Mornings with Kate: November 2010

Since the first two missives from “the vault” focused on Will and Emily, it seems only fair that Kate (TDS Class of 2020) is the subject of today’s piece. For as long as I can remember, we have affectionately referred to Kate as “something else.” Just one disclaimer: my musing about “consistent enforcement of rules” was written in the pre-COVID era. At this point, we have tossed ‘conventional wisdom’ aside in favor of making it through each day!

Mornings in the Norry household are designed to run like a Swiss watch. In theory, three kids wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, comb hair, brush teeth, pack bags, and buckle themselves in the mini-van, all within a span of thirty minutes. In reality, a misplaced shoe can derail the entire operation.

Two weeks ago, our youngest began violently objecting to the one component of the morning that is non-negotiable. Simply put, Kate refused to get dressed. Nothing fit. Nothing felt right.

We quickly diagnosed the source of the problem – her underwear. Apparently, her pants were scrunching her undergarments, and this was unacceptable to her. While only four years old, Kate is a problem solver. After three days of tantrums, stressful mornings, and late arrivals at school, she announced that she was no longer wearing underpants. Period. Before my wife and I could mobilize to object, we noted an immediate change for the positive. Tantrums evaporated. Aside from a lingering anxiety that she’ll be expelled from preschool, our lives have returned to normal.

As parents, we are constantly being pushed and tested. Where do we draw the line? Which battles do we fight? How much energy do we invest in holding our ground? With each new developmental stage comes a new frontier of requests and demands. Middle School issues include owning a cell phone, having a Facebook account, establishing privacy in one’s electronic communications (by having a computer in one’s room, for example), playing “mature” video games, being allowed to roam around Bethesda at night, and many more.

When it comes to these questions, parents can only count on one thing for certain. The rules that parents set, and the tactics that they employ, span the entire spectrum. Contrary to what your child might tell you, there are middle schoolers who don’t own a cell phone. Some have access to various social media sites; others are not permitted. Some parents read every word texted by their child. Some parents outlaw Call of Duty, while others allow access to this game.

In one sense, it’s nice to know what other parents are thinking and doing. Parent peer groups can provide a valuable source of information, ideas, and support, allowing parents to swap stories and share tactics. On the other hand, parents need to take full ownership of the rules in their household. If social media makes you uncomfortable, then learning that all of your child’s friends are connected should not change your mind.

As my own children accelerate toward adolescence, I’m starting to comprehend that these choices have seemingly profound social implications. No underwear is one thing, but no Wii during the week? When his friends visit our house, my 8-year old son navigates these waters quite carefully.

For the record, research suggests that permissive parenting does not equate with a deeper connection to one’s children. In NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman cite a study by two social scientists from Penn State University, Nancy Darling and Linda Caldwell, who trained undergraduates to conduct hundreds of in-depth interviews with local teens. These authors concluded that “the type of parents who are actually most consistent in enforcing rules are the same parents who are warm and have the most conversations with their kids” (140). The key is to explain the rules while still finding a way to support a child’s autonomy. Easier said than done. Even the most rigid among us should search for small concessions, ones that stay within our comfort zones but let our kids know that we are listening. That, along with the reality of our mornings, is why Kate hasn’t worn underpants for three weeks.

Doug Norry
Head of School