My parents were great—no complaints at all, but as a kid I remember that there were certain house rules that made me repeatedly think: I will never do that to my kids. I will certainly be parenting differently than my parents.
Of course, looking back, my parents weren’t that bad and for the most part, they were pretty logical.
Rule #1: Allowance
One rule was that we used to get 25c in pocket money every weekend (I can’t believe I managed to survive on that) and every year on our Birthdays we got a rise—which we had to negotiate. Depending on our negotiation skills, the increase ranged from ½ cent to 4 cents. Negotiating meant looking up interest rates, getting a sense of market values, etc. BUT, for all that, my friends were all taking home 50c to a $1—without negotiating! Imagine how we felt at school when friends were “splashing the cash”. While it probably helped us understand the value of money and real life skills, I swore I would never put my kids through that.
So what did I do instead? Well, we didn’t do pocket money at all. If the boys needed something they asked us and if it was reasonable they were given the money. They weren’t greedy and this meant that they were always on an even footing with their friends and from a housekeeping point of view it was peanuts. I thought I was a wonderful Dad, until one day I confronted by my 16 year-old son, who told me he’d always wished he had an allowance instead of handouts. His rationale: he never knew where he stood with money, and didn’t like to ask for too much. With an allowance he could have planned ahead.
Rule #2: Discipline
While on the topic of allowances and planning ahead—there was another “issue” I had with my parents’ rules: If I was naughty, I got fined 1 cent. Now that doesn’t seem so bad until you realise that 25c is a round number. So in 4 weeks I had a dollar, in 8 weeks I’d have $2 etc. This way, when I planned to buy myself a $2.50 GI Joe, I knew that I only had to save for 10 weeks. The countdown began:
Week 1: nine weeks to go until the Missile Commander “Hawk” was mine!
Week 2: I shouted at my brother, fine of one cent. Now I’ll only have $2.49 in eight weeks!! Still nine weeks to wait.
Result? I decided that I may as well misbehave another 24 times since it won’t make any difference to my “wait” time. And I did misbehave—in every way possible. Including once pouring yogurt over my Dad’s bald head (in my defence, he said “don’t you dare” and, well you have to take a dare don’t you?)
Week 3: Of course Mum decided to change the rules at the 25th misbehaviour and what did she do? She doubled the fine to 2 cents. Meaning that I was now fined a total of 26 cents and still had to wait nine weeks. (At this point, I gave up on GI Joe and set my sights on a lower target: a studded leather watch strap from Woolworths which I could afford in four weeks—unless, I misbehaved.)
Another cruel parental rule was “Just because everyone also has one doesn’t mean you have to too.” For a twelve year-old, who desperately wants a racing bicycle when all your friends are getting one, this just doesn’t wash. Didn’t Mum understand peer pressure? Of course she did, and her point was that we had to learn not to fall for it. Instead we had to be independent and do what WE wanted.
Trouble was, I wanted to have fun with all my friends and not stand out. And, I loved my friend Simon’s red racing bike. I recognized at nine years old that I had no chance of getting a Chopper bike (the one with the gear shift like a car and the crazy long, high-backed seat) and spent two long years doing all I could to convert my classic Raleigh straight handlebar bike to something resembling a Chopper. I worked long and hard and eventually gave up.
So, child-me swore “I’ll never do that when I have kids.” Yes they’ll be independent and develop leadership skills, but they will also be able to fit in with their group of friends and get to have fun doing what the boys do. So, how did that turn out? Well, I haven’t had any complaints. One son goes for what he wants rather than what is expected by the crowd, and the other has set up his own business and is very successful. Both have no qualms about trying something new or being different.
Rule #3: Screen Time
More awful rules? My parents used to ration screen time and in those days the only screen was a TV. The ration was equal across all days, which didn’t make sense—some nights there was great TV, other nights it was awful. “I’ll Never Do That!” I said.
So we didn’t set a limit. But when we came home to find them, once again, sitting zonked out in front of the TV. We put our foots down and encouraged them to do something constructive. My son insisted he would have far rather had a fixed daily ration that he could plan around than the run of the evening. Who would have guessed?
Rule #4: Bullying
The final rule was about ‘dealing with bullies’. My parents stayed away from school matter, leaving school issues to the teachers. Result? I got bullied. This was a big one that I wanted to remedy. We decided with our kids, there would be nothing left to the teachers and we’d rush in to intervene on their behalf. My sons’ response: I wish you hadn’t come in and told the bullies off.
You can’t always get it right. As I look back, I see that there was good reasoning in what my parents chose to do. Just as there was in what we did. What matters is how you respond to the immediate outcomes and how you change to adapt to get the best outcomes for your kids. It’s about communication—encouraging your kids to tell you if they think something isn’t working and listening to their concerns. By listening you can work out a solution together, which sometimes means having to back down a bit. By listening, new and successful solutions can pave the way to good parenting for generations to come.
Nick Hawley is a Business Planning and Policy consultant with incredible skills in scuba diving, sailing and, of course, parenting.