I’ve always strongly believed that you can’t force your kids to share your interests, you just have to see who they become. Obviously, they can’t help but be influenced by you, regardless of what you do.
But it’s interesting to spend time with my 18-year-old, who just graduated from high school, and learn about who he is as an individual. We’ve spent a lot of one-on-one time together in recent days, including a 3.5-hour wait at the Department of Public Safety to get his ID and driving around to a lot of places.
We had some really cool discussions and it was interesting to see who he’s becoming, what traits he thinks he (and each of his siblings) got from me and my husband and which things are uniquely his own.
As I said above, I’ve never felt it was right to try to force my kids to share my interests because I wanted to respect them enough to let them develop their own. But at the same time, I also feel almost like all the effort I put into raising them when they were little was a huge project and I’m just now getting to see what the results may be.
My middle child is the most like me of the kids in many ways, but it’s a comfortable similarity. He’s also eerily like my dad, both in appearance and attitudes, which is interesting because they didn’t spend that much time together. But his laidback and easygoing nature makes it very easy for me to talk to him.
By contrast, my oldest is an even split of me and my husband. He is like me emotionally but shares my husband’s technical mindset. But because he’s so much like me emotionally, we’ve had our moments of clashing.
My youngest is most like my husband: hardworking, concerned about the happiness of those he cares about, tries to avoid thinking about bad memories or traumatic events. (He did witness his brother get hit by a car, which he’s repressing.) But also like my husband, he finds it easy to talk to me, so I’m often his emotional outlet.
The thing I’m most proud of is that all of my kids have this desire to be self-reliant. They don’t like to get a lot of superfluous things they don’t need even when they could pay for it themselves.
And my oldest two so far are very generous, which was a trait I definitely wanted to cultivate in them. My middle son just won a hardcover book related to a video game he plays because he donated to a charity fundraiser raffle for St. Jude’s and that was a prize. I didn’t even know he donated to St. Jude’s.
My oldest tips extravagantly when he goes out to eat and he carries extra cash to give to homeless people. He sends money back home to friends in Michigan when they fall on hard times. He supports various artists on Patreon.
My youngest is only 16 and a little more self-absorbed still, but it’s too soon to see how he’ll end up. I think he’ll be okay based on his political world views. It cracks me up that he often jokes at dinner about “overthrowing the bourgeoisie and seizing the means of production,” because the punk me at age 16 would’ve strongly wished that for what my future child would say. It’s totally a shitpost when he does it, said with irony and a grin, but I love that he even knows what that means.
Raising kids, especially when you have specific goals for how you want them to turn out, can be a challenge. I desperately wanted them to be more than just mindless consumers and to care about the world and their impact on it. I can see that at times that sets them apart from others and can lead to loneliness, as it sometimes has for me as well. But it was my manifesto, my reason for what I did.
It’s funny how much of that still guides me. I spent most of their childhood having my career take a backseat because I wanted to be there for them. I now see the long-lasting economic disadvantages to myself from having done that, and I certainly wasn’t always the most attentive or involved parent. But I wanted to be the reliable figure in their lives they could count on. I wanted to be their biggest influence, not the TV or movies. I still try to do that, even if it means I’m driving them around a lot and my needs often take a backseat.
My middle child now talks about wanting to get a job and start saving money to move out. He knows that it may take a while and he also knows that the first places where he lives may not be as nice as our home. But he’s not rushing to get away; it’s just an age-appropriate desire for independence. He looks forward to being able to drive soon and to have the independence to transport himself (which should occur in the next couple months.)
But what tells me that I did something right is that he wants to recreate a lot of what we have at home. Relative quiet and peace. Lack of conflict. A clean and uncluttered environment. Feeling like home is a sanctuary.
As he moves into the unknown and I can see my life having more independence and easing up on the responsibility, it’s bittersweet. This is what I was working toward and it seems like it’s paying off. He knows how to manage money very well. He knows how to take care of himself and has a good sense of what he wants out of life.
I’m genuinely not worried about him because he’s turning out so well, so capable. But like I said, it’s bittersweet too. You’re supposed to raise your kids to be able to function well without you. Your proud when they can, but it’s also a little sad, too.