Friday, September 19, 2014

A Tough Talk About Parenting


I have often said that teaching is, hands down, one of the hardest jobs on the planet.  But do you know what job is even harder than teaching?  Being a parent.  My parenting helps my teaching, and my teaching helps my parenting, but both jobs are hard.  Very hard.  Except the latter doesn't come with any college courses, any form of degree, nor any experience required.  

I never have or ever will claim to be a perfect parent.  I make parenting mistakes all the time.  But, one thing I can say is that when I look at my kids, and see them for all the wonders that they bring to this world, I have to give myself a pat on the back.  They're also still alive, they're still healthy, they still have smiles on their faces, and they still love me.  So, I must be doing something right.  

Having three kids that are so different in personalities is a tough endeavor.  And, it also requires being three different parents rolled in to one.  I have often been criticized for parenting each of my kids differently.  There are many people who believe I should treat each of my kids exactly the same, give them the same freedoms, the same responsibilities, the same rewards, and the same consequences.
However, I have determined that a "one size fits all" way of parenting just doesn't work for me or my kids.

For example, if Peanut does something wrong, I know that the way to slam down the consequences is to take away her contact with her friends.  Grounding her.  Keeping her locked up and away from social gatherings and events.  Or, I could take away her cell phone.  That, also would bring on serious devastation and rethought to her actions.  On the other hand, if I ground Butter from those types of things, it wouldn't bother him a bit.  He's not the social butterfly that Peanut is, and wouldn't even notice that much of a change in his lifestyle if I took those things away from him.  I know that to hit him where it means the most is his PS3.  That's his way of enjoying his free time.  Jelly, once again, wouldn't notice a bit if I "grounded" her or took away any electronic devices, but if I sent her to her room for a small amount of time, the child would be devastated and would definitely rethink her behavior before acting up again.  Once again, in reverse, sending Peanut and Butter to their rooms would be like a reward rather than a consequence.  They enjoy spending time in their own rooms, so sending them there wouldn't cause a bit of bother to either of them.  

Each of my kids are unique in who they are, and how they need to be parented.  And, that's something I enjoy and embrace.  Despite criticism from others, I don't think I'm doing such a bad job.  

My oldest daughter is one of the most level headed people I know.  She is only 14, but far beyond her years.  She's smart, funny, opinionated and a born leader.  She's independent and doesn't require approval from anyone.  She is a loyal friend, but an honest one.  She won't think twice about giving her honest answer to a question, even if she knows it's not really what the person wants to hear.  She is a social butterfly that stays actively involved in many clubs and organizations because of the contact it gives her with others.  

Butter is impulsive, often acts before he thinks about what he's doing.  He is so sweet, kind, and loving, and craves acceptance.  He is often loyal to a fault, and will often do stuff he knows he shouldn't because in his mind, it will earn him points with people he's trying to impress.  He has overcome some of the hardest obstacles any kid should ever have to overcome, yet he chooses to keep those obstacles private because he doesn't want people to think less of him.  He tries so hard to fit in, and sometimes tries a little too hard at it.  Yet, he's filled with so much potential, has made so many gains, and truly is a wonderful kid.  When given the right motivation, he'd lay his life down to please and feels like he's won the lottery with the smallest amount of praise.  

Jelly is a mixture of them both.  She's hard headed, independent, and super loving.  However, she'd much rather spend time with her stuffed animals and real animals than large crowds of kids.  She is neither a follower or a leader.  She is the kind of kid that has the attitude of taking her or leaving her.  She's perfectly content with playing with a different person each day, and if someone gets upset with her she has the attitude that they'll get over it.  She's not begging for forgiveness or following anyone around to earn their approval.  She also doesn't got out of her way to make new friends, but can sit on the sidelines waiting for someone to come to her.  When she does make a special friend, however, they are treated with fairness and kindness.  If she has a snack, they must also have a snack.  If I give her money for ice-cream, her friend must also have money for an ice-cream.  If she doesn't want to play outside, she will if it will make her friend long as they agree to do something she wants to do after.  And, at the end of the day, she loves me and can't go to bed unless I tuck her in and kiss her goodnight.  

I absolutely adore and am so proud of each of my children.  I look at their strengths and give myself a pat on the back, knowing I have somehow helped mold them in to who they are.  I look at their weaknesses and give myself a pat on the back, knowing that I have somehow molded those things.. along with the ability for them to face and embrace them.

My kids are all individual beings.  They have their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes, and their own views on the world.  How those things all came to be so different is beyond me, but something I'm quite happy and proud of.  I know that at the root of it all, I haven't been too bad of a parent.

In the car ride home, last night, the kids and I were having this very discussion.  Well, we were discussing my parenting style.  Peanut was telling me how thankful she was that I gave her freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, but did so being actively involved in her life.  She feels comfortable talking to me, and thanked me for being the type of mom she could come to with problems knowing that I won't go all crazy on her.  She appreciates the open line of communication we have, and knows that I keep myself in her life but at a comfortable distance for her to make her own decisions and learn with the way they play out.

Hearing those words meant a lot to me.  I explained my philosophy on parenting with a comparison to dogs.  Not something I should have done when talking about my kids, but they got the picture.

The way I look at it is I keep my kids on an extension leash.  I let them roam out far enough to feel like they're running free, but still holding on to one end of the leash.  There are some parents that have their kids in a choke collar, and some parents who let their kids roam around without any form of leash.  I see myself as being in the middle.  I'll only let my kids off far enough until I need to tug back a little.  That means I'll let them make some mistakes, I won't control their lives, and I'll try not to interfere too much with their freedom.  However, if I see something coming in the distance that could cause harm, I know it's time to pull the leash back in and keep them closer to me.

Instead of parenting with the motto "Do as I say, not as I do", I keep in mind that I was a kid once, and I made mistakes.  I had to learn from them, and each one of my mistakes made me who I am today.  Now, there are some mistakes that I'd rather my kids didn't have to go through, but I attribute a lot of my downfalls to being cut off with a choke collar when a choke collar wasn't warranted... and then me desperately flailing around until the collar came off completely.

By that I mean, for most of my life I was given a pretty long leash.  I was very much like Peanut growing up.  Then, for no reason whatsoever (except the fact that I was getting older, so the possibilities of trouble could come my way) I was placed on a very short leash.  My freedom was taken away from me, the trust I had earned was often questioned for no reason, and I started to feel trapped after spending so long with a big, open place to run.  So, my natural instinct was to rebel.  I don't want to do the same to my kids.  

I want my kids to know that no matter how many times they fall, I'll be there to pick them up.  I can't fight their battles for them, or fix all of their problems.  But, I will always be there to support them.  I will stand by them.  I will defend them.  And I will always love them... always and forever.

My kids are my everything.  How I parent them is my decision, and I don't think I'm doing that bad of a job.  Others have their opinions, and their right to disagree... but my kids will always be able to count on me watching their every move, even from afar.  I stay involved, I stay informed, and I stay on the sidelines.  I only sub in when I need to.  It works for us, and I have full faith that each of my kids are destined for greatness.  

I am so blessed to be the parent to my three amazing children.  They teach me just as much as I teach them.  And each day, I give thanks for them.  

Being a parent may be one of the hardest jobs on the planet, but it's also one of the most rewarding.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Have a great Friday, everyone!!


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