1983 - While working in the kitchen, I glance out the bay window overlooking the backyard, where my 5-year-old is playing with two small neighborhood friends. The boys are breaking twigs off the bushes. Going to the door, I say pleasantly, "Please do not hurt the bushes, boys!" and return inside.
Ten minutes later, they are taking turns jumping on and off an overturned plastic container, which is soon in pieces. "Boys! Please leave my gardening things alone," I call out to them.
Next they turn their attention to the fence, which seems to have a few loose slats.
Finally, as I observe my favorite globe bird feeder becoming the target of a baseball bat, my patience evaporates. Desperately realizing that I will never be able to think of - and preemptively forbid - all the amusingly destructive actions which may enter their creative little minds, I walk slowly to the door, breathing deeply to calm myself.
It is then that I am visited by an inspiration that has benefited my parenting ever since. "Come over here, boys," I say.
"There are two kinds of people in this world: people who build things and people who break them. We are the kind of people who build things."
1990 - After 12 years of hands-on experience, I realize that in parenting, subtle forces, indeed power struggles, are continuously in play. Just when I think that life seems to be going along remarkably smoothly - that I have a handle on preschool or the assembling of fourth-grade dioramas - something changes, and I find myself floundering.
I come to recognize the atmosphere when old rules no longer apply, when I seem to be constantly arguing with a certain child, and, worse, not getting the better of the exchange. Usually several weeks go by as I become increasingly frustrated, not to say desperate, until it becomes obvious that something must be done.
At this point, I stand back and plan my response to the next predictable crisis. I find that once I've decided how I'm going to handle myself to disrupt a certain unpleasant behavior pattern, the problem almost magically dissolves.
I've always imagined that it was I who was climbing to the next rung of parenting astuteness, but I see now that parent and child step up together to new heights of maturity - unless my children are raising me, leading me along through challenge after challenge.
2001 - Through all our many stages, the backyard discovery of an ability to define ourselves as builders or breakers has always held true.
Whether applied to choosing to cooperate with members of a sports team or to behave graciously in the quagmire of middle school or office cliques, my children and I consistently find our "11th commandment" to be extremely useful in clarifying both mind and emotions.
It can be (and believe me, has been) applied to so many situations over the years, that all any family member has to say now is, "There are two..." and we cover our ears, laughing. "We know, we know!"
By Sory Marocchi
Sory Marocchi is the mother of two college students and lives in Whitefish Bay, Wis.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor