(This post is longer than my usual posts; given the topic, being more brief felt disingenuous and unclear.)
Parenting is unique. In many aspects of life, one improves or atrophies. In one’s career, one advances or changes careers. But in parenting, it’s kind of like a tug-o-war. The moment you think you’ve made progress, you’re back to square one, and when you think you’ve almost lost it all, you find you’ve hit a new level of expertise!
From what I’ve seen, where most people go wrong with parenting is that they get part of it upside down or miss a part entirely. Parenting isn’t a triangle; it’s an diamond! Additionally, some parents forget that they were once a kid too! While your kids aren’t you, some of the same thoughts are there, and you might even remember what it was like then, and what you’ve realized now, so you can help reach them where they’re at.
When your kids are wee-ones, there’s a lot of fun and a lot of learning. Diaper changes suck! But they’re such cute things as babies! And you get to teach them such simple stuff! Clapping, walking, even the meaning of the word, “no!”
Then they become toddlers, and somewhere between infancy and toddler, they show their sinful side. The dumbest of rebellions become their hill to die on; “no, you can’t have the remote…no, you can’t drink the fabric softener…no, I won’t let you throw yourself down the stairs!” I’m such a mean parent, aren’t I?! LOL!
In the toddler years, it’s important to teach them boundaries. This is the formation period where the foundation of how they view the world will be set. So, will they see the world as a place where nothing can hurt them? Will they see it as a place where they don’t have to obey anyone? Or will they learn the balance of being careful and of respecting authority? It is a tiring period, often feeling exhausted. Seriously, how many questions can a toddler ask?!? No matter the number, the depth of their curiosity will rarely ever be this profound again. Consequently, this time is so worthy! And you’re not done yet!
As you hit a stride and life gets simpler, it is a lull in a storm before adolescence. (Given that there are late bloomers and early bloomers, let’s define adolescence as 10-18.). In this period, it is often best to establish the rules of warfare before the battles begin. Prepare your child for the changes and pains to come. When my kids were born, I jokingly said something to them (as newborns) that has become a very serious credo; “hi, I’m your Dad! I’m not your friend, not your buddy, not your pal. I’m your Dad! And that means that sometimes, your not going to like me; in fact, you may even hate me. But that’s ok because I’m your Dad, and that means I have to make the hard decisions, decisions you won’t like, because I’m your Dad, and I love you!”
This motto takes new shape in the adolescent years. At best, I can hope to guide them through the years. At worst, I’ll have warned them of the dangers and done my best to help them avoid the pitfalls. But ultimately, when that transition comes, they have started becoming their own persons. And I need to show respect for that.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! You just lost me. They’re kids! You can’t let them call the shots!”
Funny enough, some think that’s what I said! Some even think that’s what that means! But that is not what I said nor what it meant! You see, I can respect someone and that someone can still be wrong! Think of it like being a manager. Your employee is their own person, but if they’re late, you’re going to correct them. If they tell you to float a boat, you’re going to tell them to pick up their final check on Friday! LOL! Parenting teens is similar.
Let me take you back for a moment. I’ve always been a weird kid, long before I knew what Autism really was. In my high school years, I knew I wanted to be a Dad, though it’d be almost a decade before I’d be one. So, naturally, I did what any atypical kid would do when seeking a goal! I studied the parents around me to see what they did! But I also studied my friends to see how they responded!!! What worked? What didn’t? What was for show and what was real?
From what I’ve observed, many parents fail when it comes to adolescence because they didn’t lay the groundwork initially. They had their careers, or each other, to think of and forgot their responsibility to their kids.
“Well, that’s just great! So, what can I do about?”
I like to use the analogy of a Saturn V rocket; more so, the assembled components that launched many astronauts to the moon and brought them back.
When your child is an infant, that’s the design phase. Any mistakes are pencil marks that are erased and redrawn.
When they become a toddler, that’s the build phase. Any mistakes cost some time and effort to go back, redesign, and rebuild, but it’s doable!
When they hit the beginning of adolescence, that’s the assembly phase! Whatever has been built is going to be put together. Any mistakes might be fixable, but you have to catch them early! Pretty soon, they’ll hit their stride and you’ll have no time left!
So, now they’ve started to assert their independence! You’re on the road to the launch pad! That road took 2 weeks to travel 1 mile! It had to be slow so the rocket didn’t fall apart, but once you were on that road, only life-or-death issues would allow you to replace things!
And so it is when your kid has hit their independent streak. The best you can do is repent of your mistake(s) and try to help your kids to see right. But what does that mean? This is why I like the rocket analogy!
Consider that your child is an astronaut and your Mission Control! What would you do if you realized you had a bad gauge or widget? It’ll still work, but it’s not going to read right or work perfectly? You’d tell the astronaut, “Ok, so we have a problem! You’re going to have to modify how you read X and use Y.”
The same goes for kids. “Son, I apologize! I have wasted money and run up credit card bills, and I’ve taught you to have whatever you want, immediately. We won’t be doing that going forward, and I’d like to show you a better way.” “Daughter, I have failed you. I let you dress like this, and it is not how a lady should dress. I will help you get some new clothes, and I am setting a new rule that such and such cannot be so and so.” Now, you can’t expect that such a statement will be met with happiness and acceptance! Nor can you just walk in and say that and have that be it. This is going to be a discussion!
For the sake of brevity (and given that this post is already longer than I prefer), I won’t outline a full, fictional dialog. I think you can infer that. But the point is that you own the mistake and establish the new standard, and then you need to be willing to hear their thoughts and objections. But you don’t move the boundary. A wrong decision because of a broken widget can have devastating long-term effects. Allowing a child to break house rules, just because you made a mistake, can have devastating effects on the child’s life and society as a whole!
And that brings me to my final two points.
First of all, launch day! Once your kids have reached adulthood, that’s launch day! Now, NASA (before they were even NASA) launched dozens of failed rockets! Sadly, they even lost a few astronauts. And while I hope no one loses a child (the thought alone hurts!), I am mostly referring to the fact that the launch may not go as planned. So, when your child launches, and they crash, you help put the pieces back together, you help them figure out what went wrong, and you launch again! You don’t pull the rocket back to assembly. And you can’t just build another one! You help them learn from the mistakes, just like you did, and eventually, they’ll break through the atmosphere and maybe even break orbit! Huzzah!!!!
The second thing is that without Jesus, parenting is infinitely more difficult! Without Jesus, I wouldn’t have learned all that I have, wouldn’t have the passion to keep raising my kids, nor would I believe that there are do-overs. Jesus has taught me all of these concepts through the Gospel of His coming, His substitutionary death, and His resurrection, and through His Word, the Bible. If you’re reading this, or if you’re a parent looking for help, I would be doing a disservice not to point you to my Lord! Truly, He is the One we need before we can hope to solve any problems in our lives; trying to live without Jesus is like trying to run a marathon without shoes. It’s doable, but dadgum, why would you want the extra pain?!
No matter what, parenting often starts as something relatively easy, turns into something excruciating and exhausting, and ends as something relatively easy again. It’s worth it, for all the triumphs and growth along the way. But it is work! And granted, the world is getting darker, and the pains are getting more piercing. Even so, parenting doesn’t have to be a mystery nor an impossibility, but it will take your time, your energy, and it will take your heart being truly invested in your kids, their best and their futures.
Godspeed! – 1 Corinthians 15:10