The hardest part of parenting has been understanding that my children are individuals, separate from me. As much as I want to control their behavior and who they are and what they do--I can't.
My son, Kai, began teaching me this lesson early on. His humor, his temper tantrums, his speaking exactly what was on his mind, refusing to eat healthy foods or wear a jacket-- I found shocking. I wanted to control him, make him eat the broccoli because then I'd be a good mom. But from the age of three he let me know it wasn't going to happen. I could try but I'd have a huge, unnecessary battle on my hands.
I remember my discussions with other moms about Kai's strong will or passion. The best advice I was given was to stay calm, let my "no's" hold steady and be a patient guide. Teach him to be kind, right from wrong, and that school's very important but don't take it personally when he makes choices that are different from the choices I would've preferred.
I tried to remember the advice of my friends but it was often hard to separate his behaviors from my feelings of self-worth as a mom. When he took an interest in guns, I felt terrible. When he stopped doing his homework in first grade, I was appalled. When he no longer wanted me to read to him because I "read too slow." I felt like a failure. I desperately wanted to turn him into a better version of me. And he was desperate to show me that he was his own person.
Then came middle school--The storm that had been brewing all through elementary hit with hurricane force winds. One million, three hundred thousand... I think that's the number of times I said "Is your homework done?" followed by "Why didn't you do your homework?" Sixth and seventh grade were the worst for us. We were like two bulls with locked horns. Didn't he understand he'd never get into college if he didn't do his homework or study? For him, college was a lifetime away.
By eighth grade the storm waned. He passed me in height and weight, his interest in music flourished thanks to an incredible music teacher and his homework was completed about 90% of the time. I watched as he would spend hours writing songs and learning a new instrument. I never asked him to do it--he just did. And that's when the message hit home. He was like me in some ways but not all. I could teach him what I felt was important and speak my peace but I could not control whether he would agree with me or follow my advice. And I had to learn not to take it personally when he made a choice I didn't like. I could plant the seeds, provide sunlight and water and then stand back and watch.
In true Kai fashion he managed to stun me the first week of high school by joining cross-country. For years I had heard "I hate running." Not only did he begin running long distances but he also took an interest in nutrition and tried healthier foods. Who was this freshman?
When we dropped my daughter,Arielle, off at her dorm Kai announced that he too was excited for college. I realized that all the strife over his diet and his homework habits were more about his wanting to be himself. Not his dad, not his sister and especially not me. Yet, even though he insisted on his own way... he was listening. The seeds were planted. He just didn't want me standing over him... waiting. Okay, lecturing. He needed to sprout in his own time.
Perhaps having Arielle in another state has helped get the message across too. I can't check her grades anymore or control if she goes to class. When she told me she dropped speech for Greek Mythology my reply was "Oh, are you still a business major?" The other night I was awakened by a text. A picture of Arielle with bright blue hair. I would have taken Greek Mythology but the blue hair...
I'm here to guide and support my children. Be their rock and their greatest fan. I can offer advice but can't force them to take it. For the past nineteen years I've uttered the words "my children"-- it's deceiving. They are not really mine.
It's exciting to see the young adults they are becoming. Paths they are choosing. Their enthusiasm for life and their future is as fulfilling to me as when I watched them rip open their birthday presents as toddlers. I'm blessed to be their mom and I look forward to the future. For eighteen years is just a seedling in the tree of life.