They say that you never forget your first, and that is certainly true of my first outpatient client.
To be honest, though, Declan (not his real name) wasn’t all that memorable. He was, all-in-all, a pretty good kid. He had decent grades in school and had some friends there, too. He was unfailingly polite to me during sessions and engaged in dialogue. However, his parents had divorced, and his mother had some concerns about Declan’s ongoing adjustment. She was more memorable to me than her son because of the uphill battle that she was fighting.
I remember well what she said to me once when describing her frustration with her ex-husband. We were talking privately while Declan was waiting in the lobby and she sighed in angry weariness. “You know what the biggest problem is?” she said. “I have him Sunday night through Thursday night, and when he’s with me, he has a bedtime that’s set in stone, he has to do his chores and his homework.”
“When he’s at his dad’s Friday through Sunday, he has none of those things! Declan gets to do what he wants there–stays up late playing video games, eats whatever he wants, doesn’t open his bookbag. His dad is constantly taking him to fun places and restaurants–because it’s the weekend! Then Declan comes home to me, and the first thing I have to do is make him get out his homework!”
She almost sobbed. “I’d like to take him out every night and not fight over bath time, but I’m too damn responsible.”
Sadly, I have heard that echoed far too often since the first time I heard it from her. I’ve come to think of people in her situation as the “Homework” parent and the “Holiday” parent. Homework parent is typically the custodial parent who says, “Stop,” “no,” and “don’t” while Holiday parent says, “If you want to–do it.” Guess which house the kid typically prefers?
When you’re a preteen, who wouldn’t like an irresponsible parent? It’s also easier to be Holiday parent, so, in a sense, who wouldn’t want to be that person?
People in my position, though, get to see and hear many things. While I’ve certainly worked with kids like Declan who liked Holiday better, I’ve met many, many older kids (and young adults) who came to recognize the good that Homework did and appreciate her now. Some of them even come to resent Holiday for not being a more responsible parent to their children.
My message to all of you Homework parents out there: hang in there!
While your child may hate what you do today, chances are excellent that he’ll come to appreciate it tomorrow. “At least my mom cared enough to make sure I brushed my teeth and read a book once in a while,” said a young man to me recently in a session when he was describing his childhood. “My dad didn’t give a s–t what I did.” That’s an actual quote–and that’s how he came to see his Holiday parent: as someone who didn’t care.
Let Holiday parent be Mr. Popular now; your child will someday appreciate you and what you did for him. He’ll probably come to regret how he treated you during those years when his other parent should’ve known better.
Homework parents of the world, hear my cry! Stay strong! Don’t take the easy way out. You care too much about your children to compete with your ex- for their affection. Keep taking the long-term approach, and cling to the realization that you aren’t raising him to be a child–you’re raising him to be a man.