Finding a balance: Parenting walks a fine line

My husband and I realized over the weekend our dog, Lou has officially spent most of his young life in our home.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself from having Lou around, it’s this: I’m the mean one.

Every two-parent family has a good cop and a bad cop. Every child has that parent they’d rather confess to, and in our case, I’m beginning to think it won’t be me.

At first, this idea bothered me. Aren’t I supposed to be the nurturing one? Shouldn’t I be kissing boo-boos and licking my finger to help remove a spaghetti sauce stain from the pudgy cheek of my 4-year-old child? Am I even capable of doing that?

Maybe. But then I think, who says that’s the only way to be nurturing? What about tough love? Wasn’t an entire generation – the Greatest Generation – brought up that way?

The conclusion I always come to is that there must be a way to find a balance.

As a kid, one of my favorite things was sitting in the reclining chair with my mom after school, back when I was still small enough to fit two people in a chair meant for one.

My mom would ask me about my day and I’d tell her everything. These days, I can’t remember anything we talked about in those elementary school conversations, but I remember how they made me feel – loved.

I also remember the time a fuse blew in my car and my dad changed it for me. The fuses were underneath the steering wheel and he had to push the driver’s chair back to get to them. That’s how he found that half-empty pack of Camel Lights I’d bought on my 18th birthday.

But it wasn’t my dad who confronted me about it.

It was my mother. That day, she was definitely the mean one.

“Are you smoking?” she asked me, her face inches from mine. I remember how I felt then, too – scared, even though I was 18 and on my way to college, totally ready to throw off the chains of living under my parents’ control.

My mom can be intimidating when she needs to be, even at her diminutive size. I guess that’s something she learned in her decades-long career as a nurse. I’m sure unruly patients are similar to unruly children in some ways.

My father could also be a hard man when he wanted to be. He would ground us kids in the blink of an eye and never look away from the golf tournament he was watching on TV. In my house, we just waited for our father to get home.

But every night, regardless of the childhood infraction I’d committed that day, my dad would tuck me in at night. He would sing “See you tomorrow” every night in the same, sing-song lullaby, but would change how long he held the second-to-last syllable in tomorrow. It was my job to guess when he would stop and try to stop singing at the same time. I cherish the memory of that tradition with my dad. That, too, made me feel loved.

It’s a hard road to walk sometimes, balancing between having the patience to tolerate mistakes and the know-how to realize when a line has been crossed. But I think my parents found a way to toe that line.

I often find myself wondering what kind of parent I would make. Would I be like my own parents?

As a kid, I constantly told myself I wouldn’t be like them. I’d let my kids do whatever they wanted – stay up all night playing video games, go out with their friends whenever, eat dinners consisting of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Coke.

The older I get, the more I understand the decisions they made.

Now, I find myself hoping I’ll be like they were.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Chocolay Township resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is