Each fall is new test of a parent's resolve

August 23, 2002|By Lila Lohr

EVERY NEW Year's Day, I resolve to eat less, exercise more and be a better daughter. Every September, though, I resolve to be a better parent.

Having been organized around an academic calendar for more than 50 years as a student, a teacher and a parent, I view every September as a clean slate.

When my children were 7, 8 and 10, I spent Labor Day weekend buying new school clothes and resolving to pack better lunches. I promised I would stand strong in my resolve to not allow any TV after dinner. I would not be swayed/intimida- ted/worn down by their claims that we were the only parents with such ridiculous rules.

During the Septembers when they were in their teens, I found myself taking a vow of silence. I promised to talk less and listen more. I promised not to take personally their reluctance to be seen with me, their critiques of my clothing or their renewed (or were they never-ending?) assertions that we were the only parents who didn't allow our children to talk on the phone between 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.

On Sept. 1 during that era, I promised myself (I was smart enough not to publish and distribute these resolutions) that I would either drive them to an event or not, but that I would not drive them and spend the entire time complaining about having to drive them. Fortunately, I've forgotten (or repressed) how long I lived up to that promise, but I do recall that it led to some necessary and productive soul-searching and decision-making about how many after-school activities any sane family could undertake.

In hindsight, I wish I had been more protective of their time, as well as mine. In terms of after-school and weekend activities, I think many of us have been seduced into believing that much more is better. Perhaps we are anticipating college rejections as a direct result of our child only participating in two soccer leagues, violin and tap classes.

Having shepherded my three children and hundreds of others through school, I'm here to testify that no child needs to be in organized activities every afternoon and most of their weekends. Even in 2002, children need to be able to spend time by themselves, read for pleasure and be able to relax.

Too many of our children race from event to event, convinced that they need to be "entertained" or "occupied" continually. Common sense would suggest that these same children will be slow to develop the important lifelong habits of reflection and introspection.

The September our oldest child was a senior in high school, I vowed to begin "letting go." I wasn't quite sure what that meant. But, looking back, I should have started that training earlier. Letting go and recognizing that our children need to "own" their accomplishments, their problems and their lives is hard to do. I'm afraid our instinctive parental response is to try to protect our children from any disappointments, solve their problems and, in truth, prevent them from suffering the natural consequences of their own behavior.

If your son leaves his math book at school, do you drive him back at 9 p.m. to get it? If your daughter is exhausted from too much weekend fun, falls asleep early Sunday night and isn't prepared for her science test, do you write her an excuse or even let her stay home?

These are not easy questions. All parents would agree, in theory, that we don't want to micromanage our children's lives and that we do want them to learn to make choices and accept the consequences of those choices. Good theory, but hard to uphold when your child stumbles or makes a bad choice.

On Sept. 1, my children will be 29, 30 and 32, and I will resolve to be a better parent. The issues are certainly different now, but I can still resolve to improve.

Lila Lohr is interim head of Friends School of Baltimore. She has been headmistress of Princeton Day School in New Jersey and St. Paul's School for Girls in Brooklandville.

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