Parts of Speech

November 10, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Dinner Debates, Parenting

We had the rest of the festival of Eli here this weekend with a kid party of 10 thirteen year olds. It began with skating and ended with the barbarians staying up all night. I woke up once when the house was finally quiet, and after checking discovered that they’d headed down to the Dorset Green to perform for the Inn’s webcam. One can only imagine what antics they got up to in front of that camera. I am almost afraid to go the post office where I will surely hear. I may wait a couple of weeks until whatever they did blows over and someone else’s kid starts a round of gossip about them and their parenting instead of mine.

When did parenting become a verb? We had dinner with some folks this weekend who were longing for the days of benevolent neglect and kids running wild and enjoying their teenage years without the benefit of much adult intervention. I could not relate. Well, sure my own teenage years were a mystery to my mom as I wandered in and out of trouble that she never even knew about. My dining partner this weekend supposed that the entrepreneurs and artists and problem solvers were being squelched by all this silly attentive attachment parenting. I disagree.

Everyone I know has at least a couple of marriages under their belts. We joke that we are the Prozac nation and how many families are gearing up for holiday celebrations with dread? The radio call in programs are filled with people wondering what to do about their sister or their Aunt Harriett and looking for permission to run away to a cabin in the woods instead of celebrating with the relatives they can barely stand. Alcohol sales are steadier than ever and yet this fellow cannot see how adult tending and intervention in kid’s lives is important let a responsibility.

Now we were all dining with close family friends who have lots of kids and are close to a big extended group who come for every holiday and email all the time about a cool new ice cream flavor or the boy they love madly and want to break up with simultaneously. In short they are connected.

And we are a family of five. Our oldest is twenty three followed by a nineteen year old and a thirteen year old brings up the rear. We parent all of them all the time. The oldest is living in a house on a lake with his buddies, and the middle one is in a college dorm. That doesn’t stop them from calling most days and asking us to look over a paper, or to give them a recipe, or just to tell us about their date last night. We too are a close and connected family and our intimacy seems to offend some people. We began dinner by telling about Eli’s blessing party and I think my dining companion, who has on occasion been disconnected from his own kids, was feeling threatened. The proximity in our lives got challenged as too much dependence as opposed to a joyful sharing of triumphs and concerns. Now this same fellow shares his own hopes and dreams and worries when he has them with his friends. Yet it seems weird to him that some families function that same way.

He didn’t say any of that though. He pretended to want to have a philosophical discussion about over parenting in our society and cited our refusal to let our thirteen year old date as a prefect example. (He was twelve when two girls asked him to “go out”. He was glad for an excuse to tell both no. In fact he had to come in from a fast game of capture the flag with his pals to take the call. Dating is hardly in his current developmental realm)

I tried to entertain the conversation as theoretical, because I really like this man most of the time. But with a night’s sleep under my belt I wonder why I didn’t say what I know to be true. There is not enough parenting in the world is what I think. Parenting is a verb. You cannot be a proud parent if you never do it. Giving them money or good schools is not the same thing. Being their friend is not parenting them. Dropping them off in the morning and picking them up at night is not parenting. Parenting takes time and lots of it. Loving is a verb too. It includes telling them no, listening always to the real need behind their words, nurturing them, and giving them the benefit of your sense of perspective and wisdom. (By the way, this fellow does parent. But it is an area of worry and it is not been simple for them. When is it???)

What I did say was that I think there is a wide range of what’s okay and a narrow range of what never is. But my friend was intent on spinning it another way. Parents cannot be loving if their limits are not his. He even suggested that another family whose conservative Christian beliefs have them segregating their young teenagers from co- ed parties must be molesting them or have been molested somewhere in their past. The strength of his argument felt bizarre to me.

I am trying to remember that we are the sum of our frames of reference and our choices. Real understanding has majesty. It takes only a casual skill to win an argument. It takes something much bigger and kinder to try to understand. I am working on it….


  • TheCynicalOptimist

    A divorced lion is never a pretty site!!!

    Baby is 40 weeks now— so it honesly has to come any day. I tried your suggestion- nothing happened. But I go to the doc today- here’s hoping for some news!!

    Great post as usual!

  • Kate

    The two year old I spent the weekend with is the product of parenting as a verb and is what makes it easy to stay with her. And makes me know what is expected of me.

    When I worked for the church (10 years of youth director) I was always getting somewhat dirty looks from parents when I would discipline their child. Just the way I work.

  • library lady

    I agree with the idea of the on-going nurturing and connectedness required of a good parent. I’m just too much of an old-fashioned English major to easily accept ‘parenting’ as a verb. Whatever you call it, you’re doing a great job. I have always been glad that I grew up with boundaries, parents who mostly knew what I was doing and with whom and who never hesitated to let me know when I had gotten too far over the line!

  • Katiedid

    I hate those dinner parties where the subtexts are obvious but no one can name them. Actually I could have stopped that sentence after the word parties…

  • Molls

    No middle schooler should be dating. They are unprepared for the psycho dramas that always ensue with the wide variety of coping skills, verbal acuity, and maturation.
    And where did the dinner companion get off questioning your judgement anyway? He was just regular old passive aggressive and that is at least what I understand about him and this story. He is carrying a grudge about something sure enough

  • beesknees

    Your kids pick to hang out with you and each other. That is huge. It’s all that maters besides….

  • laurwilk

    Very neat post! I always enjoy your parenting posts as I am ‘part parent, part child’ in my family.

    It has been interesting, though. I see the relationships between my parents and siblings and the love that is there. Sometimes, I can’t believe that my parents are able to be as patient as they are. My trouble making younger brother (there is bound to be one when you have eight kids) frustrates me so much, I just want to give him a good whop in the head!

    But, I suppose that is what makes me his sister and not his parent!

  • Drew

    Want a psycho-babble evaluation? I have found that most people who resent active parenting, either
    A feel guilty over their own parenting shortfalls, or
    B, (especially when it is a man leveling the charge at a woman), had an absent mother and this alternative style challenges memories of her as a good mother.
    Like most of these events it probably had almost nothing to do with you.

  • Maddie

    These things feel like attacks don’t they? It is like being blindsided when it is a friend and you know through the tone and sometimes the content that there is nothing philosophical in the conversation. Passive aggressive people never see it. And if you point it out they just go regular old aggressive aggressive.
    But I agree with Drew this might have nothing to do with you. Of course it might. he might be mad at you about something else.
    My advice is a little distance in this relationship and let it rest for a while

  • Kellan

    Well said! YES – Parenting is a verb! I think it is always interesting to hear what people believe about raising kids – there are so many different opinions!

    Have a good evening – Kellan

  • starrlife

    Sounds like you are well on your way to understanding….

  • jamie

    I enjoy reading about the way you parent–lets just say it’s not something familiar to me, at all! I envy the relationship you have with your kids. I think it’s extremely special.

    And no, 13 year old kids should not be concerned with dating! It’s simply inducing drama where drama is not neccesary for at least a few more years!

  • Trannyhead

    You’ve definitely done something right. That’s for sure.

    I, on the other hand, like most people drink heavily to make it through the holidays. Then again – I have some seriously bizarre relatives. I mean – we have my parents, who seem to think my husband and I are still 12 years old and who consequently criticize various decisions about jobs, career moves, etc. And then on the other hand, we have his mother who is like a walking Jerry Springer episode.

    Just thinking about it makes me want to pour that glass of wine!

    Anyway – I hope that I can have as great of a relationship with my kids as you have with yours.

    PS – Your “Dear Tranny Head” question is being answered Thursday.

  • x

    Parenting really is a verb.

    For me, recently I felt like a supermom after my son and hubby bought me a gorgeous diamond necklace from for my birthday.

    My son and I are close and likes to hang out with me and my hubby, that’s what’s priceless.

  • Bia

    Parenting just isn’t a verb…it’s an ACTIVE VERB.

    Having a child doesn’t make you a parent…but BEING a parent does.

    Really good post, e. Your close family sounds lovely…I hope my boys always call me with their homework questions, tax questions, or questions about Nonna’s minestrone recipe.

    Blessings, and have a wonderful weekend.

  • painted maypole

    you type of parenting is kind of parenting that children need, for all the reasons you said.

    lovely post

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