When I was seventeen my father confessed, “Hey, I’ve never done this before. We are practicing on you.”. I think every parent on earth feels that way. We really have no idea what we are doing. Most of us are dealing with issues as they come by the seat of our pants. Even worse, the rules keep changing. And it doesn’t really matter how much experience or how many kids you have. The biggest mistake a parent can make is to expect what worked with one child to work on another. Being a parent is just hard.
Growing up is the process of gradually taking more responsibility of your life. A child’s job is to fight for control of their lives until eventually they pull away. It’s like a game of tug of war with the kid at one end and the parent at the other. Whoever has more rope has more control but It’s a big rope. If, as a parent, you let go too soon your kid will fall backwards on their ass. That doesn’t stop most of them from trying. Too much control too soon is overwhelming. But parents can’t hold on forever. No one just magically becomes an adult at eighteen. The parent should give in slowly until eventually they feel comfortable letting go completely.
Kids rarely figure this out until they are grown. It has been difficult to explain to my oldest why I do what I do. I talk to him about the future. I try to make him understand that what he does now has a big effect on what he can expect later. To him the future happens in the next month or so. He still mostly lives his life as it happens. I am the roadblock that he has to get around. He knows that if he gets all A’s in school then he can play video games during the week. He knows that if he doesn’t do his chores that I am likely to get upset and punish him. He is starting to understand that he can get what he wants by giving me what I want. For my part, I try to only get in the way enough so that it is hard for him to do anything especially stupid.
My youngest, on the other hand, lives a lot of his life in the clouds. He creates fantasy worlds in his head that he uses to test out situations that either scare or excite him. He is a bit more cautious and usually prefers to be alone. I encourage him to become the hero of those fantasy worlds. I try to teach him to be brave. We make an effort to get him involved in group activities so that he can get comfortable being around other kids. My wife and I have learned that we have to be careful about how hard we push him. Too much pressure and he shuts down. He retreats into of his imagination and we have to work hard to get him back.
The purpose of being a parent is to teach children how to be adults. That responsibility trumps everything else while they are growing up. Every kid is different. What works for one probably won’t work for another. One may try to jerk that rope out of your hands at every turn. Another may be content to let you lead them around forever. Either way can lead to trouble. Eventually our children must grow up to be adults that are capable of caring for themselves and their families. Hell, we may eventually need them to take care of us too.