How to Regain Your Power as a Parent

August 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Organising Space

Ever seen a “Mum’s Taxi” sign on the back of a car?  They’re supposed to be a humorous poke at the suburban mum’s lot.  Other mothers recognise immediately one of their tribe.  There goes another harassed mum who loves her kids but doesn’t love the endless toing and froing – to school, from school, to ballet, to soccer practice, to piano lessons, to friends’ homes, to scouts, to basketball games.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

But frankly those “Mum’s Taxi” signs make me feel a little sad.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to make life difficult for mums.  I love mothers.  There are a few in my family.  ;)

Image by Filtran on flickr

Image by Filtran on flickr

Why do I feel sad?  Because they are giving away the power they have as a valuable member of the community and their family and reducing their role down to taxi driver.  A taxi driver works at the whim of the customer, available when and where required.  They don’t make the decisions, they just do as they’re told.  It implies they’ve handed their power over to their children.  So let’s agree that, with or without the sign, a car is a tool mothers use to bring about a planned result, i.e. to get the children to school/ballet/soccer/scouts on time.

Right, now I’d like to lead you into a conversation about how to get teens into the car on time, without stress, without raising your voice or repeating yourself, without running late and impacting on the other members of the family.  Sound interesting?

What happens when teenagers run late?  Do you feel stressed, irate, powerless?  Will you be late for work or an appointment?  Are other family members affected by their tardiness?  Will they also be late?  Will they receive a reprimand from a teacher or teammates?

What do you typically try when coaxing your teen into readiness to leave?  Gentle reminders, nagging, yelling, threatening, negotiating, splashing water on a sleepy face as my mother-in-law did?  Sometimes you might get lucky, they may actually respond of those tactics some of the time.  But there is a way that will work every time (after an initial establishment period), and you will feel powerful, rather instead of powerless.

It takes just 5 steps

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Make an agreeable plan
  3. Communicate the plan
  4. Carry out the plan
  5. Be consistent – carry out the plan again

In practical terms, here’s how it worked for me –

  • My two teenagers’ high school was too far to walk and there was no adequate public transport. My husband worked near the school and was willing to drive them each morning. The problem was the teens rarely made it into the car on time without nagging and stress. My husband was sometimes late for his appointments.  There was a power imbalance which needed to be addressed.
  • We made a plan. He would provide a ride to school, but would leave promptly at 8:30am. If they weren’t in the car at that time, they’d have to make their own way to school and risk arriving late. No reminders, no negotiating, no exceptions.
  • The plan was communicated to the children as well as their teachers. We asked the teachers to work with us and enforce the usual consequences. A clock was installed in the bathroom to eliminate the excuse of not knowing the time.
  • It didn’t take long before we had the chance to enact the plan. Sure enough, my husband left without them. There were protests, they begged me for a ride. In the end they walked, and were late, and suffered consequences.
  • It happened just one more time. This time they called a taxi and shared the cost, arriving on time but a little poorer. And from then on they realised just how lucky they were to have guaranteed hassle-free transport and treated the privilege with the respect it deserved.  The power balance had been restored.

This technique has also worked for a friend of mine, whose youngest child was suffering the consequences of a late-starting older brother.  Their plan was to declare a time for departure to guarantee on-time arrival at school.  If the brother was left behind he would find his prepared lunch and a train ticket on the kitchen bench.  Taking the train would make him late.  The plan was enacted just twice before a change in behaviour took place.

It’s typical for things to get worse before they better.  Be assured, if you want things to change, and you’re consistent in your application of the plan, you will win back the power over your time.  Are you willing to give it a go?  How will it work at your house?


9 Responses to “How to Regain Your Power as a Parent”
  1. Chris Owen says:

    Oh Angela I wish i’d know you back when I was a stressed-out mother of teens!
    Bravo Bravo Bravo _STANDING OVATION!
    Am about to tweet this

  2. Great to break it down into steps. I do this with my children. They know what time we have to leave to be at school on time and they know what needs to be done before we leave. They hate being late, so they work together to make sure they have all their jobs done.

  3. karen says:

    Angela – from the bottom of heart, thank you! I’ve heard your words echoing in my head all month.

    Yesterday, in a challenging moment with a 16yo who was tardy yet again, I set the boundaries. I set the consequences. Now the only challenge will be standing firm when she (inevitably) tests them. Here’s to carrying out the plan with your voice echoing in my head.

    Thank you! K x

  4. It’s great to hear this has worked for others. I think it helps to know you have others to support you in your battles, even if it’s online.

  5. Anne Maybus says:

    What a useful article. Thank you. I can see many ways to apply this at home with my teens. Off to make a list!