Since Rick and I entered parenthood more than 19 years ago, the front panel of our refrigerator is the storyteller of our lives.

The refrigerator is the place where photographs hang, coupons are forgotten, good grades are showcased and important papers are posted. There are school calendars, magnets of the American flag and our favorite roller coasters, and an advertisement with the Morton Salt Umbrella Girl that says “If you want the job done right, get a little girl to do it.” We have a grocery list and a chore list next to the reminder of our favorite vacation spot, a Niagara Falls Maids of the Mist pen. Pages torn from coloring books and hangman victories from old Redamak’s placemats are held up by magnets. Albert Einstein inspires us with his famous quote, “There are two ways to live life; as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.”

My favorite refrigerator flair is a poem that I snipped from a church newsletter years ago and which originally appeared in a Dutch magazine. It is titled, “How Fathers Mature.” This literary souvenir now shows its age. Its splotches of dried baby peas bring back memories of the toddler fingers that belonged to curious little girls who re-arranged their refrigerator artwork daily. Its edges are curled and yellowed. Yet, as the years pass, its message has become more and more valuable.

“How Fathers Mature” reflects the transition through which most children have gone or are going in their assessment of their fathers:

4 years: “My Daddy can do anything.”

7 years: “My Dad knows a whole lot.”

9 years: “Dad doesn’t know quite everything.”

12 years: “Dad just doesn’t understand.”

14 years: “Dad is old fashioned”

21 years: “That man is out of touch.”

25 years: “Dad’s okay.”

30 years: “I wonder what Dad thinks about this.”

35 years: “I must get Dad’s input first.”

50 years “What would Dad have thought about that?”

60 years “I wish I could talk it over with Dad once more.”

This assessment of fathers is especially poignant as I stand back to watch our daughters edge closer to being on their own. It’s what we want – for them to grow up healthy and confident to be on their own. Yet, somehow, when that time came, I thought that I would “feel” ready.

When our first daughter was born, my husband swaddled her in the operating room and asked, “How am I ever going to be able to walk her down the aisle?” He looked at her lovingly and said, “Promise me, that when you get married, you and your husband will live with Mommy and me.”

As they grow, children naturally exercise their ability to make their own decisions, and they bestow upon themselves the deed to knowledge of everything. Everything that is known to be true is either challenged, discarded or modified by them. All the while, we know nothing.

This newfound independence, sometimes presenting itself as defiance, is a natural progression toward children breaking away, living on their own and becoming responsible for themselves. As parents, we mean well; but, threats of lost privileges, and piling on more rules and restrictions during the teen years seldom foster the change in behavior that we are seeking. Instead, more resentment and stress are generated.

Nurturing Parenting, a highly recognized parenting program offered at Dunebrook, is built upon 10 proven principles that help parents and teens learn to live together in a caring and supportive environment. These principles include:

Respect is perhaps the single biggest factor related to positive relationships between parents and their teens.

Communication is the problem that is most often mentioned between parents and teens.

Discipline, structure and freedom are common areas of conflict between parents and teens.

Being a parent of a teen involves being aware of your role responsibilities.

Understanding the developmental period of adolescence is one of the greatest challenges for both parents and teens.

Empathy, the ability of being aware, understanding and accepting another person’s feelings or motives, is the bond that holds families together.

Adolescence is a period of time most notably recognized for the emphasis on independence.

As much as we parents wish to loosen the reins and give our teen children more freedom, it is still important for us to use our own life experience to guide them in the right direction. They simply don’t have the judgment or the life experience needed to avoid dangerous situations. Sometimes, teens believe they are invincible. They aren’t. Teens want – and need – parents (even when they tell us they don’t.)

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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