I published this post very recently – on January 15 this year, in fact – but seeing as my daughter’s 21st birthday celebration is tonight, I thought I would republish it today. Here’s to you, my wonderful daughter!
My daughter is about to turn 21 and I’m in the process of writing a speech to read at her party. I know it’s a clichéd thing to say, but these 21 years have flown by so, so quickly. One minute I was staring in wonder into the eyes of my newborn daughter; the next, I’m helping her write her c.v. as she prepares to enter the world of work.
I’m terribly proud of the person she has become. She has been relatively problem-free, even when she was a teenager. No drugs, drunken binges or smoking. Hell, she hardly even swears: to this day, I have never heard her drop an eff-bomb*.
While it’s got a lot to do with her nature, I guess I have to take partial credit for how she turned out. As a solo parent, I refused to over-compensate for a missing father, and was tough on her, but fair. And she knew I loved her to bits. I was mindful of my (non-existent) relationship with my own mother and did not want to repeat her mistakes. Sins of the mothers and all that.
So I told her I loved her. All the time. And I still tell her. I showed her I loved her by equipping her with the skills she needed to survive this world and navigate it as an adult. I was big on personal responsibility, and the consequences of choices. Still am. Your choice, I would say, but *I* am the adult and if your choice is a bad one, I will step in. When I changed my surname in my mid-30s (blog post to come) she made it clear that she didn’t want to. She liked her surname (which was mine anyway) plenty fine, thank you. That’s OK, I said, it’s your choice, but YOU can explain to other people why your name is different to mine. There weren’t too many protestations after that.
She has done well and seriously is a credit to you. You have done many good things but your daughter is your best achievement. ~ my long-time friend, Creins.
I made it clear that I was not her friend. She had enough friends: she needed a mother. This meant that I established boundaries, set parameters, decided consequences of bad choices, and rewarded good behaviour. The good thing about being a solo parent was that I was judge, jury and executioner. I let her know – in no uncertain terms – who was top dog in the household, and it wasn’t her. My default position was always no when she wanted to do something, so she learned very early on the power of negotiation. And she became very, very good at it. In primary school she decided that she wanted to play cricket. The trouble was: it started at 8am on a Saturday morning. For a working solo mother this was akin to torture, so it didn’t happen. What did happen though, was basketball on a Saturday afternoon and bowling on a Sunday morning, but not too early. Win win for both of us.
If I had to give advice to parents, I would say this:
Set expectations about behaviour very early on
Decide very early on how you want your children to behave, and communicate this ALL THE TIME from day one. How long have you been living with me, I’d say, this is not a shock to you. Don’t complicate this: keep it simple. Decide on a top three, four or five, for example, mine were:
- No lying, ever (this was a biggie for me – I hate lies)
- No talking back, ever (this was about respect and maintaining my top dog of the household status)
- Manners are not an optional extra (this extended into common courtesy later, and was useful when she was a teen)
- We are a team (and we help each other out – there are no free rides).
Decide how you want to handle non-compliance in advance, including the program of escalation, because you’ll need one. And never waver on following up on consequences. Trust me on this: you only have to call a bluff once and early on, and you will have compliance FOREVER. Because she was behaving atrociously, I remember leaving a birthday party early, with my five year old daughter kicking and screaming under my arm. She never, ever forgot that lesson.
Work out what their currency is
This is about encouraging appropriate behaviour, pure and simple (although some parents think it’s highly manipulative. Too bad, so bad I say to them and their drug-addled, sociopathic children). For some kids, their currency is sport, for others it’s books. For some it’s the computer, or dance lessons, or swimming. I learned very early on that my daughter’s particular currency was her social life, and I would make her “pay” if she needed to learn a lesson about what was appropriate and expected behaviour. This was particularly easy when she started school, because the invitations to parties were lined up on the fridge, pinned underneath their respective magnets. Pick the one you’re *not* going to, I’d say, and would start taking them down one by one, tearing them up, and throwing them in the bin. She got my lessons about what was expected very, very quickly. Fast learner, that one.
I must say I enjoyed thinking up ways to make her pay. I remember when she was throwing a tantrum at a playground when she wasn’t but two or three because we were leaving (and she had to leave her new friends). I pretended I was a reporter for the Oscars… and the award for the best performance goes to my daughter for her role in Chucking a Tantrum At The Playground, I said, how do you feel about winning such a prestigious award? Cue suitably confused child who stopped crying. When she was in her early teens, I ripped out the Families SA Adoption Hotline page from the White Pages and stuck it to the fridge, with the number highlighted. Don’t make me call this number, I’d say, I’m dialling it now! Miraculously, the behaviour I wanted her to stop would cease.
Watch every episode of Roseanne you can
Forget those so-called child psychologist aficionados, Roseanne was the best parenting expert on the planet, bar (pun intended!) none, as far as I was concerned. She was my inspiration for how to be tough, loving and creative. One of my favourite episodes was when Roseanne wanted to punish DJ for skipping school. She walked him to school wearing patched overalls and flannelette shirt, with a straw hat sporting a sunflower. To add insult to injury, she kissed him goodbye with caked on bright red lipstick. She was the master at finding creative (some would say twisted!) ways of disciplining her children. I’d refer to the Roseanne Barr School of Parenting at every opportunity. Interestingly, my daughter loves watching old reruns of Roseanne. I wonder why?
I have loved every minute of being a parent: highs, lows, joy, disappointment, anger, love. I am proud of the mother I am: I wanted to do a good job, and I did. Not perfect, mind you. But damn near good enough.
* Unlike her mother, who swears like a wharfie.