Sunday, March 6, 2011

Parenting Must Go On

Ahhh...the joys and trials of parenting! Your first child comes along with his own unique personality, right from the minute he's born. There is no handbook, no instructions, just this cute little bundle of joy, who soon becomes your guinea pig for Parenting 101 - as he travels through the different stages from infant to adult...

... Age 2 - aka the terrible 2's or 3's. Good thing he's oh so cute at the same time.
... Age 5 - he's heading off to Kindergarten, he's learning lots in the classroom (and on the bus). Mom realizes she has to let go, just a little.
... Age 11 or 12 - Off to middle school, and a little more independence. Mom tries to keep him as innocent as possible, for as long as possible, but still has to let go - a little bit more.
... Age 13 - Teen years begin - need I say more.
... Age 16 - Driver's permit, then license, oh boy, even more independence. Mom has to let go, just a little bit more (OK, a lot more!).
... Age 18 - He's packing his bags, it's college time! Mom really has to let go now - no helicopter parenting, please.
... Age 21/22 - He's graduating college, able to enter bars - legally, and enters the full-time employment arena (hopefully). This is it, he's spreading his wings and taking with him everything you taught him, figuring himself out, becoming a man.

The only problem is, just when you think you're getting it figured out with the first, along comes the second. And again, there's no handbook and no instructions, but that's OK, you've already hit those years with child #1, you're a pro, you have experience - no problem! Until, you realize... "Oh, baby #2 is much different than baby #1. What worked with baby #1, doesn't always work with baby #2." Another adventure begins!

So it's been with my three sons, each being unique, with his own strengths and weaknesses. When I reflect on each boy's distinct personality, I smile and my heart is warmed. Each child is a treasured gift, bringing both joy and "challenges". I must be continually adjusting and readjusting, figuring out (and sometimes, simply, guessing) what works with each one:

  • Hugs...
  • Words of affirmation...
  • A little extra time spent working with them side-by-side...
  • Giving a little extra space to let them figure things out...
  • Letting them know you enjoy their company...
  • Laughing with them (not at them)...
  • Or something I haven't thought of, yet...
Encouragement will sometimes be the same and sometimes be different, depending on the son and his personality.

  • Do better in school?
  • Keep their rooms clean, or at least presentable?
  • Use their money wisely?
  • Be a good friend?
  • Be a loving brother?
  • Limit their socializing in class?
  • Again, it may be different for each individual...

  • Speaking in a stern voice?
  • Giving a spanking or soap in the mouth?
  • Giving a time-out?
  • Physical labor?
  • Removing a privilege or grounding?
  • Charging a specific dollar amount?
  • Having a conversation with them?
  • And the list goes on... and is changed, as needed.

For each situation, each child, and each stage of development the methods for "discipline" will be different:
  • Where one child needs to be "encouraged" in one area, the other child(ren) may need it somewhere else. (Example: one may be great at getting his homework completed on time, while the other one is great at speaking kindly to his brother.)
  • When young, where one needed a spanking, the other may have needed a stern voice to get him to "change his ways"; spanking or time-outs may work at one age, but grounding will work better at another age.
  • Taking away one privilege may work for one of the boys, but the other one doesn't care about that privilege and needs something else removed to help them "see the light". (Example: One may love watching tv, while the other could care less, but would be impacted if their phone privileges were removed.)

And when you just figure it out, you have to readjust for the next stage or next child, then figure it out again, readjust again, and on and on it goes.  This takes energy and creativity - sometimes you have lots of it and sometimes your energy/creativity bank is in the red! At times, life throws you a curve ball, that makes the parenting game a little more challenging.

In the months since Austin died, my "parenting skills" have had to be readjusted. I now have to determine if the boys' behaviors and actions are more of a "reaction" to losing Austin, or simply because of their age and personality. (And age and personality does impact how each reacts to losing Austin.) They may be acting a specific way because of feelings they don't know how to deal with or they're trying to emulate the behaviors and personalities they have heard us sharing about Austin?

What the boys don't realize is, sometimes we laugh at things Austin did growing up, but he still got in trouble for them. Just like, we'll laugh at things each of them did as preschoolers, but still got in trouble for. It's funny now, but wasn't then. When it seems as though one of the boys is trying to act like Austin I gently explain that no one can be like Austin, just like no one can be like them. We are all made unique, with unique personalities and gifts. We need to be who we are made to be, not like anyone else. We were each created a certain way, for a certain reason - so embrace that and just be you!

As parents, we wonder, at times, "Is it really worth the effort? Will they ever appreciate everything I do? Wouldn't it be so much easier to let them do what they want?" But, I know, it is worth the effort, they will appreciate the things I do (at some point in their lives). It would be easier, in the short-run, if I gave in to everything they wanted, but in the long run, I know it is better to hold firm, and set loving boundaries. I know this, because of Austin...

Prior to Austin's death, whenever I became tired of setting limits, and holding to them, I would think of Austin. I would watch him at 21 years old - still figuring it out, but now coming to me for advice. Still making mistakes, but usually learning from them. (It's no different than with me - I'm still making mistakes and learning from them.) And often making wise choices. I would know, "Yes, it is worth it... hold strong, even when you want to throw your hands up and yell, 'Do whatever you want!" It does make a difference, in the long-run (and often in the short-run, too).

Today, when I think of Austin, I sometimes think, "I did all the hard work and now he's gone. What's the sense?" And when the boys are having "challenging" moments, I sometimes think, "I really don't know if I have the energy... do I really need to do this?" And my answer is always, "Yes, I do have to do this - energy or not. My job is to love my children, to teach and guide them, and to discipline them, when necessary, even if I don't feel like it." All I have to do is think of Austin - the beautiful person he was and the wonderful memories he left me with...

Ahhh, parenting... one wild and crazy ride... one that I wouldn't trade the for world!

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