[Guest Post] Parenting When Kids Don’t Listen

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Do as I Say or … (Deep, Disappointed Sigh) Don’t

by Doug Donaldson

My nephew Sean began playing baseball this past year. At 9 years old, he was a little old to start playing compared to the other kids, but he’s a fast learner and now loves the game. Even though I’m halfway across the country, I just happen to be visiting and got to watch the game where he got his first hit – a wonderful uncle moment.

Here’s the thing, though: Sean keeps dropping his bat despite being corrected at every practice, every game. His dad, my brother Todd, has told him a time and time again to keep his bat up.

Every time, he nods his shaggy head underneath the helmet. Then, inevitably before the pitch, he drops the bat.

Perhaps there’s something in a kid’s inner ear that blocks the adult voice, because Sean’s not alone. Some friends have two sons, Ashland and Wiles, who seem similarly affected. At 4 years old and 6 years old, they have rosy, apple-plump cheeks and wonderful, little angelic faces. Seriously, they look like they escaped from St. Peter’s Basilica. But with Nerf guns in their hands, these boys act more like commandos than cherubs.

One recent lazy Sunday afternoon their mother, Kara, told the boys, repeatedly not to shoot the Nerf guns in the kitchen. She was warming cider on the gas stove. When I say “repeatedly” I mean that Kara couldn’t remember how many times the words left her mouth.

Of course, after an errant shot, a Nerf bullet lands on the stove and catches fire.

At some point, all parents will discover this: Your kids will do things you don’t want them to do. Repeatedly. When they’re five years old, it’s stuff like shooting Nerf guns in the kitchen or glopping up an iPad with peanut butter. Maybe when they’re a little older, it’s something like dropping the bat. But when they’re teenagers, it can feel so much worse.

I know.

My daughter, Cassie, came to live with me fulltime before her junior year in high school. Before that, I saw her every other holiday and a few weeks during summers. I was a long-distance dad who tried to do the best over the phone, but always felt I could help her more if she lived with me. When I finally got that chance, I was thrilled. At 16, Cassie was not as thrilled.

One of the first orders of business was to help her study, get her focused on school and participate in some sort of extracurricular activity to meet classmates. I’d worked out a study-to-free time point system where she’d only get time for television and computer if she hit the books. And she was able to make the high school varsity cheerleading squad, despite not cheering before.

Over the course of her junior year, she applied herself and her grades improved and she stayed out of trouble.

Then after a heavy dose of senioritis, she just barely managed to finish school, only thanks to a teacher who allowed her to make up some classwork. After she graduated high school, her grades from her first two years of high school caught up with her. She wasn’t able to get into any of the colleges she initially applied for, and I suspect that may have jarred her much more than I realized at the time.

Yet, she was set to attend community college in the fall, if she completed a summer prep class. Turns out she skipped some of those classes – another example of not listening. Then, things got so much worse.

One day, she simply decides to leave the house. She moves in with her boyfriend. At 18, what could I do? I felt she was taking a big, terrible turn in her life. And dammit, she wasn’t listening.

Then, another decision: She became pregnant. I felt all the parenting, support, and encouragement I’d given her had been tossed aside. It was so bad, I couldn’t talk with her. Months passed as I wallowed in a morass of feelings failure and frustration. Cassie had the baby and got married.

Slowly, I tried to take steps to talk with her again. But every time we’d talk, I would think about how she’s thrown her life away. The cycle of bad feelings would spin again. Communication was difficult and I yelled at her over the phone more than once.

When I shared this anger and sadness with my brother, he sent me this note:

I understand how you feel betrayed.

Sean ticks me off when he sags his bat, ignoring the hundred times I tell him to hold it up.

I can’t imagine being disregarded in real life decisions.

You did your best to give her a good home, a good environment and the structure she needed.  You did all you were supposed to do.

Cassie just made a few bad decisions.

It looks like with the baby, and the marriage, she is trying to be more responsible.  She is just taking the long and hard road to get there.

When I was a wee lad, I remember a young man who made some not so good decisions.  He didn’t run away. He manned up and made the most of the situation.

         I always respected that guy, and I still do.

Love ya,

T

Yeah, that’s me. When I was 19, I had a child, too. Just like Cassie. That’s one of the reasons I wanted her to listen. That’s why I wanted her to do better, to be better. All parents desire to help their kids avoid the mistakes they’d made. But that’s sometimes not how life works.

Thanks to my brother’s kind, kind words I’ve been able to start the road to rebuilding a relationship with Cassie. Just a few weeks ago, I got to see my grandson, Miller, for the first time. I asked Cassie if it’d be okay if I could teach him baseball. She agreed, as both of us choked back some tears.

And do you know what? Even if he has a hitch in his swing, we’ll deal with it.

Doug Donaldson is a writer, editor, and father of four and grandfather of two. And, yes, he’s too young to be a grandfather, at least that’s what he keeps telling himself. He lives in Beacon, New York, and has about as much success getting his dog, Paco, to listen to him as his children. 

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