Illustration by Kristina Micotti
I consider right now the Goldilocks Period of my parenting adventure. While every phase of childhood has its joys for parents, this preteen phase has been as close to “just right” as I can imagine getting.
At 10 and 12, the kids are old enough to have a real conversation, make simple meals, and do laundry, but they still have enough of that essential childhood innocence to do these things without rolling their eyes at me.
While I’m already occasionally catching glimpses of that insufferable adolescent indolence and insolence, I like to use it as a reminder to enjoy this calm before the storm—and to collect evidence of their fundamental humanity, to help stave off my homicidal feelings in the future.
The biggest challenge right now is that I’ve become incredibly self-conscious about the example I’m setting. I can almost see the kids filing away all the examples of suboptimal behavior, which I fear they’ll later use to justify similar behavior in themselves. Or worse: What if they think of me as an anti-example, like people who obsess about saving money because their parents were careless financially?
I’ve always been aware that modeling good behavior is important. But lately, I’ve noticed my kids understand a lot more about what they’re seeing in my actions. And they. See. Everything.
I’ll catch Ben glancing at the speedometer and noting how fast I’m driving (too fast, usually). Or he’ll ask questions about conversations he overhears between adults—which, in my circles, tend to include juicy bits of gossip. And because my voice gets higher and my laugh more boisterous when I pass my two-glass limit, my intemperate moments now register with them.
Don’t get me wrong: Some of my favorite people in the world are lead-footed, gossipy lushes. But these probably aren’t the ideal behaviors to model as my kids approach the years in which they’ll be learning to drive and negotiating the perils of drugs, alcohol, and mean girls.
I imagined the “your life is no longer your own” thing applied to the ability to sleep in and read a book in peace—things I’m finally able to do again. But being our better selves is now the gig.
When it starts feeling a bit oppressive, I remind myself I’m not trying to set a good example so that I can have the moral authority to admonish and scold my kids; it’s about modeling what I want for them—being the change I want to see in the world, as Gandhi would say.
So instead of seeing my kids’ hot judgment as a little jail cell, I’m turning around the way I think about it. Besides, as any wise woman knows, you’ll never regret withholding unkind words or refusing a third glass of wine.