It’s a very long story how it all came to be this way, but I am having the odd experience of raising a 16 year old and a 1 year old at the same time. I say odd not so much because it’s that unusual. But often I feel like I’m starting to get a sense of what sort of person my oldest son is turning out to be and wondering, “did I do that? Or is that just how he is?” I keep trying to see what I may have done wrong so I can avoid doing it again with this little person I’m just starting to raise. I haven’t come close to figuring that out, but I’m starting to have a much greater appreciation for the difficulty of trying to shape any other human being – even your own children.
We live in an era of high-stakes parenting. I read a copy of Scholastic Parent & Child magazine the other night and wanted to give my own children away in order to protect them from my incompetence. The whole thing was filled with all of the things that a good parent MUST do: read books together for 20 minutes daily, do whatever homework is sent home from school with your child, set boundaries, but be understanding, always find the right balance between being firm and being flexibile, let them work out their own problems until they can’t – you know; be perfect. Because if you’re not perfect you might end up with a kid who can give you a detailed description of what his eyeballs moving feels like and another who can think of nothing funnier than trying to convince people that he’s crazy. Like my kids do.
And then I wonder, did I get something wrong here? Does he let himself get funky like that because I didn’t force him to take enough baths as a kid? Is it because I don’t always clean the kitchen before going to bed and don’t clean the toilet until I see something to clean? Have I taught him it’s OK to be dirty? Why is he still obsessed with Bionicles? And why do I still have to nag them to get anything done? And then I’m scared to think of what I’m doing to my younger kids.
But I’m also starting to see some things that I really like. My oldest is a really good big brother. He is able to admit when he’s wrong without being a jerk about it. But he’s also quite willing to stand up for his own perspective when its something he believes in. He is far more perceptive than you would think and understands what makes people tick. He’s pretty darn willing to put others first and serve rather than being self-centered and demanding.
I have said since my oldest was very small that my job as his mom was to help him learn to be the person God designed him to be while also being able to function in this world. From that point of view, I think I’ve done OK. God’s design for him is a bit unusual, I think. Or it could be that I completely screwed up. And I’m not entirely confident that he will brush his teeth more than once a week when he moves out of the house. But he is a teenaged boy and I hear that they often smell bad and still sometimes grow up to be decent men. Then again, I’d hate for him to be that guy in the college dorm who will eat bugs for money.
And all the while, I’m looking at this little girl. It was much easier to be confident as a parent when I didn’t have an example of the results of my parenting walking around the house. But I did my best. And although I have my doubts about some aspects of my son’s tastes and personality, I suppose a parent could do a lot worse. I have a 16 year old who hugs me, takes care of his little sisters, doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs or have sex, likes being at home with his family, is willing to stand up for what he believes in and wants to have long conversations with me pretty much daily. And I don’t know how much of that is me and how much of it is him. And I don’t know if I should be doing things differently with the baby or not. I guess I’ll just do my best and see what happens with her too.