Just ask Sian - The dangers of being a despotic mother

I have 2 boys, now in their 20”s. They would possibly be somewhat alarmed at how often in my working days their mother mentioned them to illustrate some learning while coaching some of my client’s who are parents.  After 27 years of trying to get it right as a parent, I’m more than happy to share what worked and more importantly... what didn’t!

In the past week I’m counting up 5 people who for different reasons were focused on one child who wasn’t quite being, behaving, delivering what, as a parent, they thought they should be.

All of the following is said with LOVE… I’m not judging or criticising, I’m just sharing some stuff that might just help you get off the hamster wheel of being a worried parent.

Client one | The essence of what Mum was saying was:

My 15 year old son has a bad attitude when he’s speaking with me. He seems to suddenly enjoy making fun of things I say. I don’t know who this person is! He’s always been a good boy and has been close and affectionate towards me and now he just challenges me and doesn’t do what I ask.  I’m sick and tired of the mess in his bedroom, ironed clothes just left in a pile on the floor, dirty clothes dropped and left for me to clear up.

I’m not sure anymore exactly whom he’s hanging out with. I’m thinking there are some boys who might be being a bad influence and that’s what’s causing this change in him. He goes to hang out at their homes all the time, but doesn’t bring his friends home.

I asked for the bigger picture, who was he outside the house… school, socially.

The answer…. A Grade student, very much liked by his teachers, does very well in all the extra curricular activities and has won several prizes in school, has lots of friends, got a part-time job in a café and has a clear vision of what he wanted to do at University.

We discussed in some detail what were Mum’s values, specifically in relation to parenting. At first she had no idea what I was asking.

It’s like having a strategic plan to work from when parenting.

You know what you want them to turn out like, so you focus on the values that will deliver this amazing human being you are responsible for for 18 years. We came up with the following:

Education: Mum believed it was the most important thing she needs to focus on, otherwise “he won’t have a future”

EVIDENCE: All good there then! A Grade student with prises

Manners: Mum agreed he was socially skilled and that knew how to behave and used appropriate manners when needed.

EVIDENCE: Teachers, boss at work, family, and friends have all commented on what a nice young man he is.

Organisation: This is where the wheels were falling off according to Mum. I challenged her by indicating the obvious. How could he be achieving all of this stuff at school and at work if he wasn’t organised? Then the penny dropped. Mum believed that she was actually responsible for making it happen because she was frightened he might fail and let people down. Or the absolute worst her son wouldn’t be as perfect as she could make him! (that’s apparently being a good mum) Mmmmm……

First comment… Perfect people are a nightmare to live or work with - ask my husband hehe. Your son probably doesn’t care that his clothes are cleaned and ironed. He doesn’t care because its not something he ever has to think about, it just one of the many things that just happen, because mum makes it happen.

There is a fine line between supporting and babying sons.

Trust me when I tell you they are genetically predisposed to finding someone who will look after them (said slightly with tongue in cheek.)

HOMEWORK:

It’s time for you to reassess your parenting values, and look to see what kind of young man you’re going to send out into the world at 18.

Focus on some new refreshed values and do this in discussion with your Son.

I’m putting INDEPENDENCE on the table! What does an independent young man look like to you and to your son? What are the behaviours of an independent young man?

The messy bedroom issue… every parent I have ever spoken with apart from 2 exceptions complain about their children’s bedrooms.

This is my view and learning - doesn’t make me right but did keep me sane! By 15 a child’s room is their own private space. Parents MUST respect that. To ensure you don’t need the help of the public health dept agree a time frame for cleaning and changing sheets. Your son does ALL of that work. You as a parent get to set the benchmark of expectation for cleanliness, but sadly mum, NOT tidiness. It’s entirely up to him at 15 how he wants to live inside his bedroom. You can’t, nor should you control that space. If he doesn’t value the clean ironed clothing - STOP doing it! Show him how the washing machine works and introduce him to an iron.

There will be a day in the not to distant future when he complains about not having clean something’s, and he can’t find his favourite shirt, you notice he’s going to school with a dirty shirt and your stress levels go from 1 to 10 in a nano second. Watch the scenario and don’t react! No one worries when you need clean clothes for work, no one jumps up to look for your cream shirt that you need for the suit your wearing today, and in truth, only you know if the jumper you're wearing really could do with a run around the washing machine.

See where I’m coming from?? He needs to self manage or look like a scruff.  The truth is it’s NOT your responsibility - it’s his!

I have cried buckets and raved and shouted way too many times over messy bedrooms. Looking back, it was a waste of time and energy. It was a battle I never won and, if I’m honest, it was a lot more to do with my issues of control and guilt for being a working mum, than it had to do with clothes on a bedroom floor. It made me think I was a bad mum for not having a pristine house with bedrooms fit for a photo shoot everyday.

Now this is Sian being firm but fair! This young man is delivering on all the major values. Get over yourself! Celebrate the amazing things and stop looking for bloody trouble! Your son is exactly what most of us can only aspire to hope for in our own little monsters. He’s a good boy who’s trying to pull away from a controlling mum who has expectations that are much more about her than the issue of clothing on the floor and some eye-rolling attitude at some of the things you say. Newsflash, he’s 15 and sees the world completely differently to you. He’s supposed to create challenges between you so he can justify leaving your apron strings and finding his own independence.

New friends, bad influences? Start by asking him, then make sure your home is open for his friends to visit AND feel relaxed and welcome when they arrive. It’s the best way ever to know who’s around. This does of course necessitate you to share your home/space/heat/power/peace/quiet time, and at 15.... all the food in the fridge. You get the idea… Talk to him and invite his friends into your home.

We had a way of doing the kids in our house routine. Every Sunday by 12 noon you had to text mum with the number of people you had invited to 6pm dinner. We never questioned who or how many. The deal was we would feed and water everyone IF they contributed to dinner discussions and cleaned up afterwards. Yes, there were times when I wanted to leave and eat dinner on my own at McDonald’s, because I was tired or just wasn’t in the mood for a houseful of teenagers but those are the parenting hard yards - when you deliver the vision of how you want/need your family to communicate. Enough said!

The question I left mum with to think about was: “who are you going to be in 3 years time when your son leaves home?’ I only had to ask the question and the tears started falling... ahhhh so that’s why you were being a despotic mother.

Mothering a boy is a whole lot more than just doing shit for them!