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What would your children change about you?

Sometimes it can feel like a lot of parenting is about trying to change our children. To change their behaviour, change their habits, change their attitudes. Having just come out of a rocky set of Year 11 GCSE mock exams, believe me, I have a long list of things I would like my teenage son to stop doing – and plenty I would like him to start doing instead!

But, to be fair, I am sure he could say the same of me. In fact, I know he could. He has told me often enough over the last few weeks to get off his back. And, it being New Year and a time for reflection and resolutions, that got me thinking, What would my kids change about me if they could?

So, I asked my children to write five New Year’s Resolutions. But for me, not for them. What did they think I should do differently next year?

The results were really surprising. 

I had assumed that my GCSE-bothered teenager would say that I needed to trust him more and hassle him less. Here’s what he actually came up with:

  1. Let me do my own thing a little bit more
  2. Don’t hassle me about the little things I know
  3. Do hassle me if I’m being lazy
  4. Pressure me to revise more
  5. Make me go to the gym more

Interesting! It turns out that (despite his often rude response), he actually values and wants an interventionist parent. He just wants me to hassle him about slightly different things!

Now maybe he came up with that list to please me. And maybe he is trying to get me to take responsibility for making him do the hard stuff rather than rising to that challenge himself. And when we talked it through, he wasn’t very clear about exactly how I am supposed to make him revise/go to the gym/stop being lazy. But it was a great conversation to have. I really learned something from it and felt, at least for a moment, that we were on the same team rather than opposing sides.

As a rower who is up at dawn and training ten times a week, my eldest teen is a lot more self-disciplined. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from his list. I did wonder if, being that bit older, he would try and step inside my shoes and come up with resolutions that would be good for me (rather than him). Here’s his list:

  1. Continue making me nice meals
  2. Continue supporting my rowing
  3. Don’t worry so much when I go out to parties
  4. Go out for dinner more
  5. Force me to make more of my own meals

As you can see, all that rowing makes him obsessed with food!

To be fair, there is a little bit of empathy here (wanting me to worry less and go out and enjoy myself more). And there is some business as usual – good to know I am doing some things right. But, again, a plea for me to hassle him more but about different things.

I guess what I learnt from this comes down to collaborative goal-setting. Both my teens are really clear that part of my job as their parent is to push them to do difficult things. Perhaps what I hadn’t yet understood well enough was the need to agree with them which areas of their lives needed that approach.

The teenage revolution is not quite yet complete, so I shan’t be doing everything they say. I will still hassle my youngest son to tidy his room. And I will still worry when they are at parties. But I feel a lot more confident heading towards the summer exams that making him switch off his Xbox and revise is what he really wants. Despite all the words and demeanour to the contrary!

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