Thursday, April 23, 2015

Parenting - Learning as I Go

I think I should have had more children. I have been at this job almost 37 years and I think I may just be starting to get the hang of it.

To "oldest children" everywhere, can I please just apologize?

Maybe I am just speaking for myself but sometimes I hear a bit of the same as I listen to other parents. We really have no idea what we are in for, when we become a parent.

Add one dose of high expectations to another generous dose of reality, apply generously while raising a unique human being and add an unknown quantity of stressors to the equation and what that equals is: "learning as you go".

Little of what you learned will apply to subsequent children. They will react to the same stimuli in completely and totally unexpected ways. The main thing I learned was to pick my battles. I knew I could not win them all, so I fought over what I deemed important and turned a blind eye to minor infractions.

This lesson I had learned did not go over well with my oldest sibling. He remembered very well, the lessons I had attempted to teach him. He saw his younger brother getting away with stuff he couldn't and there was a feeling of injustice born inside of him.

Perhaps there is an advantage to having your children close together. A two year old isn't scrutinizing your parenting skills and comparing and contrasting them to what they once knew. However, an eighteen year old, watching his nine year old brother get away with things he was never allowed to do, remembers.

I made many mistakes along the way. I know you are not supposed to think of them as "mistakes". But they were. I did have many, many moments I wish I could rewind the tape and do it better. Unfortunately, I wasn't a fast learner. I kept repeating the errors of my ways. I had not yet learned the lesson (aka: definition of insanity) "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" (words of wisdom by Albert Einstein).

Enter my third child.

He was born to a mother who had finally learned a little from what had went awry in her prior two "experiments".

When my oldest two children entered their teen years, I really veered off the course of model parenthood. I was barely surviving this parent-of-a-teen gig. I was learning on the fly and I wasn't learning much.

I merely reacted to the challenges of raising a teen. I did not have one proactive trick up my sleeve.

My youngest child has been a model child. I wish I had had him first. But if I had, I don't think he would be who he is. I think his character is one part me, another part his dad, blended evenly, mixed up into a human body and raised by a mom who had learned a few things the way.

I knew it could not last forever but I still wasn't expecting it when it happened.

My model student and even tempered sixteen year old child "crashed".

I typed that sentence and walked away. As I took some time and space from that statement I wondered if that was the reason I reacted differently this time. Because there was such a stark difference between who he was and who he is.

Maybe I am not so wise after all. Maybe it isn't "lessons learned" that helped me be a better parent. Maybe it is simply a different child, different circumstances, such a stark contrast and (also) a different me.

I am not certain if we have walked through the other end of this tunnel yet but I see sunlight.

He came home from school yesterday and smiled. Sure enough, who couldn't smile when three small children spotted him a half block away from home and started greeting him well before he walked up our driveway? They were akin to three very well behaved puppy dogs who were simply happy to see him and not afraid to show it.

The difference showed itself when he chose to stay and spend time with us. He hasn't had the desire or energy to do that for a very long time.

The difference (I think) is because I stepped up to the plate and acted as his advocate when he had no idea which way to turn.

With his permission, I talked with professionals who had the tools and education to guide him through a dark and anxious time.

He was willing to accept all I had to offer, which was the ability to pick up the phone to call and ask for help.

I didn't have his answers. He didn't know his answers. He needed someone to guide his choices to help him past, through and beyond this point.

As a parent, you just don't know it all. Ever.

Sometimes behaviours mask the underlying issues at hand. Now that I have stepped 20 years and 11 years beyond where my older children were at this very same point, I can see their behaviour was masking a cry for help.

They needed me and I was so busy dealing with the offending behaviours, I didn't truly see what they were battling.

There is a world of people out there dealing with hard things. It is so hard to see beyond the exterior people present to the world. We wear so very many masks. Unfortunately, teenagers quite often mask their confusion, pain and anxiety with actions which distract us from the underlying cause.

Just when I think I have this parenthood thing figured out, someone will go and change the "rules". Thankfully, I get to renew my skills on a daily basis as an up and coming generation continues to test my knowledge and help me grow.

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