I am the one to set the rules in summer, and I am terrible at setting up rules.
I am on vacation in Chicago where my mother lives here, and we have come to visit — and I am all too cognizant of the downside of my laissez-faire parenting style.
My boys throw the football on the sidewalk and it nearly hits passersby. They tussle in restaurants and can hurt each other. They play too often on their iPhones.
There is no homework to work on, no tests to study for, and the boys are “living free.” Where are the boundaries?
It is 4:44 am as I sit here in my hotel room and ponder how, exactly, I might handle things differently, how I might force myself — and my children — to adhere to some “Rules for Harmonious Living” that we make up at random, that might help reign all of us in a bit in the summer days before and after they go to camp.
They are begging for hard and fast rules. The older one demands that I “do something” about the younger one hitting him or stealing his hat. Ten minutes later, it is he who starts things.
“What should I do about you?” I ask. I am loath to punish, though clearly it is called for.
I consider setting up a code of conduct, but then I recall the article I just read about how kids are in college these days are depressed without the iron fist of Mom and Dad. They don’t know what to do without being told. They can’t come up with their own set of rules for living.
My Libra nature rears its ugly head, and I am stuck weighing the pros and cons of different parenting styles, so stuck playing with scales that my children will be grown and gone by the time I figure it.
But I am who I am. I do try sometimes to come up with chore charts and specific rules, but the systems that tend to stick and work are the ones the kids come up with themselves when I finally explain that I’m not going to be the one to figure it out for them. It is they who separated out the chores and decided who does what finally, which is what I remind them whenever they complain.
I know my mother thinks I should set up firmer boundaries for my boys, like she did for us. And I so wish that I was more like her in so many ways. But then, as the sun rises and I begin to pack up to head home, I remember that I am doing the best I can.
I will try to be firmer about what I believe is good behavior, but I am bound to dart and dash like a dragonfly because — for better or worse — I don’t believe in straight lines.