While I have a strong preference for dark chocolate over any other “sweet,” Halloween definitely tests my resolve. All those little candy-bars wrapped in shiny paper are hard to resist – after all, they’re so little, how bad can they be!
It’s not easy – all the temptations and challenges of the months that lie in front of us. How do we find the stamina?I suggest that it will help to begin the season with a little conscious awareness of the value of moderation. Boring, you say? Maybe, but sometimes boring is a nice change of pace in our hectic lives.
When I was a teenager, although I was successful in many ways, I made some really stupid decisions. I was doing what teens do—trying on what I thought was adult behavior. Still a child in many ways, naturally I was doing it with a youthful enthusiasm, a sense of invincibility, and a disregard for personal safety. Or was I?
When I think back in alternate horror and amazement at my youth, I am struck by one clear feeling: I always had a limit. There was a sense of responsibility to my irresponsible behaviors. I (almost) always knew when to stop.
There are many explanations for that, of course, starting with my intense desire to be in control. But really, what made the real difference for me, I believe, was that I had learned to exercise moderation. My parents made a practice of giving me increasingly more responsibility, as I earned it. I gradually learned to use it, even if I wasn’t always aware that I was doing it.
Among my friends’ parents, we knew who were “unreasonably” restrictive and who were pushovers. In both cases, my friends had trouble learning to set limits for themselves. My parents landed squarely in the middle. I was the fourth child at the tail end of the 60s & 70s. I suppose my parents had seen enough to know that they were not going to win by trying to control us kids. They figured out that the best way to teach us was to give us some rope, let out some slack, and then hold on to the other end for dear life.
While I could trump up some accusations, the truth is that I have a great respect for their ability to take a moderate position in my teenage years. Now that I’m a parent, I know how hard that is to do!
Humans are constantly walking a tight rope, balancing experimentation and adventure with self-care and personal health. Parents must walk that gauntlet, themselves, and still take this inevitable conflict into consideration when they set expectations for their kids. It’s hard in the best of circumstances.
So, now a grownup, here’s how I see things: trying to shelter or protect your kids could prevent them from testing limits. Refusing to allow them to try on responsibility could further aid in breeding rebellious teens, beyond their natural tendency. On the other hand, enabling complete disregard for limits, wanting to be “friends” with your kids, may generate kids who have less respect for authority, and do not understand the value of personal control. If we allow our kids to practice discovering moderation in their youth, by adulthood they’re more likely to make healthy and safe decisions.
When we strive for moderation – setting limits and structures that still allow for flexibility and change — we set ourselves up for the greatest success. Remember, moderation is NOT the same thing as mediocrity.
Parenting with this awareness reminds me of a bridge, particularly one covering a wide expanse. The bridge must be solid and stable, and still have the ability to move with the wind. It must be designed to withstand the inevitable assault of the elements. It really has to be flexible, and at the same time firm. For parents, that often takes more art than science.
What does it really mean to behave like an adult? Simply put, mature behavior is the willingness to make choices, take action, and then take responsibility for the outcome. To do that effectively, we must learn to set limits for ourselves, and allow for change to happen. Too little rope leaves us feeling out of control when external structures aren’t there to control us. Too much rope leaves us feeling entitled to everything.
So, what’s the art to making decisions that allow for flexibility, while still providing support?
1. Take responsibility for your actions, good or bad. Be willing to make mistakes and admit them (outloud to your kids is even better).
2. Establish structures for yourself and your family, but allow for change. Avoid letting structure become the end in and of itself.
3. Live by one of my favorite mottos: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”