More than just happy adults, I want my kids to be realists. This will serve them so much better in life. I don’t think they should go through life anticipating only worst case scenarios but there is something to be said for fully exploring what COULD happen. That knowledge might better allow them to take steps to avoid it or, at the very least, accept it without paralyzing shock – and move on.
Recently I have watched my biggers struggle with the negative fallout from some of their own life choices. Clearly, we make choices based on our own experiences but failing that, we make them based on what we have been taught. I fully believe that it falls on the parent to “teach” so for that reason, I must take some responsibility. I can always blame their other parent…and I do…frequently and while that satisfies me greatly at times, it does nothing for them so I move on and try to re-teach them from an adult point of view. This re-teaching is often the equivalent of the “look it up” response used by parents who don’t know an answer to a question. (C’mon. Admit it.) When I say “look it up” to my biggers it means “I don’t know. I have not experienced this before. You will need to research it, maybe make some calls, do some reading. It’s what I would have to do but I’m not going to do it for you. Trust me. I’m doing you a favor.” Then I walk away and act like I am all involved in doing my own thing while my insides tumble and I watch to see if anything takes.
These days, it seldom enters my mind to try to “fix” things for the littles. Though I do have the benefit of hindsight from my biggers, balancing this without shirking the core responsibility of what parents should do, is the hard part. When I do choose to “fix”, I generally back it up with an explanation, (not a defense), of why. These explanations run the gambit from safety issues to logistical solutions to this was “my bad” so I should correct things. I have never formally punished or grounded them. From my own childhood, I can remember only focusing on the punishment and not on the behavior that created it. Also, at around age eight, my youngest pointed out that if I was so tired of his behavior why would I want to keep him “in the house… around you… for a whole week?” Good point.
Oddly, my youngest seems to have a better handle on reality than his siblings. I could say that is because he has a brilliant mind and is capable of comprehending concepts beyond his years but it most likely has more to do with being on forth in a series of four. He didn’t get the hyper-vigilant parenting that the biggers did. I have actually said things to him like, “This is gonna suck for you.”, when he does something irresponsible or just plain stupid. I am choosing to believe that maternal responses like that have nudged him toward handling things on his own when he can. Sometimes his handling skills are questionable and that becomes our jump off parenting point. One time, while defending a friend on the bus, he was told to sit in the “front seat of shame”. Telling his perpetually mean spirited bus driver that she was being unfair and miserable because she hated her own life probably hit too close to home. Righteously repeating it for the assistant principal was a clear expression of his conviction. My reaction? I listened to his side, congratulated him on being a good friend, talked about how he should consider expressing his opinion is a less disrespectful way because really - adults hate that - and ended with yes, I should be able to pick him up from detention. My point is - he didn’t run home to ask me to do something about it. Were it not for the call from the assistant principal as per school policy, he was fully prepared to take his punishment without my ever having known about it.
Instead of “fixing”, I have begun to rely on something I like to call conversational reality checks. The key is to keep all parental advice in the context of an actual conversation, preferably one that they have initiated. This can be tricky. Segueing into the dangers of freshman hanging out with seniors while interpreting an episode of Grimm requires skill. Trying to parallel the potential gang mentality of my youngest son’s group of buddies, (locally known as the “lost boys”), with religious and political intolerance can be exhausting.
Some of my conversational reality check technique is rubbing off on the biggers. My older daughter answered the door one evening and was met by a group of sad “lost boys”. When she asked what was wrong, they told her that one of their dogs had been run over – horrifically - by their own mother - in front of them. They wanted to share this with my son who was not home. My daughter did what she felt best. She hugged them and then told them, “I’m so sorry. Don’t worry. Things get much worse as you get older.” That’s my girl.
Sometimes late at night, I go outside and feel the presence of my dad. I look up and ask him “How do I do this? What parts are the most important?” I imagine him answering me from the stars in his Mufasa-like voice - “Look it up.”