ABOUT BEING THE GROWNUP
Children need adults to survive. This, despite the profound change our digital era has wrought on family life, remains the essence of parenthood. Being the Grownup: The Natural Authority of Parenthood begins not with what should be, but with what is: If you are a parent, it is your job to provide shelter and safety, to make decisions about education, childcare, health and nourishment, to create the habitat that is the context and crucible of family life. Being the Grownup helps parents translate their determination to care for and protect their children into the clarity they need to communicate authority with a firm confidence, whether for bedtime, screen-time or mealtime. Just as she would in a clinical conversation, the author shifts the focus away from disciplinary strategies and back to the core of parenthood, the relationship between parents and children as it evolves, moment-to-moment, from the dependence of infancy to the autonomy of young adulthood.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
Being the Grown-up: Natural Authority
It was time to leave the playground. I was 26, pregnant, and the stay-at-home mother of a 2-year-old. My husband and I had just moved to a city that was hundreds of miles away from any family or friends. I knew no one else with a young child. My son was happily swinging, but it was time for lunch, and soon after that, the battleground of nap time. When I told him that it was time to leave, he said, “No, I don’t want to go; I want to swing, I want to swing.” After at least two more failed efforts at verbal persuasion, I lifted him off the swing. He cried and squirmed out of my arms and finally threw himself on the ground and kicked and screamed in a full-fledged tantrum. I wanted to cry myself. As I write, through the window I can see a little girl and her mother walking a Chihuahua. He stops several times and refuses to walk, and finally she picks him up--just as I did with my son. What were her alternatives? What were mine?
It was an ordinary moment, but a stressful one. Despite my experience with children as a big sister of six younger siblings, I was new to this relationship of parental authority. Not knowing what else to do, I carried him, arms and legs flailing, the blessedly short half-block home. I was grateful that the playground was empty. How could it be that hard to get a 2-year-old home? I had obviously stayed at the playground too long and now this tired and hungry little boy was incapable of pulling himself together. And it was clear that I didn’t know how to help him. Still, I made a decision for his well-being and my young family’s routine. I carried it out because I had a feeling of authority. I knew he needed lunch and a nap. And so did I. This was the moment in my own development that I understood what being a parent meant, even more than struggles over sleep when he was an infant. He was more of a person now; he could push back at my authority with words. Stressed and upset and alone as I felt, I knew that I had to be the grown-up in our relationship.
If you are long past the days of wrangling 2-year-olds, daily instances in which you are forced to be the grown-up are more likely to do with technology, meaning all that happens on screens, big and small. What if you discover that your daughter has participated in bullying on Snapchat, for example? What do you do? It is not as simple as picking up a toddler, as stressful as that can be for a new parent. Technology presents one of the hardest parts of being a parent in the 21st century; it is the boon and scourge of family life, affecting every parent and child in some way. Nevertheless, while dilemmas related to technology may be difficult, in the end, they are not that different from almost any other moment of parenthood. Why? Because as a parent, you are responsible for your child, and that responsibility gives you authority. If you are like most parents, you become desperate for the right strategy, the right technique. But what if it turns out that it’s not strategies that make the difference as much as something else? This book is about that something else. I call it the natural authority of parents, that is, the simple fact that you are the grown-up in an always changing and long-lasting relationship of responsibility and dependence.