Parenting at best is a no-win situation in the present and a winning situation if you are lucky in the long-run.
Life teaches hard lessons and as a parent, just because you teach the hard lesson is no guarantee of the right outcome. I've seen great parents have troubled kids, and seemingly lousy parents have incredible kids. I have no answers. I could only do what I thought was right for my daughter and me and my family. I tried to teach honesty, trust, helpfulness, kindness, thoughtfulness, openness, and a certain amount of thoughtful irreverence. Most of all I wanted to give her a sense of personal responsibility.
I don't believe you can be "friends" with your child. "Friendly," yes. Friends, no. The reason is simple. Sooner or later you are going to have to teach your child something it is easier not to teach. ‘Friends" take the easy route. They don't say "No." When that happens too often, there is a breach in the friendship. As a parent, you must have rules, strict lines in the sand that your child cannot cross.
The hardest thing to teach is personal responsibility. "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction." I think teaching that one thing has been lost on most of our population in the collective effort to make things easier. Teaching a child early on that they are wholly responsible for their lives, gives them a sense of self which provides excellent rewards in time.
Children are, from the start, not "ours." We don't own them. They have their minds, their personalities, quirks, likes, dislikes, desires, and dreams. Their dreams and aspirations are not ours.
I remember the day, quite distinctly when my daughter told me she didn't like my job at all and never wanted to do it. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I am sure I harbored the idea that she would come and work with me. I also remember brushing it off and saying something like, “I never expected you to work with me.”
I have always envied those whose children come to work with them. Inside I was disappointed, and a bit hurt. I have always wanted a closer relationship with Mikki that I might never have. At least to date I don't have it. Who knows, I still have the idea that someday it may happen. That is a hope that will die with me if it doesn't happen and give my heart wings if it does.
When you say (as a parent), NO it means NO. If you are preparing your child for life, then they must understand what happens when they break a rule. Break rules in life and you lose your job or your family or wife or house or car. When a parent gives in, they automatically teach the child that they can get around the rules. Taken even farther they teach their children that having a standard isn't really having a standard.
Following the rules, usually, the more difficult route gets you a belief in yourself, confidence and a certain pride in who you are that is tough to describe, hard to learn and beautiful when you have it. You don't understand that when you are young no matter how often you hear it. To teach me what life was about my Mom used to say, “Son, if the medicine doesn’t taste bad, it isn’t helping.” That to me was always an exaggeration, but sure enough, today, the cough medicine has sugar in it, so it tastes good. She also used to say: “Son the hard way is usually the right way.” Maybe, Mom had something there after all.
As you get older, that sense of yourself grows and allows you a freedom that is wonderful. Of all the things I hope I gave Mikki, it is this sense of self that I tried to give her most of all. I also hope she understands that all the lessons that make up this character trait were given with love and a great deal of respect.
Did I make mistakes? Yep, a multitude of them. For instance, standing your kid in the corner because they didn’t eat their beans is dumb. There is little lasting value in that act. Or making your child eat what they didn’t eat the night before is equally stupid. Did I make mistakes? Yes, I did, and Mikki I am sorry for each of my parenting errors.
You will also note, that your child will tell you when you have done something stupid. First, in anger as a child, and then in derision, when they get older. Children are much older than they seem. Instinctually, I believe they carry with them more cumulative knowledge than we had when we arrived. So, pay attention parent!
Reaping What You Sow
Also, as a parent, we need to remember that what we shape them with, can stick with them forever. I cannot tell you why, but I have always missed my daughter. A great deal of that stems for not being with her very much from the age of two until the age of 13. I called weekly, I traveled to her every six months when I could get her mother to agree, and she flew to me when she was older, but it is just not the same as being there. So, when as a parent, you are gone all the time, working, or as in my case by psychologist recommendation and divorce, remember how you are shaping them. Part of what happens when you are not there is that they don't need you. They don't want that everyday type of communication, and down the road somewhere that may well come back to bite you.
When she was very young, I went to a psychologist to figure out what to do with my marriage. I had discovered a group of men in the house when she was drunk, and the psychologist told me that if I was to live near my ex and daughter, there was a reasonable chance my ex would not only use my daughter against me but could physically hurt her in that effort when she was inebriated. That if I was farther away, there could be less of a chance, Mikki would be hurt physically as my ex couldn't use her against me when we were face to face. I saw that happen once.
My ex-was drunk and my daughter ran to her to be picked up. My ex-backhanded her, knocking Mikki to the floor, instituting a flood of tears and confusion. My ex's reply, "You take her, I've been stuck with her all day long." It was at that moment that I realize the shrink was right.
Painfully, I resolved to move away. Six to eight years later when my daughter would plead with me, "Daddy please move back here and find a job." Saying I couldn't without explanation was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It hurt. So now, when I am not there, my daughter, involved in all the things she is involved in, hardly ever searches me out.
Staying In Touch
I call once a week or text two or three times a week or both, but usually, she is "just too busy." She often tries to call when she realizes I called her but if I don't get that call, I may not talk with her for another week or two. Maybe in her mind, she has fulfilled her obligation. I created a very independent, beautiful young woman. I guess I should be proud. I still miss her, every hour of every day. Maybe I have been conditioned to feel that way too?
We video, or WhatsApp at least every two weeks. Occasionally when her life doesn’t get in the way, more often. To be honest I too forget on occasion, but usually not. Parenting does that! You get what you give. You give independence, and that is what you get. You give dependence, and that is what you get.
Good parenting is a balancing act. Between teaching the lessons with love and teaching the lessons of life. Life usually doesn’t have much love attached to it. It is the parent who gives it love. Remember that when you are angry or when your child doesn’t want to eat those green beans. Smile at yourself and try not to do what your parent did to you. Search for a middle ground, a place where both you and your child can win. A place where both you and your child can learn and love at the same time. I am not sure I was very good at that!
Remember too that you are learning at the same time. I learned a great deal from those years apart from Mikki. I learned to take the extra step. Still today I try to do that. Not always correctly but I do try. For me one of the additional steps was traveling to her hometown, without anyone's knowledge, going to her school talking with her teachers and getting all her books for the year so that I could do her homework with her as her Mom seldom did that. I loved reading to her on the phone and listening to her read to me. That was something I did well and a result of the extra step.
Writing about this is not easy, it dredges up all the old emotions I was so sure were stored somewhere untouchable. Not so much. They are all there as real as though it were yesterday. If you are lucky enough to have a child at home, cherish each moment regardless of how difficult. It is lightyears better than the alternative.
What you teach your child: to open doors for the elderly or women or help people who need it or not to hit others, do good deeds, not to cheat or lie and when you have made an error no matter how large or how grave stand up, say you did it, take what is coming and move on. You try to teach all those things.
When children become teenagers, it is easy to see, easy to feel though not near as sweet. No longer do they want to hop up in your lap. A frosty look and rolled eyes replace that kiss before school in public. But now the decisions are more substantial, more relevant to actual adult life and not near as comfortable.
Growing to Adulthood
When do they get that first car? Are they responsible for all of it, or just some of the operation of the vehicle: gas, maintenance, insurance, etc.? I have never been in favor of the “gift,” idea. I got the car, my choice and Mikki got the ½ the insurance and gas. I got the maintenance, but she had to keep track of it all. That was a good split for us. It forced her to accept the car I wanted her to get, (a safer, slower 1969 VW Bug, bright yellow with white trim) something we could both afford, and it gave her a small glimpse in to what it took to take care of a car without throwing the whole thing on top of her. It gave her some of the independence she craved, but without the money for gas and half the insurance, she couldn't go anywhere. A perfect split.
I don't believe in giving a child anything but love for free. Love, all the time is a freebie and available 24 7. But life intrudes on everything else, and tempers love with reality. For instance, the idea of paying for a child's education I don't think is correct. First, college is so easy to ignore when you are in the throes of new-found freedom, that college and learning become almost ancillary to everything else that is going on. I know, my first two years of college were a waste. I woke up late in my sophomore year thanks to an excellent professor and great Dean of Men. My last two years were a great educational experience thanks to them. I didn't realize at the time that I was paying for my college. I thought my father was paying. Only after graduating did I find out the truth. So, I am totally against paying 100% of a child's education regardless of how mature they are.
Mikki paid 50% of her college. Because of her work, her last two years of college cost her almost nothing. She got to take all the scholarship money she got off her half of the tuition, room, and board first. So, by making an effort to get the scholarships her half was paid for, mine wasn't. She did very well and learned a great deal about ambition, initiative, going after what you want and earning something. Today she has an excellent six-figure job and a bonus that is almost half of her salary. She is a fantastic woman of whom I am very proud.
I miss her no end. I think I did a reasonably good job raising her. Under the circumstances, I was handed maybe better than that. But the cost for me was very high, and I don't know that I will ever be able to get enough time or be close enough to my daughter. But then I realize some of that is the circumstance, some of that is how she was raised, and some is that I was not there.