I had my share of parental struggles, but one thing I was quite good at was/is getting my children to appointments - dental, medical, tutoring, and all kinds of therapies. I am good at that.
I was quite taken aback as a couple of my sons grew up and out of our home and pretty much refused to go to their regular 6 month dental check ups. This began in college when I would dutifully make the appointments, and they would turn around and cancel them. (Please note that I have three sons, and they did not all behave in this manner. The beauty of having so many kids and blogging about them is that I can often maintain their privacy, unless they choose to rat themselves out. At this stage of my children's lives, I often feel the need to ask permission if a post becomes more about one of them rather than myself - permission was granted from all involved parties.) I certainly tried the mom nag routine as well as a few horror stories of the consequences of dental needs ignored. None of that worked.
In time, I learned/am still learning that letting go is a HUGE part of the parenting journey. This refusal to get teeth cleaned was an opportunity to practice this skill. My youngest girl had already schooled me in "you can't make me do anything." We really can't. (If you want more on this topic, see my book Adopting Grace, chapter 2 The Game Changer and chapter 6 Attachment and Emotions 101.)
I even had an interaction with a serious girlfriend about this matter of oral hygiene. She came to visit us and at one point, she said something like, "Do you know that _______ hasn't been to the dentist in ___ years?" I smiled and said something like, "Yes I do. And I need you to know that I have no power or influence over that at this point. Actually, I think he might care more about what you have to say about that."
Years rolled by. I never asked them about the dentist. But in recent years/months/days, I heard from each of these sons. They went to the dentist - I am not sure if the impetus was a specific problem, the voice of someone they care about, or they just thought it had been long enough. And they each walked away from the appointment with the need for significant dental work and the bill to go along with it. Natural consequences...
I used to think that I had to think up and impose consequences around my kids' problematic choices and behaviors. Often the punishment I came up with had nothing to do with the offense and only created frustration, anger, or shame. These days I am doing my best to inform the minor teenage children in my care of the possible natural consequences of behavior or choices that they make and then letting them learn from their own mistakes. At times such consequences involve the removal of a privilege that is connected to the unhealthy choice. But often the natural consequences just roll.
My job during such times is to deal with my very own self. When the urge to nag, control, shame, or just generally stress out about a possible or actual choice that my child has made, I need to focus on my reaction. Most often, I need to meditate, do yoga, talk to a friend, or any other thing that helps me to let go. I have to examine why my anxiety rises around certain behaviors and choices - the answer could be that it triggers a fear from my own past, I care about what other people think way too much, I am in denial about core issues that need deeper help, I can't tolerate it when my child experiences pain, or any number of other reasons. The point is that as the parent, I need to figure this part out, and when I do, it benefits my child and their growth.
I am happy that my boys told me their natural consequence stories. It was so very tempting to say "I told you so" and I might even have communicated that sentiment before catching myself. But in reality, I am a believer in the power of natural consequences. I asked one of my sons, "Do you think that dental care will become routine for you?" He said, "yes." Like his mama, some lessons have to be learned the hard way.