My teen daughter and I had been planning a Superbowl party together for weeks. She was going to invite some of her friends, I would invite some of mine, and we’d have a fun time watching the game / the ads and sharing a lot of snacks. Yet yesterday, when the game rolled around, she stayed with her Mom.
Problem was, I forgot to take momentum into account.
Before I explain what I mean by momentum, let me set the stage for this particular experience. A few days prior to the Superbowl I flew to Houston to attend the (fabulous) Dad 2.0 Summit, and since I wanted to spend as much time as possible with all the cool dads attending, I planned my flight home on Sunday morning, to land just a few hours before kickoff. Which meant that my kids would spend the weekend with their Mom, quite unlike our usual schedule.
And that was the problem.
I believe that children have an innate desire to keep things going smoothly and to not rock the boat (the wonderful song “sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat” from Guys and Dolls comes to mind) and, like a supertanker, it’s really hard for them to change direction once they’re on a course.
In the two-household divorced parents world, it means that when they’re with one parent, there’s a natural resistance about switching to the other, a resistance that has nothing to do with whether they love you or anything.
It’s just momentum.
Two weeks ago, I saw that momentum work out in my favor, when the same daughter stayed with me two extra nights rather than bounce between houses (she came with when I taught a class those evenings), but this time, even with our Superbowl plans, she was in Mom’s ocean of activity and couldn’t change course.
That first came out with her asking me if she could go to a friend’s house to watch the game, which was a real monkey wrench in our planning, but when I suggested she invite that friend to our house, she hemmed, hawed, and finally just said she’d stay with her mom instead.
I admit it, I was frustrated and disappointed. And remember, this was all happening while I was in Houston at the Dad 2.0 Summit. In fact, some of this was happening while I was on a panel talking about making money as an online writer. Ah, the behind the scenes drama.
Since I believe passionately that children need to learn the impact of their decisions on others, I sent her this text: “So I am disappointed that you have decided to go to [redacted]. I was saying [it was] okay because I want to support you expanding your social circles. Make sense?”
She had a thoughtful response, ending with “not worth arguing about” to which I said: “Not arguing, just explaining my perspective and emotional reaction to the change of plans. It’s all good, but all decisions have consequences, right? This is how us adults deal w situations :-)”
She didn’t response to that one. Avoidance. And that’s okay too.
While I have learned to — sometimes! — anticipate the problem of momentum (which in this case should have reminded me that A- being with her mom all weekend and switching to my place at the last minute was potentially problematic) I have also learned that even when they don’t respond, or respond with a sigh and rolled eyes, they’re still hearing what you’re saying. And if I can just get a tiny bit of “emotional cause and effect” awareness into my teen’s brain, I will very much feel like I’ve won.
The Superbowl party went on without her and was great fun, with about a dozen friends over for what turned out to be a spectacular game that was literally decided at the last seconds. And I don’t even particularly like American football, as it happens.
And the ironic postscript? Just before kickoff my 12yo son G- texted me, asking if he could come over to watch the game with everyone. In fact, he’d been invited all along but told me he’d made his own plans. I said “sure” but mom nixed the idea. That was her momentum kicking in, and that’s okay too.