Oct 22 / Simcha

Parenting as an Art (M. Riera)

Michael Riera has written several excellent books on parenting teenagers, among them: Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers and Staying Connected to Your Teenagers.  Several of his concepts have made their way into the public discourse about raising teenagers: Consultant as opposed to Manger; Influence as opposed to Control; Parenting Teens as an Art, and so forth.  The following excerpt from the former book touches on a few of these ideas.

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Like it or not, you are much more of a consultant than a manager for your teenagers (except when it comes to health and safety issues).  Thinking in terms of influence is much more useful and sane than thinking in terms of control.

Parenting adolescents is uniquely difficult because they are alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) in two different stages of life: childhood and adulthood. Your job is to provide the environment that lets them grow into adulthood in a healthy way, rather than regress back to childhood in unhealthy ways.  After all, adolescence is about passion and about learning how to use that passion in constructive and conscious ways.  Probably the best you can do here is to maintain consistency, love, hope, and a deep faith that they’ll get through it all.  In short, love them for what they are, and not for what they have the potential of becoming.

But it is also clear that parenting is an art.  And like any art, it is limitless in its possibilities.  Like any art, the more proficient you become at parenting, the more room you see for improvement. At the same time then, parenting is a craft, something yo can always learn to do better.

Finally, I offer the words of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, on, of all things, the instructions for putting together an outdoor barbecue rotisserie.

These rotisserie instructions [read: parenting instructions] begin and end exclusively with the machine [read: the adolescent].  But the kind of approach I’m thinking about doesn’t cut it off so narrowly.  What’s really angering about instructions of this sort is that they imply there’s only one way to put this rotisserie together — their way.  And that presumption wipes out all the creativity.

Actually there are hundreds of ways to put the rotisserie together, and when they make yo follow just one way without showing you the overall problem, the instructions become hard to follow in such a way as not to make mistakes.  You lose feeling for the world.  And not only that, it’s very unlikely that they’ve told you the best way….

And when you presume there’s just one right way to do things, of course the instructions begin and end exclusively with the rotisserie.  But if you have to choose among an infinite number of ways to put it together, then the relation of the machine to you, and the relation of the machine and you to the rest of the world, has to be considered, because the selection from among many choices, the art of the world is just as dependent upon your own mind and spirit as it is upon the material of the machine.  That’s why you need peace of mind.