Don’t try to make children grow up to be like you, or they may do it. –Russell Baker
The idea of being in charge of small people always seemed overwhelming to me. Babies need constant care, toddlers keep you running, then come the tantrums…and all this during a child’s cutest phase! And please, don’t be fooled by the false hope of the elementary school years…while the child is certainly capable of handling many tasks independently, elementary school is definitely a whirlwind all its own. If questions and comments your child picked up from preschool friends had you blushing…just wait! With a better vocabulary and dedicated lunch/recess time to “share,” your child is sure to come home with a couple of doozies! I am just now treading into the tween and teen years of parenthood and I’m anticipating even more hurdles and embarrassing conversations. I mean, these are the years they actually WARN us about 😦
In reality parenthood is everything they said it would be…good, bad, frustrating and rewarding. We love our kiddos and I’m pretty sure the cycle of life isn’t going anywhere! However, it’s come to my attention lately that dealing with my kids is getting a lot more complicated. When they were little they exemplified typical “little” people behavior. The moments of defiance and cuteness along with the awe of learning new things were just part of a normal day. And newsflash–probably none of our children were truly exceptional at this point. In fact, I’ve read several studies that suggest that most of our children all level out in kindergarten. That means despite being the product of a stay-at-home mom, single-parent household, working parents, or daycare (home or otherwise,) all of our kiddos have reached the same milestones at this particular crossroad in life. The differences become evident after our children enter school and not necessarily because of school itself. It appears that a child’s personality begins to develop and solidify all within the first few years of elementary school (barring any huge life events, of course.) I am not a psychologist, but I think the stats hold up. An even-tempered child at age 6 likely maintains that even temper. A selfish child at age 7 probably has selfish tendencies throughout life. A sensitive demeanor at age 8 means the child has a good chance of maintaining that sensitivity well into adulthood.
So here’s where I stand with my now “complicated” kiddos. As a 10 and 13-year-old, their personalities are well-developed and those same personalities are not afraid to go head to head with mine! This is a good AND a bad thing. As nature would have it, my kids and I have some similar personality traits. For example, my son and I are suckers for comedies and enjoy wasting hours watching funny movies. We laugh at the same dumb things and for the most part “speak the same language.” My daughter and I both love organization, we approach problems very analytically, and LOVE to read and learn new things! All three of us are artistic. On the other hand, my kids are extremely social while I am an introvert. Their constant need to be with friends and have friends over just blows me away! They both enjoy sports while I threw out my hip playing kickball in my grandma’s front yard (no athletic ability here.) They both love video games and I consider video games to be the ultimate waste of time. None of this is a deal breaker, but we do spar over homework, practice time, and responsibility. I wonder about their commitment level, attention to detail and their desire to work hard. I have a tough time hearing them complain about problems that they can fix themselves, whine about situations that get a little difficult and sulk when things don’t go their way. It’s in these things that I have to stop and remind myself, “He’s not you, and she’s not me.”
It’s not an easy thing to maneuver. When I got into this parenting gig I never once contemplated the idea that these little beings could give me any problems or try my nerves. In a naïve way, I imagined they would be some kind of “mini-me” and thus, they would be perfectly reasonable at all times (feel free to laugh out loud here!) All any of us really have to go on when we enter parenthood are our own childhood experiences, the experiences of those closest to us, and maybe a couple of baby books. So basically, we might as well go into this blind…because this is what I remember from my early days:
I’m pretty sure I was not your typical child. In a lot of ways I was probably always a little bit of a grown up…or perhaps an old soul. I was thoughtful in ways that most kids never think of…weighing the pros and cons of many decisions that others wouldn’t even consider. I was very self-concerned and stubborn. I worked hard. By the time I was 8 I knew I wanted to go to college and I was driven to get there. I was shy and serious. I was afraid of failure. I WAS BY NO MEANS PERFECT. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I hated making mistakes and vowed to learn from them. I felt very safe and secure with my family. I was creative. I didn’t really care what other people thought of me. I believed in a God who loved me and would never abandon me.
This is how I “remember” my childhood, but this alone doesn’t garner enough information on how to raise a child…especially a child that in all likelihood would be very different from myself. Oh, how I wish I had realized all this earlier!
Possessing an awareness that there are and will be differences is key to navigating my parenting responsibilities now and into the future. This newfound credo of “he’s not you, and she’s not me,” might be the saving grace that I need to get over this parenting hump. Stepping back and realizing that we are all separate individuals and that our differences are okay (heck, we might even learn something from one another) could make these next years a growing experience for us all. I know that the head to head battles will exist (there’s no way I’m going to let them grow up without a sense of accountability and purpose,) but hopefully the battles will also include some level of understanding. I truly love these kiddos and I want to love them into being the people God called them to be…not a “mini-me” clone and certainly not the “ideal” person that lives in my imagination. Most of us hope to raise children to be more than ourselves…we seek to give them not only the things that we had growing up but so much more. We want them to have the benefit of all those who have come before them…us included. The long-held belief that each generation should be better than the one before drives us in so many ways, but it’s also a belief that can cause us to “run-over” our own children. A lack of understanding can stop them in their tracks before they’ve even had a chance to start…and we’ve all seen it happen far too many times.
My kids will not have a childhood experience that mirrors mine. Their friendships and relationships will look different from the ones I knew 30+ years ago. They will stumble and fall. They will let me down and they will find a strength that I never knew they could possess. These same kiddos will test the waters and sometimes they will get hurt. They will succeed in areas where I’ve failed and they will thrive in places I would have been too afraid to venture into. And really, the last thing the world needs is a “mini-me,” (because I am certainly not all that easy to deal with!) In the end, when they finally reach adulthood, I pray that I would have loved them through all of it. I know it will not be easy because I have high hopes and expectations (I’m still a mom after all!) But these years–the tweens and teens, the “home-stretch” if you will, are far too valuable to just endure. These are critical times. Love your daughter. Love your son. And remember, “he’s not you and she’s not me…” it just might make all the difference.
Childhood is a short season. –Helen Hayes