Parenting is mostly guesswork. You may have theories, based on your experiences and observations. You might try and read a lot of books and articles. You may just unconsciously perpetuate whatever is normal in your family… and how that works in practice you likely won’t know for a lot of years.
This year has been tough for young humans in the UK. My son had his final school year disrupted, his A levels were a confusing, stressful time and he’s gone to university only to face isolation. He’s home now, to my great relief. I have been struck, repeatedly, by his maturity and resilience as he’s dealt with everything this year has thrown his way. I’m going to chalk this up as a great deal of parenting win, although much of it must be ascribed to his own nature, efforts and good thinking.
There are theories I had which, in hindsight, I think were a very good idea. I never did arbitrary authority – he was always entitled to question me and I was clear that he was always owed an explanation at the very least. His opinion always mattered – even if I couldn’t do anything with it, he was always heard and had a chance to comment on things. If I wanted to pull an ‘I know best’ I took the time to lay out my evidence and thinking. I never said ‘because I said so.’
I started on this as soon as he was talking. I answered any and all questions to the best of my ability with the most age-appropriate language I could find. I never lied to him. This wasn’t always easy. I’ve been open about having mental health problems and how best to navigate that. I’ve shared difficult emotions. He is one of the most emotionally resilient and open hearted people I know – so I feel that my emotional honesty has done him no harm at all. Likely the opposite.
Here we are, as he steps into his adult life. He trusts my judgement, and he knows he can query me on anything. He knows he can talk to me about anything and expect me to be honest with him. He knows he is heard and respected and that his opinion matters. He is going to be living with me as an adult for the foreseeable future, and that’s going to be fine, and there will be no great challenges because of the underpinnings we already have in place.
I’ve done a lot of things along the way that other people – including professionals around child wellbeing – have considered inappropriate. It is normal to lie to children and to tell them what to do, and I’ve been in some very odd situations over my refusal to do that. During the family court period, I dealt with a lot of disbelief around the idea that my son could have his own opinions that I respected, and that his opinions were not simply what I’d told him to think. What I’ve learned parenting is that if you treat children like they are people in their own right, this actually works well.