Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

March 4, 2011

Socket Wrench Sets and Parenting Across the Lifespan

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 4:40 pm
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  I remember neat cases in my Dad’s workshop filled with shiny tubes and handles.  These socket wrench sets included interchangeable sockets in standard and extended depths that could be attached to the handle.  Having so many sizes of sockets insured that virtually any bolt or screw that presentes itself – you’d be able to loosen or tighten as needed.  How often do we wish, as parents, that we could re-size our parenting to fit the needs of our ever changing children?

             There are some things I do almost exactly the same as the mom of young adults and teens as I did as the mom of infants.  I cook the foods they like and often serve them (of course, they now feed themselves).  I talk to them and listen to them.  But a lot of my parenting, and I expect this is true for anyone who has parented over the years and decades of their children’s lives, has had to be regularly adjusted.  The handyman needs to find the perfect sized socket to fit over the bolt, and parents need to use different “sized” parenting to get just the right fit for where a child is at that moment in time.

             It is much easier with socket wrenches than with children.  Screws and bolts have markings on them to tell you which socket will fit.  With our children, there are no clear guidelines, we usually have to rely on trial and error.  At parent workshops, I am often asked questions like “when can I let my son cross the street alone?”  or “at what age should I let her have a cell phone?”.  Answers are difficult, because unlike hardware, children don’t come in factory arranged graduated sizes.  We can over-parent, selecting an approach that is too tight for a child – limiting their growth and independence.  We also can under-parent – failing to provide the supervision and guidance older and seemingly independent children need.  We often make mistakes when we assume that children reach developmental readiness at the same age as their peers or exactly when their siblings did.  A mature 12 year old may study and organize her time independently, and her brother, when he reaches the same age, may need much more support.

           As we struggle to make adjustments, often relying on trial and error, and our knowledge of where are children are in their personal growth,our children’s feedback is not always helpful.  The child who balks at our rules – protesting that she can do it herself – may still need support and supervision.  And even when children are, through their adolescence and young adult years saying with words that they are prepared to be treated as adults, their actions may tell us how much they need and value being the child of a caring parent.

             I have been reflecting lately, about how much thought and energy I am applying to parenting, even as my children are growing up and out of the nest.  I no longer have sleepless nights, tend skinned knees or nurse a child with a fever.  Why don’t I have hours of free time, and tons of extra energy reserves?  A relative who was recently blessed with a beautiful and healthy granddaughter told me, as she rocked the infant to sleep, that her mother always said  “you carry small children in your arms, but bigger, older children, you carry in your head”.  Hearing that, my stress, frequent exhaustion and seemingly constant busyness began to make sense.  I am not parenting any less.  I’ve not retired my set of parenting socket wrenches – I’ve just shifted from those that involved physical energy to those with more cerebral and emotional demands.

            I know the months and years ahead will bring plenty of challenges, and that I’ll continue to struggle to figure out which of my parenting tools  fit the new life phases my children are blessed to experience.  It is certainly as daunting as it was to figure out what was making my fussy newborn cry, or how I would help my shy toddler adjust to school.  In the socket wrench sets, the bigger pieces have greater weight and heft, and I worry that my parenting now may also be particularly important and impactful.  I will work on building connection and partnership with my wonderfully growing and independent children, with the hopes that time and effort investing in our relationship will afford me an important dividend – their forgivenss when I pull the wrong parenting socket from my took kit.

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