Have you ever sat in a parenting class or lesson and felt like a complete failure? I have a friend who told me once, If I had only had my oldest child, I would have thought I was the world ?s best parent. She got good grades and obeyed the rules, She went to church willingly and kept the commandments. She was self-motivated. I never had to remind her to practice the piano or do her homework. ? She continued, And if all I had ever had was my second child, I would have thought I was the world ?s worst parent. He was totally opposite from her. ?
I am the mother of one and the stepmother of five, and when I married their dad, the youngest was fifteen. One time I was with one of my stepsons and he courteously opened the door for a lady coming out of a store. She smiled in my direction. Good job, Mom. ?
When we got in the car I told him that I wanted him to know that the compliment rightfully belonged to his mother, but that I didn ?t want to needlessly explain our family history. You know my motto: I don ?t deserve the credit. I won ?t take the blame. ?
We all know we are responsible for teaching our children, but at some point we also have to step back and separate our egos from their behavior and let them make their own choices based on the things we have taught them. Some people teach parenting skills as though it were an exact science. We ?ve all heard someone say, Before I had children, I had five theories about raising good kids. Now I have five children and no theories. ? Anyone with even fifteen minutes of parenting experience knows that you can do A ? and B ? and not necessarily get C. ? There is an unstable element in this equation. Even very young, each child ?s personality begins to manifest itself. It came as part of the package.
I could always tell when they were bringing my baby to me in the hospital because a few hours into his life, he began to announce himself with a high-pitched squeal. That squeal has got to go, ? said my husband.
Did you want me to tell him or do you want to talk to him about it? ?
I ?ve been reading a fun little book by Phyllis M. Letellier called A Stock Tank of Petunias on Poverty Flat. She details some of the challenges of the country life, and this little book is full of wit and wisdom. One thing I remember from the book is that she had always made do. ? She lives by the saying, Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without. ? She says that consequently one of her sons is like her and creatively recycles things and another son has vowed never to have to make do ? again. Sometimes the way we shape our children is in the ways they don ?t want to follow our footsteps.
A mother facing divorce may find that her oldest daughter says, I ?m not going to make the same mistake Mom did and marry outside the Church. That caused a lot of problems between Mom and Dad. ? She deepens her resolve to have nothing but a temple marriage. Daughter number two may say, Religion is what broke my parents up, and so I want nothing to do with it. ?
According to my son, 24 years grown out of the squeal, I did a good thing by moving outside of Salt Lake City to raise him. If we had stayed in Salt Lake, I would have probably rebelled from the Church. I ?m a nonconformist, and I probably would have done it just to be different. In Florida, I could rebel by being religious. ?
This brings me to another interesting point. Often we may do the right ? thing completely by accident. And none of us set out to make major parenting mistakes on purpose, either. The on-the-job-training program is pretty intense.
Sure, once your children are grown, you might be able to look back with 20/20 hindsight and see how you could have done things better. I realize now that from the time he was ten months old, when his father died, my young son was my emotional support. If I could do it over again, I would rely on my adult friends more, but like Mount Everest, he was there. Not long ago my husband took a trip to Israel, not the safest place in the world to travel. My son told him, Be careful. Your job is to take care of my mother. ? I could almost hear the rest of that. So I don ?t have to. ?
I have apologized to him, told him of my realization and regrets. I wish I could just say, ?here is your childhood back. ? ? He tells me that I am more worried about it than he is and that he ?s fine. Still, it never hurts to take stock of our failings and own up to them, admit we made mistakes, and then get on with it.
I believe, beyond that, in letting your kids take credit for their own choices, especially once they are old enough to be on their own. When someone commented on the rebellious child of a friend of mine, she said, You know, the Lord gave his free agency to him instead of to me. ? Let ?s face it, from time to time one of your kids is going to do something you just don ?t get excited about putting in the Christmas newsletter. Do your best to separate your ego from the accomplishments or behavior of your children. We go through those early years being Tiffany ?s mom ? or Tyler ?s Dad, ? but in the final analysis, we have to be willing to each stand alone and account for our own behavior. That ?s not to say that parents don ?t sometimes really mess up their kids, but even then, some people rise above it and take responsibility for their choices as adults and live productive lives. Others use their unhappy childhoods ? to justify whatever behavior is taking place at the moment. If you have taught your children nothing else, there is still time to teach them to take responsibility for the decisions they make, even if they have experienced difficult and trying things in the past.
We provide the examples, be they good or bad, but in the final analysis we have little or no control over what our children do in regard to those examples. I suspect many of us are mixing the ingredients as we go along and just trying not to blow up the lab. During May and June, when we honor mothers and fathers, forgive your parents for their mistakes and let your children make theirs. And make sure they know you love them no matter what. In the final analysis, that may be the most important thing of all.