Sunday, January 30, 2011

Failure to Launch

As I struggle through parenthood.. hoping oh so hard to get it right and knowing that I am inevitably causing irreparable damage when I, on occasion, I don't know, lose it with my kids..I've come to some fairly deep revelations about differences in parenting style and what might cause such differences... and I've made some correlations.

You parent with one of two objectives (if you're honest): A) Giving your child the life skills they need to go out and make it on their own in this world or B) Encouraging your child to be dependent on you (on some level) for the remainder of his or her life.

With either objective, you clearly love your kids. You want the best for them. Your vision of what's best is just slightly skewed depending on your objective.. the one that is buried deep within you. Don't get me wrong, when I think of an empty nest or taking Cole to college or financially cutting him off in the event he chooses not to go or the worrying that will inevitably come with the "launch" I tear up. But I want my kids to have happy, fulfilled, successful lives and for them not to be dependent upon me. I don't want to raise grandchildren (though I certainly would if I had to). I want to enjoy them. I don't want to be financially supporting four kids after we've kicked their butts all the way through college... and after a while, I don't need any of my adult children living with me. They should go forth and prosper.. and prosperity shouldn't include my pocket book.

On the other end of the spectrum is the parenting style where on some level you always want your kids to need you. You always bail them out. You don't expect them abide by the same rules as other kids... You're the parent at the parent teacher conference who when the teacher says "____ could really use some assistance with_____" that answers that statement with : "well perhaps you could do a better job of teaching" Of course there are times where this is absolutely true, but also times where you as the parent have failed to give your kid some sort of skill and will make excuses for the rest of his or her life rather than looking in the mirror.

I've been told in this life that I have unrealistic expectations of people. And at times, that I am wrong to have expectations of my children.. Frankly, I admit my short comings freely, but if I don't expect my kids to behave, be mannerly, functioning and expect respect- tell me, who will?

Here's the cold, hard, truth in parenting (in my humble opinion). You can't protect your child from every heartbreak.. They'll never learn to move forward. You can't protect them from the sinful nature of this world. You can only talk frankly with them about it and instill a different moral boundary. You can't always fix their problems- they'll never learn to take responsibility. You can't always make excuses for them... Sometimes they need to suffer consequences. You can't always bail them out... They'll expect it the rest of their lives.

I've been pretty frank about becoming a step parent and dealing with that transition. Jay has the opportunity to parent his kids approximately 40% of the time. We have expectations in terms of behavior, manners, respect, & contributions to the family unit.. Our love is not a dependent one and it's a struggle. Frankly, their mother who moved back in with her parents and is re-evaluating the need for a career by returning to school- touts frequently "My Children are my life and my first priority.." And she certainly parents to this extreme. She's their friend, not always a parent and is raising them to be extremely dependent. It's frustrating. Abigail and Hudson are amazing kids and they have to bounce back and forth between the different expectations and I'm not sure who is right?

Hudson is the natural athlete in our family and as such, we try to boost self esteem by playing this skill up. Last year at his soccer game, he was kicked in the shines... Trust me, it was painful.. He decided to sit out. He ran directly to his mother's lap where she coddled, stroked him, babied and re-assured him for the remaining 45 minutes of the game. Jay was pacing saying "Why isn't she sending him back in?" Hudson is one of the team's best players. It's awesome that Hudson is so loved... But there was a lesson here for Hudson to learn: When life knocks you down take a minute, re-group, but get back in the game..that's mine and Jay's expectation, but when your love cripples your children to complete dependence and a an athletically gifted kid is sitting in his mother's lap like he's still a dependent toddler... I wonder, are you failing your child as a parent? How is this example any different than a grown woman, running directly back to her parents to take care of her when the divorce is final?

Time will tell. By no means am I perfect parent and I frequently get it wrong, and while I love my kids more than anything..I also love them enough to be tough on them. To have expectations and to invest the time in teaching them life skills. Because, I honestly couldn't handle a failure to launch and when you sign up to be a parent, you give up the ability to take the easy way out. Holla!


Cathy H said...

Ashley, I took your route. I now have two kids who I am very proud of. And I've observed this same dichotomy that you outline in your post.

The psychologist I worked for used to tell the story of a family who took in an injured baby fox and raised it as a pet. When it became an adult fox and started having problems they decided it needed to be "set free into the wild." The family felt great about that decision, said a tearfilled goodbye, but by night that fox was dead as a doornail because it had no survival skills.

You can love people in a way that gives to them or with a love that takes from them so you get your own needs met. It seems to me the former is the only real love.