I ran into an old friend today in the bathroom of the mall, of all places. We compared notes on what our teenage kids were up to. Then my friend asked “Don’t you feel like, by now, we’ve just got this parenting thing down pat?” Without even thinking, I said, “Heck no!” She was as surprised by my rapid reaction as I was. I told her that every day presents something new with my four kids and I never really feel like I’ve got a handle on it all.
What works on one child does not always work on another. Parenting is definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Plus, I’ll be honest, over the course of four kids, Thomas and I have gotten really tired. It’s exhausting to try to deal with emerging egos, issues (oh, the issues), needs and wants and to try to do it all well.
We had more energy to do this with the two older kids than the younger two. The older ones love to remind us of the harsh but effective punishments we would lay down, being sure to let us know we aren’t being that strict with their younger siblings. They are right. But we are tired. And frankly, the younger kids were really easy until they hit their teen years. Now they are giving us a run for our money and we’re having to re-energize our parenting efforts.
Being kind and supportive and guiding children in the right direction is the happy part of parenting. It’s the discipline that really zaps our energy. Sometimes, as soon as I say a punishment, I feel an internal groan that says, “Oh man, that’s going to be a pain to instill, why did you say that.”
If we’d had more time together, I would have asked my friend for all of her parenting tips. “I know I have twice as many kids as you but you seem to know stuff I don’t, so tell me how to do this parenting thing!” That’s not a daunting request to make of someone in the bathroom at the mall, is it?
So it all begs the question – do we EVER really get this parenting thing down? Parenting needs to morph and adjust depending on the child and the situation. And as our energy and parenting philosophies change over the years, how critical is it to maintain the same degree of parenting from one child to another? Is it even possible? What I am almost 100% sure of is that, at least for me, I’ll never feel like I’ve mastered being a parent. It’s an ongoing, ever-changing job that I’m always getting on-the-job-training for.
I don’t think we were better parents THEN than NOW…but we were different. Our techniques have changed, to be sure, but the bottom line has remained the same. We want the kids to grow into healthy, fully functioning adults that contribute to society and have good lives. In my early years of parenting, I was much less patient, not as good a listener, willing to impose punishment first and ask questions later. Now I strive to let the kids speak their minds and express their feelings more. Then I question them and explore their reasoning as much as one can with irate, hormonal teens screaming, “You don’t understand!”
Is this effective? Sometimes I wonder…only time will tell. Will our kids make mistakes? Sure! But if they learn from them and do better, then I’ll feel a-ok. Growing up is imperfect at best. Same with parenting!
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