I’m sure this post will set some people off. And I’m ok with that. For some reason, there is a large group of people who believe that treating children in a negative way that they would never treat another person is somehow “good for them”.
I think that treating children with respect – from the time they are old enough to understand respect – is the way to create a healthy, positive relationship that will endure the trials you will all suffer as they grow.
I’d like to take a little bit of time to tell you why I believe these behaviors and ideas are completely wrong and share how I was able to raise three great kids who have grown to be my friends and who actually like me.
Your job is to be their parent
I’ll start in my own teenhood back in the 80’s. My family had moved to this tiny little town when I was 13. I was the oldest and I felt utterly alone. Some people would come and go as friendly; but I had no deep friendships.
I was a good kid – never had a lot of interest in promiscuity or smoking and drinking, and certainly never drugs. When I was a younger teen – 14 to 15, I would tell my mother that I was going to [where ever] and that I’d be back around [a given time]. My mother would say something like, “Be safe.” And I’d be on my way.
Now, if you are one of those people who were friendly; please know that I am forever grateful for the amount of friendship you gave. Looking back on my own situation and knowing that my mother was often not home, I would never ever allow one of my own children to spend a lot of time with someone who had almost no parent supervision at any time. I don’t blame anyone. It is what it is.
But, back to the story.
So, eventually, during my 15th year, my twice-widowed mother met her 3rd husband. He was a lunatic and a tyrant. I was suddenly not allowed to do anything.
I never went to the movies in high school.
I never went on a “date” in high school.
I ate lunch by myself because I was so intimidated by the friendships that were formed on the hallway benches. Friendships that I could neither understand nor participate in.
I spent every night at home in my bedroom. I needed more than a parent. I needed a friend.
So – on that happy note, let’s talk about the good stuff!
Just before I graduated from high school, I met this really cute guy. I was 18 by then and this cute guy was 24. He would come and pick me up and we would just GO. To the movies (the movie – Navy Seals – was bad and the floor was sticky). To the beach. To his house. Where ever we wanted.
By the time we hit our third “date”, we had our kids named. We got married when I was 21 and welcomed the first of those pre-named children when I was 23.
Nick was such a great baby. Oh, of course, we had the same struggles as you young moms and dads are having now. I was a breastfeeding mom and a stay-home mom. It was exhausting. And then, when Nick was 9 months old, we found out that we were going to have our second child!! (Oops J)
So, when my first baby was only 18 months old, we welcomed Rachel and things got….um….well, this was adulting and parenting for REAL, y’all!
Rachel was a crier screamer. I mean a SCREAMER. She would roll on to her tummy and scream and rub her face into the crib sheet until her nose was raw. I tried everything. I held her, I swaddled her, I rocked her, I put her in my sling and “wore” her. I walked her, I tried the swing. White noise, rock and roll. Fed her, changed her. Put clothes on, took clothes off.
Oh, and by the way, did I mention I had a toddler too?! Yeah. Super-fun. Sometimes, my husband would come home from work and we’d ALL be crying.
Well, eventually Rachel stopped screaming. Then came the terrible twos and threes. (At the same time). The only thing was – they weren’t terrible!
In fact, I loved this age. They were old enough to be able to tell me what they needed or wanted. We could have conversations. And I loved how they soaked up knowledge so readily. They craved it. They wanted to know about everything. What was it? Where did it come from? What caused it?
We went to the park for picnics. We went to the library. We went on trips to museums and zoos. We read books in forts that we made out of the couch cushions. We made pancakes and waffles and a mess.
A couple more years later and Benjamin was on the way. And we did everything all over again, all the while navigating the new minefield known as “school” for the older two.
School was a disaster
Of course, there were challenges. In 2002, my husband had to go to Iraq for over a year. When he got back, he and I were often at each other’s throats. He was always angry. I got pregnant again, but miscarried. I wanted to try again. He didn’t. I didn’t know how we would heal. But we did.
If you have read my previous posts, you know that school was an unqualified disaster for my older two children. Nick was dyslexic, but we weren’t sure about that until 5th grade. Rachel had a horrible condition called hyperhidrosis which caused her body temperature system to be completely non-regulatory. (Which is probably why she screamed as a baby.) Rachel also had an “eye-convergence disability” which caused her to see double doing anything close-up. You know like reading and writing?! And we didn’t know about either of these problems until she was in 4th grade.
As a side note – my children were able to slip through the cracks with these problems largely due to the fact that many states’ grading systems consist of a vague number or letter system such as 1’s 2’s and 3’s or S, U, N (Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory and Needs Improvement). True A-F letter grading would have identified to everyone exactly how far behind these children were. What was worse was that I knew something was wrong, but when I asked about it, the teachers said things like, “Well, I’ve seen worse.”
But again, that’s a post for another day.
Little Ben entered school and my days staying home ended. I got various jobs. Nothing noteworthy. I had gone back to school when Nick was having his school troubles and now had a teaching degree. But the field was saturated and teachers with more experience were being let go. Worse, I was beginning to realize that politics had ruined education. There was no more time to satiate the hunger of minds that were ravenous for more learning. It had become about teaching to the test. Interest in the subject matter no longer had any place. And education was not the place for me.
So day by day we did the things that families do. We had been a family who ate dinner together most nights. And now, as they all began to get older and be involved in more activities, dinner was later; or on the run. But whenever we could, we still set the table and sat down together. We still folded our hands and asked for a blessing on more than that food on that night…I mean, sure, that’s what the words are – “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.” – But surely God was blessing so much more.
Always talking and listening
My boys played sports. Primarily hockey. Ben also played soccer and football. This gave us a lot of time to talk while we were driving to games. So that’s what we did. We talked about school. I never admonished them much for what I call “light swearing”. After all, “darn” and “damn” really mean the same thing and we gave those words their meaning. Using the Lord’s name and “heavy swearing” were forbidden.
So we could talk about whatever they wanted. I gave advice, gently. I never judged; but I always made sure that they understood a couple of things. First, they were free to think that girl in third period was a werido. Sure, she might be pretty strange. But, you don’t know what’s happening inside her world. Maybe she’s a little weird because she has no one in her life that she can count on. So, you don’t have to be her friend. But you should be friendly. A smile and a kind word can change a person’s day – or even their life. And second, you treat everyone with respect. Always.
Nick and I always felt like we had to have each other’s back. As he got older, he became a comfort to me when things went wrong. I always knew I could count on a hug from him when I was feeling inadequate. I asked him tonight why he thinks we’re so close. He said it’s because we’re so much alike. I suppose that’s true. We are the oldest. The experiment. The one who had the hardest time when the family moved. The one who had to figure it out.
Your job is to be whatever they need you to be
Rachel and I also became very close. When she was in 5th grade, she began “eye therapy” to train her eyes to be able to overcome the double-vision. It was an hour and a half away and we went once a week. We listened to books on tape. She told me her fears, her dreams. She was starting to have a hard time in school.
Remember when I said that I hate it when people say “You shouldn’t be your child’s friend”? Well, I believe that, as a parent, you need to give your child whatever they need. And at that time, and even now that she’s almost 20, what she needed most was a friend.
I remember how it felt to not have friends. To be that person looking at others and wishing you could be their friend, but not trusting anyone enough to try.
So, we spend a lot of time together. We have similar interests and hobbies. And, more and more, she is becoming an adult-child-friend. I respect that she is an adult. She has begun to make friends that are healthy for her. (As opposed to picking the ones who used her or ones that had risky lifestyles.)
The Five Key Things
One – Kids aren’t mini-adults.
They don’t have the life experience that adults have, they don’t have the maturity adults (are to supposed to) have, and they don’t have the reasoning skills adults have.
Further, some children, like my oldest, have trouble finding the right words to explain themselves – especially in a sudden misunderstanding.
Two – Remember when YOU were a kid.
I have told my kids for years, “I used to BE a kid.” I almost always said this jokingly. However, it is so true. I remember being in elementary school. I remember being in middle school and high school. I remember being a young adult. USE that to relate to your kids.
Three – Talk. And Listen.
About the important stuff. About the trivial stuff. Make sure your kids know that they can come to you – and then when they DO, make sure you’re there. Play games, go to movies, share funny memes. Talk about school, about boys and girls, about friends and enemies. Just make sure to take the time to be with them.
Four – Embrace Technology.
A lot of parents don’t see any reason to use the new apps that the kids are using. They don’t care what the hot new thing is. My mother is one of the baby boomers guilty of not wanting to learn to text and/or use a cell phone. Guess what? She barely knows her grandchildren because that’s how they communicate. And, she doesn’t make it better by shaming them about their use of technology.
It’s also irresponsible as a parent. You should know what your children – even older teens and frankly young adults, in my opinion – are up to on their phones. What are they using and why? If you don’t know, you’re opening doors that lead to heaven knows where. Now, if you’re thinking, “I just won’t get my child a phone.” I believe that to be a naive solution. You want your child to be able to call you and you want to be able to reach your child. You may want to consider a service such as Disney’s Circle. I don’t know a lot about it; but it is a technology management tool.
Five – Respect.
Treat your children with at least the same amount of respect you would give to your co-workers. Treat them with the respect that you would expect them to return to you. To the the world.
Respect brings up one last point that I want to make. Embarrassing your kids on purpose. Because you think it’s so funny. It’s not funny. When they go to school and they already feel like everyone’s laughing at them…(maybe everyone really isn’t. Maybe everyone really is)…But when it feels like everyone is laughing and their own parents are making fun of them too…guess what? It’s really, really not funny.
Do you think your child’s friends are going to just let the scene you made go, without comment? Are you crazy?! That is the sort of thing that can last for months. Or longer. “Remember when Jenny’s mom ________?!”
That sort of behavior is severely lacking in respect (not to mention maturity). Trust me, if you’re going for something your child will remember, this is NOT the way to go.
So, that’s all I have for you today friends. I hope you enjoyed seeing a piece of my life.
Till next time 🙂