Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rules to live by

Just before Lauren turned 12 we negotiated ‘rules to live by’. She was beginning to want to go out with friends unsupervised, or at least not fully supervised. I thought we should have some ground rules that would last her until she turned 18 and became an adult according to law.

I decided the rules would work for both of us. It seemed unreasonable for me to expect her to tell me where she was going if I wasn’t prepared to do the same for her. We formulated a series of questions that had to be answered appropriately before any request to go out would be considered. This is what we agreed upon:

1. Where are you going?
2. How are you getting there?
3. Who are you going with?
4. Who else will be there?
5. What will you be doing there?
6. Will there be adult supervision? And what form will that take?
7. How will you be getting home?
8. What time will you be home?
9. Do you feel safe going with these people?

Most of the time questions 2 and 7 were answered with “You’ll take me, won’t you, Mum?”.

I originally came up with this plan to try to reduce the constant pleading and arguing that accompanied every invitation for her to go somewhere. It was tiring. At least this way, she knew what I expected from the beginning, and knew I wouldn’t even consider letting her go somewhere unless each of these questions could be answered in such a way that I felt comfortable about the situation. I was surprised by how well it worked. And how long it lasted.

If Lauren really wanted to go somewhere she came to me armed with the answers to the questions. She began planning her outings, organising lifts and checking venues. I’m sure that’s part of the reason she’s such a well-organised person now she’s an adult. I’m equally sure there were a lot of outings I was never told about, simply because she couldn’t answer all the questions or she knew I wouldn’t be happy with the answers. She didn’t bother asking and didn’t go. At least with the list of questions she could gain some control over where she went and when. She became adept at manipulating situations, arranging friends’ parents (or me) to be on standby for supervision, just so she could go somewhere she really wanted to.

The situation became a bit more difficult during her senior year at school. The year before she turned 18 and the following year were difficult in comparison to previous ones because she wanted to push the boundaries. Still, the basics held. I always knew where she was and who she was with. I didn’t always know how she planned to get home but often received a phone call in the wee hours asking for a lift. She’s 25 now and she still emails or calls me if she’s going out somewhere unusual, just so I know where she is. If she travels, even overnight, I get a full itinerary with flight numbers and arrival times. She sends me a text message to let me know she’s arrived safely and another before she leaves to come home.

I follow the same rules with her. I remember when she was about 16, getting a phone call when I was at a seminar for work. I’d forgotten to tell Lauren I’d be late home so she rang to check on me – and let me know I had to tell her where I was. She was convinced I’d had an accident. It could be nothing else because we always told each other where we would be.

I didn’t forget again.

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