Here is an actual text exchange that occurred between my teenage daughter and me the other night. I’d spent the entire evening seeing clients and was coming home exhausted. As soon as I walked in the door, my phone buzzed. Here’s how the text conversation proceeded:
Her: Can I get a gym pass please?
Me: How much? Ask dad.
Her: xx per month, but I think it’s more up front to register.
Her: So I can?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
Me: Ask dad
Her: Will you? He says he doesn’t have time to talk about it, but if it’s you he will because he likes you more.
Her: *read in British accent* Mother, please, you are my only hope
Me: Well—since you wrote it with a British accent and everything sounds better with a British accent….
Her: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Her (30 minutes later, after she knew my husband had come in to talk to me, but not about her gym membership): What did the beast say….BFG….Big Friendly Giant?
[I’m typing my response while saying out loud to husband…”Watch this…she’s going to freak out.”]
Me: He said, “No,” but with a British accent
Her (within seconds): Not friendly anymore, he’s the BRMLTMTAOKG BIG RUDE MEAN LOVES (son’s name) MORE THAN ANY OTHER KID GIANT
Me: Am I supposed to read that in a British accent?
Her: You don’t read it in any accent because I’m going depressed and not talking to anyone since dad hates me
Me: So should I find you a British therapist?
Before I proceed, lest you judge me for being flippant, I should point out that my daughter does not have a history of depression or suicidality, so I was pretty sure she was joking. My kids all enjoy dangling psychobabble in front of me to see if I’ll take the bait.
My laziness in this short transcript exists in my immediate and not unusual response to “Ask dad,” especially in this instance in which I believed my daughter should already know that I am the “gymnastics, dance, music, theater” parent and my husband is the “sports, scouts, gym membership” parent. Besides that, my kids all know I’m the “bad cop,” and my husband is “good cop.” Sheesh! Hadn’t she lived in this household for 16 years already? She was in clear violation of an implicit standard.
However, this was really about the fact that I didn’t want to put forth the energy to deal with it and was clearly trying to make it my husband’s problem instead. The fact is, I just didn’t want to think about one more thing.
This exchange probably sounds familiar. In fact, I can’t count how many times when I have said, “Ask dad,” my kids will say, “I did. He said to ask you,” and I have the audacity to be annoyed that he was beating me to the punch. Plus, he’s way better at being avoidant then I am, largely due to my impatience for unresolved concerns, so he can usually win at that game.
I have to admit that I know better. This is not the stuff you learn in parenting classes, folks. I have researched many, many parenting programs, and I can’t ever remember reading anywhere, “When your child asks your permission for something, immediately tell them to ask the other parent.”
If I were following my own parenting advice, I would say something mature and intelligent like, “This sounds really important to you. Let me discuss this with your father, and when we have made a unified decision, I will let you know, and we can figure out the details about cost, payment, etc. We might be able to help you out, but you will be expected to contribute…” blah blah blah.
So why didn’t I? The words take up less than a paragraph. It would have been less than a minute of my time.
The answer lies in three words: Parental Brain Fry.
We get tired. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with any emotion if she didn’t like my answer. Plus, I didn’t want to have to decide on the fly and then regret my decision later.
Bottom line: I just didn’t WANT to deal with it.
Welcome to the messy world of parenting. We’re tired. Our kids are younger and more energetic than we are. In the world of parenting, the main predictable feature is unpredictability, which is why most parenting programs are so theoretically elegant and so executably clumsy. Many parenting programs read like recipes where one of the ingredients is “children,” but there is little acknowledgment that each child brings individual temperament, preferences, and responses to the equation. It’s like adding a different spice to the recipe every time, so you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.
So, when it comes to riding the parenting roller coaster, we are inevitably going to have those crazy moments when we really just want to hand off the parenting torch for a while. That’s normal. We will all engage in lazy parenting. Cultivating a sense of humor can help you with the ride and sometimes preserve a precarious relationship with teens. It also helps to spend as much time as you can engaging in positive ways to buffer yourself against the storms of adolescence, so that when you are exhausted, your missteps won’t completely derail the bond you have created. After all, parental brain fry is quite common – even in Britain.