Mental Meanderings: Questions about parenthood

September 5, 2013 in Education


There are days when what I want to write about doesn’t really fit this blog.

Sometimes I publish it on one of my other blogs, sometimes I write for myself, or share it with a friend. Today, I feel compelled to go ahead and share it here, even though it’s not about travel and not strictly about education either. It’s a bit of a rant, actually.

It’s been an interesting week for me. I’ve had several interactions online and some personal conversations with people dear to me that have reminded me of what’s at stake in this messy project we call parenting.

Let me be the first to tell you that we are not a perfect family. I’m not a perfect mom. I’m doing my best, but I’m not sure it’s good enough. I’m acutely aware of my faults, as are my children. I don’t have all of the answers, not even for my own kids, never mind anyone else’s. We’ve had some great examples, some sound encouragement and lots of steady support from our tribe and that is what gets us through. We’re figuring it out, day by day, just like everyone else.

I’ve been thinking all week about a viral blog post a friend shared. Perhaps you read it too, it was the one about FYI, to teenage girls. I don’t want to link to it here because I’d really rather not drive any more traffic in her direction. Of course there are now more than a few “rebuttal” posts out there, only one of which was kind and considerate of the personhood of the original author. I don’t need to enter the fray. The poor woman has been sufficiently raked over the coals for her double standard and inadequately thought out assertions.

And then, today I was speaking with someone I love very much. She’s like a sister to me. She didn’t have the best childhood. Among many other things, her education was almost completely neglected. Her parents dropped the ball. Massively. Now she’s in her mid-twenties, finding that she’s woefully underprepared for adult life on multiple levels and stuck trying to pick up the pieces. And she’s mad. I’m mad too.

I find myself asking a lot of “What, exactly, are we doing here?” type questions this week.

What are we communicating to our daughters about their self worth and value as persons?

What are we communicating to our sons about respect for themselves and others?

Are we allowing our kids (and the kids of others) to make mistakes, to mess up, to perhaps have a huge lapse of judgement in the privacy of their own homes? What about when it happens very publicly, online?

When they do mess up (just like we all did) what is the right response as a mother, or as the mother of one of their friends?  

What is the meaning of grace? How many “chances” should someone get when stumbling through the deep waters of the maturation process? Is there ever a point at which it’s appropriate to “black list” a kid?

Do I want my kids focused more on what other people think of what they see on the outside of their lives, or focused more on building up the inside of their characters?  What am I teaching them to notice about others?

What does it mean to equip my kids for “the real world?” What are my responsibilities, as a parent? What are their responsibilities, as developing persons?

What am I messing up now that my kids are going to be really mad about when they are in their mid-twenties? What forest can I not see because of the trees?

Where is the line between sharing my values with the kids and giving them the freedom to develop their own?

Is it better to set the bar high, and expect more, or remove all of the fences and expectations along with them? 

What is reasonable to expect from fellow parents? Where is the line between giving people space to do family life their own way, celebrating diversity, and insisting on children being raised to be competent humans: educationally, socially, emotionally, etc?

That’s a long list of questions. 

There are more. This is why I haven’t written much this week. I’ve been noodling things. I don’t have anything to say, I just have lots to ask.

I do know this much:

I’m committed to raising kids who don’t care too much what you think. Hannah was called a “privileged brat” this week in the comments on her blog. She laughed. She will continue to post what she posts, including her thoughts and photos. I will expect friends and family to love and encourage her, to speak into her life when they have the opportunity and to be patient with her through the growing pains. She might not always get it right. She’s allowed to mess up. We will always give second chances… and third, and fourth, to infinity, chances.

I’m raising my boys in the real world. They are going to see naked people. Next issue. They are going to see pictures of girls sticking out duck lips and being ridiculous, perhaps even girls that we know and are a bit surprised by. This will be an opportunity for them to show love, to gloss over people’s “whoops” moments, and to remember that no girl is a two dimensional photo posted on Facebook, she’s a three dimensional person and we’ll talk about that. I’m raising them to be men. I expect them to deal with the real world, not a carefully sanitized version that I, as their mother, might be more comfortable with. I expect them to sink and swim, because we all make mistakes before we figure it out.

I will never give up on my kids or any of their friends. I expect bumps in the road. I am prepared for indiscretions on social media or long distance chats. We’ll walk everyone through it, talk it out, work towards an understanding of socially appropriate and productive behavior and grow right on through. No need to slam people, or black list them. No need to shame other parents. No need to act like being a completely normal, hot blooded teen is the end of the world. Just a need to learn to channel it, that’s all. We’ve all been there. We walked through hell and back with a teenager we loved (and his parents) about ten years ago, as a result of the social media of the time. It was terrible. The worst things I could imagine for him, and for his family. He’s pushing 30 now, and fantastic. His relationship with his parents is wonderful. Life happens. Grace and love are necessary. Even in the hard things… especially in the hard things.

My kids get to fail, but I’m always going to expect them to succeed. I’ve thought about it a lot (not just this week!) and I’m going to be that Mom who sets the bar high and expects the kids to stand on their tippie toes and then jump to catch it. I’ll expect them to swing hard and build their own momentum and then I’ll expect them to fly up and grab the next bar, and the next, and the next. The dreams they follow should be their own, not mine. They are free to change course as many times as they want, but we will insist on forward motion: find your passion, pursue it passionately, fall down, get up, try again, go, go, GO! I’m a believer in hard work, determination, follow through, developing deep self discipline, and doing hard things… this month it’s pre-algebra and semi-colon placement on one end of the kid spectrum, balancing first jobs and launch plans on the other.

So how’s that for off topic mental meanderings this week?

I’d be very interested to know your thoughts, on the blog post, if you read it. On the questions I’m noodling. I’m particularly interested in hearing from those of you in your twenties about what your parents got right. I’d also love to hear from parents of adult children, as your “been there, done that,” wisdom is valuable to those of us in the trenches.

 Please: Share.