Monday, April 17, 2017

Micro-Managing Your Children (and Spouse)

Choose your battles wisely.  Otherwise, you are constantly fighting battles you lose.

We returned from a trip to Hilton Head to friends who were staying in their parent's timeshare.  They were thinking of "buying" the time share from the elderly parents, and I warned them that time shares are basically worth nothing, as the yearly "maintenance fee" is like a tar-baby - it sticks to you for life.  Timeshares can be notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to dispose of, and you should never take on a "rest of your life" financial arrangement if you can help it.  Even marriages can be annulled or canceled in court.  Timeshares are forever.

As timeshares go, it was a nice one.   It was a "brand name" timeshare run by a hotel company (or at least using the hotel name under license).   The place was kept up, in a decent location, and the amenities were nice.   It is not hard to see how they make money at it, though.   In a way, it was like a land-locked cruise ship, with everything charged to your room account, much as cruise ships do, with a number of amenities and activities, and of course, restaurants and bars.

And like a cruise ship, the "old timers" would bore you for hours about how to "beat the system!" and score a deal.   If you wait until X o'clock, the lite beer goes on sale 2-for-1!   That sort of thing.   The rest of the time, well, you can run up quite a tab at the bar, as I found out the hard way, just having a few drinks with friends.

But like I said, it was one of the better ones, well-maintained and people seemed to be having fun.  And my friends didn't have to pay, so then there's that.   If Dad "gives" them the timeshare, they will have to pay the maintenance fee every year whether they go or not.  We'll see how that works out.

Actually, the "timeshare" wasn't at Dad's location, which was more of a golf-friendly country-club over-55 set.   They swapped it for a more kid-friendly location, and it was interesting to see all the young families there.   There are a lot of people having kids these days!

But it was interesting to watch the interaction between parents and children, particularly Mothers, particularly some Mothers. Micro-management seems to be popular.   While I understand it is necessary to say "don't pick your nose" or "sit up straight" or "close your mouth while eating" to teach your kid manners, a lot of the instructions being bandied about were, well, kind of trivial.  It was almost as if they wanted to have puppets and not children.

I am not taking a piss on today's generation of parents - I saw the same thing in my childhood.  Many of my friends had parents who would correct the most trivial types of behaviors, to the point where the child felt like they were in a straight-jacket.  Not surprisingly, these children had behavioral issues when they got older.  Not having had the chance to make mistakes on their own, they had absolutely no impulse-control once they were freed of the parental vise-grip.

It is hard to explain exactly the kinds of things I am talking about, as you notice these things when you see them, but don't really remember them.  Very odd and general commands that seem to make no sense.  "Honey, swim over here, not over there" one Mother says, as if being five feet closer makes a difference. Or commanding arbitrary choices in clothes, for example. Not that the child is inappropriately dressed for the occasion, but that Mother wanted them to wear something else.   Very bizarre and trivial things.   Like I said, hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.

The end result is that Mom acts as a drill Sergent, barking out as series of commands almost continuously.   And the child doesn't learn the difference in relevancy of the instructions.  "Don't play in traffic" has as much currency as "I don't like those shoes, wear something else."   The kids never are allowed to make mistakes on their own, so they rely on continual instruction - or they rebel entirely later in life.

I used to see this with my late Sister.   I had to give her some slack as she was dying of cancer and had a lot of family issues to deal with.  But as one of her children once said, she could be "Bossy" to the point where she was just being controlling for no specific purpose other than to control.

But then again, we all do it, don't we?  Our spouse does something annoying, so we tell them to stop, when really it is a trivial thing.   We try to control and manage our other half to be more to our liking.  We all do it, so let's not pretend we don't.

Our friends at the timeshare have a precocious child (now an adult) who once asked me, "Why do you let Mark boss you around all the time?" which I thought was prescient of him to notice.   I don't consider it to be "bossing around" so much as delegating authority for trivial bullshit in my life that quite frankly I don't care much about.   What we are having for lunch or where we are going this afternoon is not much of a concern to me, as I am just along for the ride at this point in life.  When we travel, he pretty much decides where (with my input) and makes reservations and choices.

On the other hand, I balance all the financial accounts and make most of the investment decisions, pay the bills and handle a host of other chores.  So he delegates a lot of authority to me - quite literally with a power of attorney (on both sides).

But yes, like Helicopter Mom, we also tend to over-correct each other from time to time.   And sometimes I do get upset and say, "Save it for the important stuff!  Where I put my shoes isn't worth arguing about, much less discussing!" (I use that as an example, I don't recall him ever complaining about where my shoes are kept, but it is that sort of thing that is micro-management).

I think with children, it is a lot harder to pull back.  After all, you brought this creation into the world, wiped his ass, clipped his toenails, and cleaned up his barf - at least until he was old enough to do so for himself.   You start off in this position of 100% total control, and that is a powerful thing that is hard to give up - ask any dictator in the world about this, few give up power willingly.

But eventually things come to a head, usually in the teen years, when that little baby becomes a little adult, and starts to think that hey, maybe they are a separate breathing entity of their own.   Well, some do, anyway.  Others stay tethered to the parental teat for a lifetime, with predictable results.

I guess I was fortunate in that being born last to decaying parents, they pretty much left me to my own devices.  I learned vicariously from the mistakes my elder siblings made, and I also had a vicious independent streak, wanting my own job, my own money, and my own life, from an early age.

Others, well, that had it harder.  You can't spell "Smother" without "Mother" they say, and I know folks well into their 70's who still live in fear of what their 95-year-old Mother might say to them.   I kind of feel sorry for them.

I mentioned in the caption of this post, choose your battles wisely.  I guess what I saw at that timeshare resort reminded me of incidents from my childhood - more precisely witnessing incidents from my friend's childhoods.   Their parents didn't emphasize what was important, but instead fought with their children about everything.  As a result, their kids learned nothing of importance, and later on in life, had to learn a lot of hard lessons on their own.   The only thing they learned from their parents was, their parents were assholes.

And that's not what the parents intended to teach!