Wednesday, December 04, 2013

There's No Guarantee....

I'm just going to say it: There's no guarantees with kids.

That's not an earth shattering idea, really, but it's amazing how we parents fall into the trap of thinking that there is.  What we imagine that guarantee will be, differs from parent to parent, but a lot of us really think there is one.  That's why books like To Train Up A Child has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.  Or Letter To Teenage Girl's, go viral. A lot of us still think, on some level, that there's a set of rules that will ensure great kids who won't mess up.

Let me just disabuse you of that notion right now.  You could do everything right (but you won't) and still have your kid make a mistake.  Your kids futures are a mystery.  Not only do you not really know what you're getting before they're born, but even after, you just don't know who they will become.  Every kid will make mistakes.  Some big, some small.

The worst part is, if you're doing it all wrong, you don't really know until they're old enough that it's pretty hard to reverse course.  If you haven't been doing your job as a parent, no sixteen year old is going to want you to start now.

So, if there's no guarantee, what do we do?  My answer is pretty simple: the best you can. Learn.  Not just from the "experts", but from your kids.  Find out who they are and what they need, and give it to them.  And give them room, too.  When they're small, their mistakes will be small.  And they will either learn that they can trust you, not just to warn them, but to help them fix it; or they will learn that they can't.

I was telling someone today about Reagan bringing home nunchucks recently.  He thought they were cool, and his friend didn't want them anymore, so Reagan brought them home.  His dad and I discussed it and pretty quickly came to the conclusion that no way in hell were those things going to stay in our house with six younger siblings, four of him are little boys and at times unintentionally destructive.  Crazy, right?  We told him that he had to give them back.

Reagan was, let's say, less than pleased with our decision.  So I asked him, do I usually say no to things?  Am I usually unreasonable or unwilling to discuss things?  Do I often put my foot down?  The answer was no.  I told him that maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe they'd be fine.  Maybe no one would be hurt.  But this was worth being wrong over for me.  And I thought I'd earned an occasional gimme.

When Reagan thought about it, which really didn't take him long, he agreed with me.  I had built up enough Parenting Capital, that even though he didn't like my decision, he'd trust me with it, and not fight me on it or be mad about it.

What I've learned in sixteen years, was that thing I knew before he was even born.  He is his own unique human being.  By treating him with love, respect, and dignity, I have earned that in return.  And while I haven't done everything right, he can see that I've always tried to be the best mom possible, which goes a really long way.

So, there are no guarantees, and don't give anyone your money who tells you otherwise.  But that doesn't mean raising good kids can't be done.  It's just that it can't be done by you.  Not really.  It has to be done together.  Because they raise us as much as we raise them.  And there is no one-size-fits-all.  Kids are unique, and the approach to each one has to be based on who they are as much as who we are.  This whole getting-through-life thing?  It's a team effort.