Covering parenting and child development issues
"The child supplies the power, but the parents have to do the steering." (Benjamin Spock)
My daughter is sick. One of those not-really-still-winter, but not-quite-spring sinus infections that makes the rounds when the weather can’t make up its mind. She’s slogging through life in general and school in particular, but she’s feeling pretty miserable.
A sick teenager is different from a sick toddler. When they’re little, you and the doctor are in charge. You call the shots and your child follows your lead...mostly. Teenagers, on the other hand, want input into the process.
This sinus infection, for example, began with a headache -- a headache that my daughter had for four days before she decided it was important enough to mention. By the time I pulled rank and insisted that she take something for the headache, the infection was nearly a done deal.
When you have a sick toddler, you keep her home, and there’s very little discussion. With a teenager who’s going to miss ten periods of schoolwork that need to be made up, it’s a negotiations process. You turn off her alarm. She complains. You promise to wake her in the morning as usual so she can make a decision, and you hope it’s the one that’s in her best interest, knowing that morning drowsiness will be in your favor.
She makes the decision to stay home, after first planning to go in late...then planning to go in later. You ask about making a doctor’s appointment and she shrugs.
The doctor prescribes an antibiotic, hoping to head the infection off at the pass and not give it any more traction. You take the prescription to the pharmacy knowing your teenager heard only the part where it wasn’t absolutely necessary for her to take the medicine just yet. She digs in her heels and you draw your final parental guideline, telling her she’s got 24 hours to kick this thing before the antibiotic becomes a done deal.
Why not just pull rank from the very beginning? I am, after all, still the parent, the one paying for the doctor’s appointment and the antibiotic and the one who has some idea of just how miserable she (the child) will be if she procrastinates when it comes to taking the medication. The one who’s been tasked with looking out for her health and well being for the past 17 years.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a big picture kind of parent. You may also know that this philosophy has to do with starting this parenting game late in life and wanting to raise a child who can think for herself.
And so this, too, is a part of big picture parenting. My daughter is in high school. She knows how she feels better than I do, and in a couple of years, she’ll be the one deciding whether or not to go to the infirmary at college, whether or not to fill the prescription and whether or not to take the medication. She’ll form her own opinions about the necessity of medication throughout her life, based on what I did without asking for her input when she was a toddler and based on what she did following my guidelines when she was a teenager.
Teaching her to listen to her body has ramifications beyond this sinus infection. It will affect how far she pushes herself when she runs or plays sports, and how far she will let boyfriends push things in other arenas. She is the owner of her body, and at 16, she has a right to some input. And if she doesn’t learn to listen to her body and her feelings, if she always relies on someone else to call the shots….well, that scares me a lot more than whether or not she decides to take an antibiotic when she’s sick.
So for now, I will take her input into account, but will retain veto power over anything that impacts her health and safety. I’ll let her argue the merits and demerits of medication with me, but I won’t let her make a decision that I feel won’t be in her best interests.
Today, she’s feeling even more miserable than she did last week. As she got out of the car after school, I asked her if she thought it might have helped to have started the medicine sooner. This time, the challenge lay in asking the question in a voice that betrayed no hint of superior knowledge, and no sense of “I told you so,” but merely posed a question to raise in future situations. Am I above “I told you so”? Hardly.
But in the end, that sort of interaction runs counter to everything I’ve been trying to accomplish.
And so it is with raising teenagers -- one simple tug on the thread can cause the whole fabric to unravel. The shrug she gave me in response was noncommittal -- proof enough that she hadn't read an "I told you so" into my response, but still not an acknowledgement that the question had done more than float in one ear and out the other.
Kid on the mend? Check. Fabric intact for one more day? Check.
I'll take my successes where I can find them.