Suzanne Tobias: As children grow older, a parent’s role changes

09/04/2013 12:00 AM

09/05/2013 9:52 AM

What’s the best way to spend a holiday weekend?

My 13-year-old son thought hours in the basement sounded like a perfect plan – PlayStation controller in hand, “Uncharted 3” onscreen, snacks and drinks close by.

“Three days, no homework,” Jack explained with a smile Friday evening. “I could play video games all weekend if I want!”

“Just because you can,” I told him, “doesn’t mean you should.”

We’ve been saying that a little more often these days, as the kids get older and take charge of their schedules, learning to balance school work, chores and other commitments against more tempting pursuits.

Over the past several years, my parenting role has shifted from director to executive producer: I no longer call every shot, but I supervise the set and try to make sure things run on time.

My husband and I feed the kids. We buy shoes. We pay bills. We fix leaky toilets. We check grades online. Beyond that, we tell them more and more, you’re responsible for yourself.

This means brushing your teeth without being reminded. It means doing your homework and your laundry and remembering which items shouldn’t go in the dryer. It means going to bed at a decent hour and getting up on time.

It also means choosing friends wisely, spending time efficiently and realizing that video game marathons, no matter how epic they might sound, are not healthy. (Just so you know, I also think it’s OK to go a little wild sometimes – like on snow days. Game and movie marathons are made for snow days, am I right?)

Our goal, of course, is to raise young adults who can live independently, productively and happily wherever they might eventually settle. And ones who know essential life skills, such as reading maps and cleaning toilets.

Several friends recently helped children move into college dorm rooms, and I love to hear their bittersweet stories, that timeless push-pull between holding little birds close to the nest and letting them fly. I’ll be tackling that milestone soon enough.

When our children were babies and toddlers, those same friends joked that the first three years, “You’re basically on suicide watch.” Vigilance was our mantra. Every sharp-cornered table was a threat, every popcorn kernel a choking hazard. It was exhausting.

Now that they’re teenagers, the dangers are subtle but no less threatening: driving, dating, social networks, Algebra II. They navigate these new realms on their own, though not alone. My script as executive producer of this bioepic sounds more like, “How’s it going here?” or “Are you sure you want to do that?” and less like, “Action!” and “No! Cut! Cut!!”

I never ordered Jack to come up from the basement last weekend, but I urged him to think about his long-term to-do list. He ended up swimming a little, working on a school project and practicing his audition piece for jazz band.

As Labor Day ended – in my opinion, one of the year’s most melancholy holidays – I told him I was glad he didn’t end up playing video games for three days straight. For one thing, I said, I’d have missed your face.

Then I hugged him good-night because that, too, is part of the script, as long as he’s in this nest.

About Suzanne Tobias

Suzanne writes about family life on Thursdays. She has covered local news for The Eagle since 1990. Suzanne is a native of North Carolina and earned an English degree from North Carolina State University.

Find her on Twitter: @suzannetobias

Contact Suzanne at 316-268-6567 or by emailing her at stobias@wichitaeagle.com

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