But there are things I don't share to protect to privacy of the kids. Like, I won't share bed wetting stories after the age of say, twelve, puberty stuff (even though I actually think puberty is pretty darn cool and good for many laughs), or deviant behavior that might involve the authorities (I keep telling Jonah to stop with the car theft, already). But I think, without including specifics, I can speak to the difficulty of the task of parenting.
Two words. Super hard.
It's hard to know how to teach a child the right thing without beating them over the head with it. Certain of our children can be given leeway in a particular situation, like getting to go do something fun first and finish the homework later "just this once", and for others that would be the establishment, in their minds, of the "new normal". I hear my thoughts when I am being lenient, "Better watch out, they will start acting entitled!" Or when I am being strict, "Careful there, don't forget compassion!"
I worry that I'm not being fun, that I am not being consistent, that I am not being or doing something that I will forever regret, and that my child will suffer for eternally at my hand. I guess it is the plight of motherhood. There is no owners manual, but there are millions -MILLIONS- of well meaning opinions.
Our family hit a big milestone last month. Our first fledgling has left the nest, hit the bricks, flown the coop. Yup, there are only 7 people using our solitary toilet now.
(Begin flashback music here...)
When each of our babies was born, we first made sure they were breathing, then checked to see if our new little apple had a stem or not. Then we said, "Welcome to the world little one! The timer is set; you now have 17 years, 11 months, 4 weeks, 2 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes to stay in our home, and then I'm afraid you'll be on your own. We love you!"
Well, not so much that, but you ask my kids as young as Tessa and they will tell you that 18 is the "magic age" by which they need to have made a few important choices (Jonah says it's 8! Well, depending in how the next 3 years go, I'll let you know). The rule goes like this: turn 18, then: go to college, prepare to serve a mission for our church, begin to pay a very modest rent or move out. Our biggest bird turned 18 a few months back. He was raised on "the rules", so he knew the deadline was looming.
I won't speak here about the specific way he chose to handle things. But I will say this; following through with this rule has been harder for me than any need for follow through that parenting has ever presented me. Harder than the times I have made a kid stay home from a sleep-over or party or horseback riding lesson, to complete a chore or in consequence to being dishonest. I am a firm believer that bailouts create people who need more bailouts, that helicopter parenting creates the need for a permanent landing pad, and that we rob our children of growth opportunities by rescuing them when they are not actually drowning.
But that doesn't make it easy. Not at all. NOT. AT. ALL.
I am grateful for loved ones who support and encourage my children to make good choices, and as a result are also supporting us in our parenting. In some cases, there have actually been good choices generously created for one if my offspring by these folks who love our family. These dear people have made this particular transition far more gentle than it might have otherwise been. Still, hard. So hard.
This was the first time for Guy and I to send one of our fledglings from our nest, hoping they land softly. We will have to do it 5 more times before we're done. And no two will be just alike.
The bottom line is that every parenting situation makes a parent have to do grey-matter aerobics. Each event requires we consider THIS child, at THIS age, with THIS particular set of specifics. Staying consistent is never a matter of reacting the same way every time. In fact, we can't.
There is actually only one thing we can do "consistently" to parent effectively; follow the spirit. We have to connect to our higher power, call it what you like, and rely on a source greater than ourselves for guidance. We must look into the eyes of these little (or not so little, and sometimes jumbo) beings, and remember that only part of them comes from us. There is something eternal in them that we had as much to with as when they do something awesome that we never thought to teach them.
So we stare into those amazing eyes and push aside the voices in our heads that want us to micro-manage, reprimand or blame. We stop thinking about what WE want for them, and open our minds to what their Creator wants for them.
Birds were never meant to stay in nests. Nests are temporary. Birds are supposed to fly.