I've been home alone with my 16-year-old, Max, since mid-week. Wes took the three younger kids to his annual family campout in Missouri. With just the two of us to care for, life has been much slower. Quieter. Yes, dare I say, easier?
Just yesterday as we were driving to get Max a burger, I asked if he was enjoying the solitude. "Yeah," he replied. "Just think Mom, this could be how life is ALL the time." I smiled at that...Max has always and forever believed he should be an only child. I ruined that, three times over.
I know Max believes in the truth of what he said, but I also know how much he loves his family, even as he denounces us as stupid and annoying. Tucker and Max are as close as any brothers I've ever known. When they're here at the house, they're usually together. They exchange insults on a regular basis, but separately, they admit to the love they feel for one another. It's how family is.
Last night, I had the good fortune to enjoy the company of some wonderful friends, people I respect. The topic turned to parenting and kids, and we pondered the idea that raising kids with strict discipline does not necessarily result in kids who regularly make good choices. Conversely, kids raised with looser discipline don't always head down the wrong path.
I do think there's one measurement for parenting that is consistent across the board, regardless of parenting style: If your kids are never mad at you, you better step back and think about what you're doing.
With four kids between the ages of 8 and 16, I can almost count on the fact that at any given moment, at least one of them thinks I know nothing, am out of it, am mean, abuse of my power...the list goes on. In short, I suck. Knowing that the people I love most in this world feel that way on a semi-regular basis used to make me crazy. It hurt my feelings, made me second-guess my decisions and choices, left me feeling inadequate. But as they got older and began to voice their dissent more often, I came to recognize the phenomenon as one that I was just going to have to live with or change how I parent. And that second option wasn't very realistic.
Not that I'm a perfect parent. God, no. I wish I were, but Mom always told me to wish in one hand and poop in the other and see which filled up fastest. But I listen to my gut, and that intuition is reliable. And, generally speaking, my kids are good people. As one friend put it, I "allow them to be individuals and still give 'em a kick in the ass when they need it." Well said, friend.
I'm not here to be my kids' friend; they have enough of those. I feed those friends. I let them sleep at my house. I counsel some of them when they ask for advice. In short, I live with those friends; I don't want to be one of them. Some days, I don't want to be a parent, either. I'm tired. Or just feel lazy. Or am on the edge of the abyss because I have said, "Would you (fill in the blank)" 821 times already and the request still hasn't been fulfilled. Maybe I have a work deadline I'm struggling to meet. I don't want to cook dinner for myself or anyone else. Really, I just don't wanna do it.
I signed up for this job willingly and without much understanding of what it entails. I took the risk, accepted the challenge. And so I will see it through. And if that means Max is mad because I won't allow him to sleep at a friend's house unless a parent is home and knows Max is supposed to sleep there, too bad. It's my job to know where my kid is, or at the very least, where he isn't.
If being a parent means explaining to Tucker for the 93rd time why I will not let him see that R-rated movie he so badly wants to see and which everyone else has seen, so be it. I'll do it. My teeth will be clenched, my eyebrow may twitch. Saying "yes" would require less effort, and I'd be the hero instead of the enemy. But I will still say "no."
If parenting this particular set of children the way I think they should be parented means Tavia is going to shoot me the 56th dirty look--really, Mom, are you serious?--of the day, then I will be the recipient of the 56th dirty look of the day. She will stomp up the stairs, slam her door, and be mad...until she isn't, which is probably not too long because she wants me to paint her nails, draw with her, toss her the volleyball so she can practice her bumps.
Bella, at 8, is young enough that she still wants to always do the right thing. My requests and restrictions may impose upon her happiness; they may be met with pouts and slumped shoulders to show me she's carrying the weight of the world. But by the day's end, I'm getting kisses and being told she loves me.
I can live with all of this. What I couldn't live with are kids who don't talk to me. Who never share the good and bad of their day, who can't be bothered to hug me goodbye or kiss me goodnight. I can live with the unpleasantness, but not without the good stuff. And I don't think the good stuff is a given; I earn that. How? By caring about where they are and who they're with. I love them with words and actions. The limits I impose act in the same way hugs do; they say "I love you," "you are worth caring about," "I know you're smart, but I'm one step ahead of you."
I'd rather my kids are always happy with me; that would be a slice of heaven. Who needs angels and clouds and everlasting life if you've got kids who understand you're just doing the best you can by them, even if that means not letting them do what they want? But I'm no fool. I know being a parent sometimes means they see me with horns and beady, red pig eyes.
That's cool. I look good in red.