to say anything. I understand that it can be a pain tagging along with when he has no interest to do so.
So I go everywhere on my own now, and once you get used to it, it really is okay. If I REALLY need him to follow me somewhere, to family gatherings, for instance, I give him a heads up two weeks in advance.
This was a big one for me. I was truly concerned about how he managed his time and how it would affect him in his adult life. It's even worse now with online schooling. I use to tell him his routine was out of whack and what he should do about it. He used to get quite defensive whenever I asked whether he has squeezed in time for his studies and revision. I was not happy with the hours that he was keeping, so I was on his case ALL the time! It was not a happy time for either of us.
But then I realised that he is not me. We don't have the same schedules or do the same things, how was I supposed to know what was right for him? When I stopped being on his case about his sleep routine or time management and decided to have faith and trust that he'll figure it out on his own, I started to slowly see that he himself was trying to find a routine that was best for him. It was not a routine that I would pick, but it suited him and his priorities.
When my son started retreating into his room for lengthy periods of times and conversations between us became fewer and fewer, I honestly thought something was wrong. I'd prod and probe relentlessly, but he wouldn't budge. I spent hours on the sofa wanting to be available for him, waiting for him to come out of his room wondering if it was something that I had done or something he's hiding from me.
Every time he'd come out and say a few words to me, I'd try and hold him from going back to his room. It was lonely and alien to me. At every opportunity I'd get, if he's walking in the door, coming out of his room to grab a drink, I'd try to force full-blown conversations with him, but nothing was working, and I was just left feeling hopeless.
Only when I decided not to try so hard, was when he'd come out and sit with me for a couple of minutes chatting about his day or what happened in school. Now every time I need to speak to him, I'd actually tell him that I need to speak to him about something and to let me know if he's free to talk about it. I think he appreciated this more which made me realise that he is growing up and has emotions and needs as I do and I should respect that.
The Occasional Staying Home from School
We're not talking every day here. This one applies to those occasional times when he needs to just, be. We've all been there. Sometimes, we just want to stay home to take a breather. Life can sometimes be overwhelming. But when it comes to our kids, when they say they would like to stay home for the day, we sometimes force them to go without even asking why.
I used to make sure my son went to school every single day even if he didn't feel like it for some reason or another. He didn't ask to stay home often, but I didn't care; he was still going to school. I'd tell him he'd feel better once he's in school, but then I put myself in his shoes.
For the past year or two, every now and then, I'd wake up to long notes left by my son explaining why he didn't want to go to school on that particular day. They were not often, but they were important and necessary for him, so I let him. I let him sleep in if he wanted to.
But I do make sure that he e-mails his teacher, explaining why he isn't in school.
His Immediate Future Plans
I had one heated 'discussion' with him about his future, and I said what I said because I cared and only wanted to help. Listening to his side of the argument and dissecting what I had said made me realise that it would be best to allow him to explore his options on his own since he was on an exploratory route.
I have since stopped being persistent in knowing about his college planning and career path options but he will bring up the subject on occasion when he needs advice. I've learnt to listen more, give my opinions carefully when needed, and if he genuinely wants my advice, then he'll ask for it and gladly give it. The last thing I want to do is shove him in a direction I THINK he wants, or even worse, in the direction I think he SHOULD.
I am very confident that my son is capable of making pretty good decisions on his own.
By choosing my battles carefully, my son now knows that I mean business when I do give him my opinion on something - that, and I have a tone I use (which he is very aware of) for special occasions when I genuinely want him to sit up and take notice.
As a parent, I believe that it's important to note there are times that we do need to push them, and there are times we need to back off.
It's essential to allow the process of growing up to happen as it should, to allow him to have the freedom to be who he wants to be and not who I want him to be.