Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My parenting is weak, but apparently only 50% of the time

So, I'm a sucker for quizzes. No, not the quizzes you need to study for - I'm no good at those. The quizzes I like are the ones that, in 20 questions or less, are "scientifically designed" to tell you more about yourself in 10 minutes than you've figured out your whole life.

But I think there's something to them.

I happened upon a Assessing your Parenting Style questionnaire that was supposed to figure out what kind of parent I am based on how I answer a bunch of questions. (Obviously heavily based on the Baumrind Parenting Theory that labels parents into one of three categories: authoritarian (telling their children exactly what to do), indulgent (allowing their children to do whatever they wish), or authoritative (providing rules and guidance without being overbearing).

In this case, there were four choices: Eagle, Labrador Retriever, Grizzly Bear and Sloth. (I was pretty sure I wouldn't end up as that last one, and if I did, then of course the quiz would be considered a piece of crap.) It was put together by Walt Larimore, M.D. and author of the book God's Design for the Highly Healthy Teen.)

The quiz was based on two major components: Parental Warmth/Receptiveness and Parental Demandingness (is that even a word? Spell check says no, but I'll let it go since the guy's apparently an M.D.) Subsections of Parental Warmth/Receptiveness included a) Love and Respect and b) Affirmation and Appreciation. Of those two sections, you had to check what sentences applied to you, i.e. I frequently communicate to my child that I love him or her; I pay attention to my child when he or she talks to me - even if it means stopping what I'm doing; I thank my child for doing things without asking, etc.

Parental Demandingness questions revolved around a) Media (i.e. amount of exposure to TV/video games/internet/cell phone) and degree of parental monitoring, and b) Boundaries and Expectations, which involved knowing where your child is after school and on weekends, being aware of his academic performance, how often you eat dinner together and if he has chores around the house.

So this started to go down innocently enough. I began the quiz, and was immediately stumped. Hmmmm.... this one applies to my oldest, but not my youngest. This one is definitely how I am with the youngest, but not the oldest.

The light bulb appeared over my head, but didn't turn on - yet. I thought, "well, maybe I need to take this twice - once keeping in mind my oldest son and again thinking of my youngest." So I did.

At the end of the quiz, you tally up your two sections - Parental Warmth/Receptiveness and Parental Demandingness, and based on those two individual sums find out what kind of parent you are in each area. I did that for each, then compared the two. Your style could be one of six: Strong Eagle (high warmth and demandingness balanced), Average Eagle (moderate warmth and demandingness balanced), Weak Eagle (low levels of warmth and demandingness balanced), Grizzly Bear (more demandingness than warmth), Labrador Retriever (more warmth than demandingness) and Sloth (low warmth and demandingness).

That's when the light bulb turned on. But not in a good way. Because here's what happened. No, I wasn't a Sloth (thank you, God) with either kid. BUT, my assessment was dramatically different between my oldest and my youngest. And I have to admit, it didn't make me feel so good.

I mean, I know you have to have different parenting styles to a certain extent with each kid based on their personalities and needs. With my youngest, I was labeled a Strong Eagle in Warmth and Receptiveness and an Average Eagle in Demandingness (that word is really killing me). The warmth and receptiveness part didn't really surprise me - my son is very affectionate and seems to feed on positive reinforcement and generally just wants to please people. He makes it very easy to hug and praise and encourage. I GET what I GIVE in his case.

I was only an Average Eagle in Demandingness since I allow media two hours or more a day (hey, that's ALL MEDIA), but I did score a point for the fact that he didn't yet have a cellphone. So overall, OK parent. A decent balance between affection and boundary-setting. Yay, me.

Here's where the light bulb blows up, sending shards of glass showering down on my head. My oldest is the proud son of a Weak Eagle ACROSS THE BOARD.

WHAT? Crap. Major fail. I looked back at my quiz and compared the sections. I hadn't checked "Frequently communicate to my child that I love him." What 15-year old likes to be told they're loved? Yuk, right? Uh, no, ya Idiot. You NEED to tell him, whether he outwardly likes it or not.

"I enjoy reading and talking to my child in a warm and friendly voice." Well, sure I ENJOY it, but when do I get to DO it? I'm usually nagging on him to do something basic for the 50th time and yelling at him for being late/not walking the dog/smelling funny.

And left unchecked was also, "My child is comfortable coming to me when he is experiencing any one of a host of emotions." I was pretty sure up until now that the only emotions he experienced around me were disgust, indifference and resentment. MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE I'M SUCH A WEAK EAGLE. In fact, my "Parental Warmth"Score for my oldest son was HALF of what it was for my youngest.

Now, I just discussed this enlightening observation with a friend of mine who laughed hysterically when I acted surprised at these results. "Of COURSE you treat them differently! Do you not see that?" I guess my answer is, "Of course I know that. I just didn't realize how much." See, my children are very different (as most are). How I parent one of them doesn't necessarily work for the other.

My oldest, though he needs affection, doesn't necessarily like to be bear hugged like my younger one does. Where I have failed is in finding some sort of affectionate gesture that doesn't make him cringe - a high five or fist bump, or something like that. My father wasn't very affectionate with we kids growing up, but I remember sometimes he would walk by me as I was stretched out on the sofa and wiggle my big toe. A simple gesture, but it meant the world to me.

And as far as demandingness, what put me over the edge from "Average Eagle" to "Weak Eagle" was that a) my oldest has a cell phone and b) I'm not vigilant about making sure it's not in his room at bedtime. Honestly, I'm going to cut myself a break on that one, since it seems to be me against every single outside media force. I tend to refer to my parenting style with the oldest as "picking my battles".

Here's what I did take away from Dr. Larimore's assessment. I know I parent differently. I know to an outside person it seems as if I am harder on one of my children than I am on the other, and quite possibly I am. I do agree that I need to up the ante with the "warmth factor" between my oldest and me, but I do think that both of them require different parenting styles based on their individuality. My oldest son sometimes needs more of a "my way or the highway" approach, whereas my younger son would wilt at my sometimes militaristic tactics. I don't expect either of them to be like one another, so why should I parent equally?

I don't have the answers. But one day, when we're all sitting at Thanksgiving dinner and they decide to bring up all the horrible parenting moves I made during their childhood, I'll simply tell them, "I gave you what I thought you needed, and I can honestly say I did the best I knew how to do." Now I'm going to go surprise the hell out of my oldest by upping my warmth/receptiveness factor and see how that all goes over. Wish me luck.


1 comment:

  1. I found your post because I was looking for a picture of a parent hugging a teenager and you had one. I hope you don't mind but I was planning to re-post it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/familyejournal.

    Also, I read your post and I really enjoyed how candid and honest you were. That really does take guts and like you said, you're doing your best and giving your kids what you think they need. Good for you and I'm sure you'll have a blast at Thanksgiving in the years to come.

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