Don’t you just love it when you hear those words, “You’re not the boss of me!” While we usually think of them in relation to our toddlers or teens, I’ve heard them lately from two sources: a middle aged person (to his spouse) and an elder (to their child).
Happens to be true, you know. Think about our children, from birth, through the toddler years, to pre-teen and teen. When can we possibly think we’re the boss of them?
Not in those first few weeks after birth – those new little ones are clearly the boss of us, waking us from sound sleep, demanding to be fed, changed or just cuddled.
Certainly not during the toddler years when we find ourselves challenged by the simplest things (“wear your coat for Pete’s sake – it’s snowing” – “eat at least ONE pea!”). We negotiate, we beg, we yell a little, too, and usually end up resorting to bribery of some sort, despite our intentions never to stoop to that level in our parenting.
Anyone who has imagined they’re the boss of their teen children has been sorely tested, and likely battered and bruised in the process, too. Lock them down, and they’ll find a way to escape. Try to control who they talk to, and they’ll just hide their friends from you.
When our kids finally arrive at the “adult” years (I put that in quotes, because most of the people I know are still supporting in real, tangible ways our grown kids), we sort of sigh, and think, “I’ve done my best – my parenting is over.” But of course, it isn’t. Our kids call with adult challenges, crises and questions. We juggle and balance like high-wire circus performers, trying to answer their questions without being the over-bearing “mom who won’t let go.” Again, we hear, if only in the back of our own heads, “You’re not the boss of me!”
And then we arrive at that point we just didn’t see coming (or were in denial about): the time when our parents need us to re-engage in their lives. Only this time, instead of them giving us advice, we’re giving them advice. We’re helping them navigate complex health care issues, deciding what housing options make sense for them (and for us, of course), and starting to fill the gaps of a rapidly thinning social circle of companionship.
Sometimes we get confused and think that now, we’re the boss of our parents.
A couple of days ago a woman shared her story with me about having to take her husband’s car keys away from him. He is furious with her. She’s guilty, angry, distressed and frustrated. Her husband’s Alzheimer’s is so far advanced that he simply can no longer safely drive – as his two recent accidents proved to everyone but him (and his doctor, who refused to “get involved.”)
Her husband blurted out to her in anger last week, “YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!”
To which she replied, “No, but I am the boss of that car. I am the one who pays the insurance. I am the one who will have to clean up the blood from the people you hit. You are NOT DRIVING THE CAR!”
There’s no easy way to make this tough transition but to muscle through, much like some of life’s earlier transitions. We talk calmly – or shout loudly – but we keep on communicating. We keep saying, “I love you. I will be here for you. I will help you. But I won’t let you hurt someone else or get hurt yourself, if there is any way I can help it.”
And we know, as we’ve known all along, that we are not the boss of them. We’re just doing the very best we can, as our roles shift, our responsibilities change – once again – and we find a new balancing point in our lives.