Yesterday I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We chatted and she asked me how things were going with my kids. I told her that things were great. My kids were healthy and busy and fabulous. However, instead of ending on that note, for some reason I just kept letting words dribble out of my mouth:
While things are pretty good…I have figured something out: I don’t really like parenting a 16-year-old. It’s hard, and scary. And being a mom to a 13-year-old is just plain awful sometimes. And trying to figure out a 10-year-old who thinks she is 13 is an incredibly painful experience. I can’t honestly tell you that I’m enjoying this phase. Somedays I just wish it was over and I knew we’d made it through successfully.
My poor friend. I can blame hormones or the barometric pressure….but the fact is I unloaded a sticky nasty chunk of my thoughts on an innocent well-wisher. Ah well. I couldn’t take it back, but perhaps I could bring her a pumpkin latte in the future will make up for it?
The truth is cliché. Parenting is not for wimps.
Anyone who has held a newborn that doesn’t know the difference between days and nights knows this.
Anyone who has watched their adult child turn their back on faith or foundation knows this.
Anyone who has had to wrestle an exhausted toddler or cajole a hormonal teenager or give their baby’s hand away in marriage knows this.
Yet, we keep trudging on. Why? Well, because we love them, and because there’s really no alternative, right? I mean-at some point we said, “Yes. I will take this person and parent them to the best of my abilities.” And now? Putting them back doesn’t really seem to be an option!
I really liked when my kids were around five years old. They liked me. Actually, they almost worshipped me and thought I was the coolest person ever. I am, by nature, a people pleaser. I LIKE when people LIKE ME. When my kids, the little beings I love so much and so hard, thought I was a rock star–it felt wonderful. Even when they needed correction and discipline they still wanted to please me! But time marches on….and it ‘ain’t so much like that these days.
Now I realize that I am not meant to be my child’s friend. I believe that if kids never dislike their parents, the parents are probably doing something wrong! I choose to parent–not befriend–my offspring because I hope to raise children that I want to befriend as adults! But I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt a little when they express their utter disdain with me. Also, it somehow seems easier when a 4-year-old sticks her tongue out at me and un-invites me to her party as opposed to when my taller-than-me-baby gives me the cold shoulder for 5 days. I can handle it, but it does sting.
When that cold shoulder act goes on for a while, or when I’ve just had a really hard day and am utterly exhausted, or when my kid and I are going head-to-head for the twentieth time in one evening, I have learned how easy it is to start believing that the battle might not be worth it. There comes a point when it seems like the best pathway is to try to make child happy, to make the situation “better”, to just “give in” and try again some other day. Seriously–there’s got to be some sort of limit to how much one person can take, right?
After the 4th round of:
“All my friends stay up until 10:30 and if you really loved and trusted me like you say you do then you would let me have a later bedtime!”
Or: “It’s stupid that you want me to check in every time I leave one place and go somewhere else! I’ll be in college in a few years and then you won’t have any idea where I am!”
Or: “Fine. Whatever.” stomp stomp stomp slam. Reopen. Slam. Reopen. Slam. Stomp.
Any sane person begins to wonder if, perhaps, that kid has a point. Maybe they are right. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe it’s one of those battles you chose to NOT fight. Maybe you just want some peace and bloody quiet so you can eat your ice cream straight out of the carton in peace! Weariness and self-doubt combine with mom’s desire to make their baby happy and the end result can too-often be a lethal powerful scary phrase: “Ok.”
With that one word, power is turned over to an underage maniac who has no idea how to wield it correctly.
I am not telling you that I’ve never handed over the power. I’m also not telling you that it’s not a good idea to take a child’s opinion into consideration. What I am saying is that when we give up our position as a parent in order to become a pleaser, we do our children a great injustice.
In their book, Boundaries for Teens, Townsend and Cloud give a fabulous job description of parenting:
God made parents to be the guard rails on the twisting road of life. You need to be strong enough for kids to crash into over and over and over again. You must stay strong, so that your teens (or other offspring) will learn to stay on track. Guard rails get dinged up. But if they work well, they preserve the young lives that run up against them.
As soon as precious babies learn to focus their little eyes on the world around them the vicious struggle between independence and need begins. The tension between “Help me!” and “I’ll do it myself!” starts when a toddler wants to feed herself Cheerios but is too darn hungry to take the time to pick them up one-by-one. The screaming distraught tantrum is eerily similar to the one of a teenager who asks for help picking out an outfit for a dance but HATES everything you suggest. But HEAR THIS: they still ask for help. They may tell you they don’t like your ideas, your taste, or even the speed at which you shovel Cheerios in their mouth…but they still ask you. Why? Because deep down, they know they need you.
They need us. They may not like it, but they do. They need us to teach them the right way to behave and do things as kids–so they can do it themselves when they grow up. They need us to set parameters to keep them safe when their worlds get crazy. They need us say “No” so that they can tell their friends it’s our fault they can’t do something. They need us to teach them that life isn’t fair and that’s ok.
When they push against us for the 74th time, we need to stand firm for the 75th. That’s our job. We have to be stable. Consistent. Unwavering. A child’s world is in a constant state of transformation and flux: from the million brand-new things a toddler experiences every day to the ever-changing hormonal stew that courses through a teenagers brain, children live in a self-contained chaotic system that changes almost every minute. As parents we can offer them a source of stability they can’t find inside themselves. Their thoughts and opinions and sense of self-worth can fluctuate by the minute; their boundaries shouldn’t.
In this great article my friend Jennifer sent me, the author describes parents as being the “wall” that a learning swimmer pushes away from, knowing he can return when he needs to rest and breathe. Parents need to be a wall. If we have an unwavering base of morals, expectations and boundaries, then our kids will know that we are (whether they like it or don’t) a foundation that doesn’t change.
A foundation that is solid. A foundation that is strong enough to take on the tornadoes of toddlers and teenagers and every other stage of children without cracking and crumbling. A foundation that gives them shelter when they aren’t sure which way is safe. A foundation that’s steadfast enough they can always look to it as a landmark that lets them see where their own lives have landed.
If we, as parents, can be a base of stability in our children’s ever-changing world, then they will theoretically realize that we are a safe place. When they can take a break from the crazy roller coaster of life and limp back to the loading platform, we will be there waiting for them. Not changed, still solid, still a place of calm. Yes…their roller coaster WILL leave for another crazy ride, but it also come back to the “parent platform” when it’s over. Be careful not to jump on that ride with them. It’s too easy to find myself reacting to my kids instead of parenting them sometimes, and I have to remind myself (over and over and over) to stay OUT of the speeding vehicles and keep my emotions where they belong. I have to trust that and remember that when these precious babies swim off into crazyville, they will need to come back and hang onto me to rest and breathe and regroup. I have to be there waiting for them. I have to be ready to be what they need: that wall, that platform, that foundation, that guard rail.
Truth? It’s bloody exhausting being a wall. Who knew it was so hard to “just” stand there? That my friends, is why we HAVE friends. When those battles flare up with our kids, we do what we have to do, then we turn to our friends.
To vent. To get advice, sympathy and consolation. To cry. To laugh. To eat ice cream from the carton. To group text until midnight because we need to fall asleep on a good note. To take us to bad movies. To assure us we are not alone. To remind us that a bunch of walls together build a city, and it really does take one of those to raise a child.
So yes, I don’t love every phase of parenting. I suspect I’m not the only one…but I’m possibly the only one to blurt it out to innocent well-wishers. (Sorry about that.)
I do love my children however–desperately and passionately. It’s because of this that I’m willing to let them hate me. To bang up against me and turn my hair gray and give me wrinkles in places I didn’t even know existed. I’ll thank my friend in advance for allowing me to soak their shoulders when I cry, and promise to eat cupcakes with them when they need me. When I’m too tired to be firm I’ll ask God to let me lean on Him so I don’t fall over and crumble, and I’ll thank Him for extra coffee when I have to wait so long for a particular roller coaster ride to end. I’ll pray He gives me friends and advice to pull me back from jumping on the ride myself, and that I can be the foundation I am supposed to be. We’ll get there, as a big walled city…we’ll get there.
My last thought on this:
Hamsters eat their young when things get too chaotic. Just sayin’. But, if you have ever spent time with a pubescent boy after sports practice you realize that is not an option.
(Just jokes people…just jokes!)