Saturday, June 8, 2013

Your Parents

There are so many resources for parenting. Books. Articles. 10-step plans. But what about us? No one tells us how to manage our parents.
I don't know much, but I'll share a few tips.
Parents view everything as it relates to them. If you have a horrible day at school and you just can't bring yourself to lie through your teeth and say it was "Fine, just fine," when they ask, their first thoughts aren't for you. They're concerned about how you blew them off. If you break down and tell them the secrets you can't tell your closest friends, they're busy, you're whining, and you need to shut up.
Parents are emotional creatures. They focus on your tone and word choice instead of the raw, basic information you're trying to convey. Say what you have to say in the simplest words possible, but find good synonyms. Paraphrase yourself several times until they get the message. Pick a tone that matches what they want to hear. Make yourself sound more relaxed or less intelligent if it suits your goals.
Letting it Out
You can't go on like that forever. You're in a cycle. First, you hold back what you really want to say.  It's amazing what you can hide just by putting on a smile. But with time your facade will crack. You get brave and stupid. You decide it's worth the risk, so you yell and cry and tell your parents exactly what you think of them. Let yourself explode.
They won't understand. But you've said it.
Breathe in. Breathe out. You need to do this every once in awhile, it's all part of the cycle. Soon, you'll be afraid again. Soon you'll bite your lips and remember to cry quietly. That's why you need to make the most of it while it lasts. Practice what you want to say in your head so it's not a ramble. Again, wait for the right moment.
Crafting an Image
Do you have a brother or sister who gets away with everything? There's a reason for that. As toddlers, they showed your parents who was in charge.       Younger siblings have more luck with this. After a few years of being a parent, they give up and take what they can get.
Picture a white sheet. No lace, no designs, and definitely no stains. There are few things more boring than that white sheet. Bland. Neutral. Default. Normal. But once you spill something on that sheet, it doesn't matter that it's 99.99% perfect. You've stepped away from the normal.
That sheet is your 4.0, your nonexistent criminal record, your clean social life, that good child image you never really worked to build.
If you know in the future you'll want to do something big, you can't rush into it and count on your snow white record to save you. It doesn't matter if it's your only blemish. They'll look at you and see a blemish.
Let them adjust slowly. Learning happens line upon line, precept upon precept. Show them you capable of acting and, more importantly, thinking for yourself.
If you want to start a revolution and you do it by rolling a tank down a quiet suburban lane, interrupting everyone's Monday morning, people will be scared. You're evil. They'll call in a bigger tank to blast you off the map. There's a subtler side to revolutions in propaganda and word of mouth. Take a look at the most frightening takeovers throughout history, like the French and Russian Revolutions, and they all started with changes in the mindset. Let them realize they can't control you.
Note: Don't really try for revolution. Unless you're somehow reading this from Syria. In that case, I'm glad you have Internet but why are you using it read my blog? You know more than I do and you have real problems to take care of.
Also, this is completely metaphorical. I'm not fan of communism or guillotines.
Getting What You Want
First, let's focus on what you want. Is it tangible or intangible? If you want an object that costs money or you need to get somewhere, you'll have to ask your parents. If you have two parents, learn which one to ask. Wait for an opportune moment when they're not grumpy, busy, or exhausted. Just because you can catch them off guard doesn't mean they'll happy later when they realize what you pulled. Make it sound as if what you want will benefit them. "If I had a car, I could drive Sam to football practice without leaving you stranded here."
If it's something intangible-they can't snatch it from your arms and take it away-freedom, responsibility, knowledge, empowerment-get it yourself. Simplification is the key.
When I was twelve, I realized I needed an email account. I'd done without one in the past. If I wanted to sign up for a website, I'd enter my parents' email and wait for them to get home and activate my account.         But now I was on my middle school newspaper and my editors needed to send me assignments. I put down my parents' account, but I knew it wasn't practical for them to call me over to the computer every time I had an article deadline.
So I asked nicely. They told me I could have one if I kept a 4.0. So I did all my assignments, turned in everything on time, and had an emotional breakdown when one assignment pulled my math grade down to an A-. Luckily, my grade went up and I got a 4.0 that quarter. And the next quarter. But they didn't know how to set up an account, so I waited until my brother came home from college for Christmas.
Fast forward one year. I'm fourteen and I decide I want a blog. My parents had told me "we'll talk about it first" if I ever wanted a facebook account. But they'd never said anything about blogs.
So I made one.
Three days later, my mom came through the garage door and saw me on the computer. A shelf blocks her from seeing the screen.
"What are you doing, Eliza?"
"I made a blog."
She was upset at first, but now she recommends it to complete strangers.
Don't over complicate things. If there's a simple way of solving your problem you don't need to ask for help.
To You, the Parents
I know some parents will read this and scowl. "What do you know, snarky teenager blogger? You've never raised a teenager."
I've done something more. I am one. And I didn't write this post for you.
Last week my mom took me to get my learner's permit renewed. I pitied the woman sitting behind the desk living out another day of her dull job. Until she started talking. She read off the rules and restrictions, and then said, in the same dull voice, "If you don't like her skinny jeans, boyfriend, or GPA, you can march in here and revoke her permit."
It's easier on your side. You're bigger, you can hit us. You have legal and financial authority over us. You can take away our cars and money so there's nowhere left to run. But you don't even need that. You tell us to sit down and shut up and we have to obey.
We've been alone. We've been beaten down. We've been powerless. And we can only take so much of that before we need to fight back. See my previous post on Machiavellian parenting.
"But, I know exactly what it's like to be a teenager! I did it for a few years back in high school. I know what I'm doing."
Uh-huh. Just like you can pick up a 1993 computer manual and use it to operate a modern laptop. It could help. Somewhat. The basics are the same. Your memories are faded and outdated. But try to make the most of them and don't be afraid to ask someone younger and wiser for help.
 You aren't perfect. Treat your parent-teenager relationship the same way you would a marriage. In married life you have to make compromises or your partner will leave you. We can't do that. Most of us have nowhere else to turn. Anybody can bring a child into this world, but it takes a real man/woman to raise one. Congratulations, you're a parent. Now let's see you act like one.

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