I’ve always been aware of parenting skills or lack of them. Even as a teenager, I watched how other kids were treated by their parents and compared my parents to them. That’s not unusual. I think most teens compare if only to say, “Well, their parents let them do this or that!”
My parents were very strict. I thought they were possibly the most authoritarian parents in the world – at least in my circle of friends from church and school. Once I moved away to a boarding high school, I realized that there were other parents who made Mom and Dad look lenient! I had new friends whose lives had been so controlled by parents that they had not had any sort of typical childhood experiences. By high school, these friends were amazing ballerinas, musicians, and artists because parents had devoted their childhoods to developing these skills. I was quite possibly the least skilled pianist in my class, and unlike many of my peers, didn’t go on to make my mark on the world of the classical arts.
I don’t say this with any remorse. In fact, I am relieved my parents didn’t force me to live that life. My siblings and I were strongly encouraged to take piano and made to practice while taking lessons. Our life plans were up to us. Mom and Dad taught faith and relationships and education. We had to strive to do the best of our ability. Yes, they kept us focused and encouraged good behavior (something about spare the rod and spoil the child), but they also showered us with love and affection.
When Michael and I became parents, we modeled our parenting after our own upbringings. Sometimes that caused conflict, but since our birth families were similar, we were mostly in agreement. Before children, we had certainly seen our share of children since we were both teachers. Before children, we thought we were able to judge parenting skills on the behavior of their children. We were so naïve.
We are 21½ years into our parenting journey. It’s not as easy as we’d thought it would be. After each child turned two, I read and reread The Strong-Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson. There is no doubt we have three strong-willed, independent kids. With childhood behind us and adolescence mostly done and young adulthood struggles encompassing all three, I really couldn’t choose the most difficult child to parent or the most trying age. The sleepless nights of babies, the boundary defying age of toddlers, the constant questions and bickering of elementary age, the angst of middle school, and the peer pressure and yearning for adulthood of the high school years were all tough seasons. Michael and I looked forward to this young adulthood time of letting them fly and make their own choices. It’s been tougher than I imagined to let them make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons. I would spare them these tough times if I could.
Caregiving is much like parenting in reverse. As difficult as those years were rearing children, “parenting” a parent is excruciating. There is no learning new things – only forgetting. No new ground covered – only skills lost. There are not dreams for the future – only memories of the past.
The past is where I find Mom’s parenting advice now. I look to her letters and journals and see where she prayed for us, cheered and comforted us. My journals also have her advice written in them (filtered through my lens at the time.)
I’m grateful Dad still advises me and reassures me in real time. I have wonderful surrogate adopted moms and mentors who are an important part of my life. As many of you can attest, however, missing a mom leaves a hole in your heart. Whether you are looking for relief or parenting encouragement, moms do it the best.
I really miss Mom. Parenting kids is tough; parenting your parent is tougher.