Better days

I had a much better day than yesterday and so did my husband. I’m getting better about learning that down days and setbacks are temporary. That ratio may change if and when my husband declines but for now there still seems to be a good balance.

We had hours to talk and catch up, making up for the time we didn’t have earlier in the week. That important connection between us was restored. Whenever we don’t have that time to connect, I really feel it and it takes a toll on me. Perhaps I am too emotionally dependent on needing contact with him. Certainly it will make it much harder once he’s gone.

Then I went out and ran a couple errands. After he went to bed and everyone else was asleep, my middle son Adam (he’s 19) came out to talk to me. We ended up having a good talk for over an hour. As the parent of older kids, those kinds of opportunities are rare and I greatly value them.

He’s the least ambitious one of my kids and he’d probably readily agree with that statement. He has no plans for college at this time and just wants to get a job as soon as he gets a car (which should finally be very soon, I hope.) But he reminds me so much of my dad in every way: appearance, laidback attitude, desire for a lot of free time, not being concerned with material wealth. It’s interesting how alike they are since they never really spent enough time together for my dad to have been a big influence.

I suspect Adam may end up taking a similar path as my dad, which will likely present some financial struggles that may impact any kids he has, like it did for me. He’ll probably be content with a job that provides the bare minimum and few opportunities for advancement. But if he’s like my dad, he will be happy with life and won’t be stressed about money (because almost nothing stresses him out.) He’s truly pretty content with simple things in life. At the same time, also like my dad, he’s very interested in current events and has a lot of pretty intelligent opinions and philosophies.

Some of the most interesting things Adam said related to his perspectives on how we’ve raised him and about how he views the concept of authority figures. He feels like he learned from me and my husband what not to do—namely, that he feels that we both work too hard and that I in particular don’t know how to relax. He’s not wrong; I’m looking at trying to get a part-time work-at-home job in addition to freelancing, up to the limit of what I can earn on disability. Despite genuinely needing disability, I’m not content to just do nothing.

But despite that, he also has no criticisms about the way we’ve raised him. My oldest had a lot of criticisms about our parenting and was very vocal in expressing them. Adam found that disrespectful and felt that it showed a lack of perspective about how bad some other people’s childhoods were. Apparently, a lot of Adam’s friends had pretty bad childhoods and nothing we did even came close.

Interestingly, his views on authority also mirror mine. He’s respectful of authority figures and behaves appropriately toward them, but he doesn’t actually believe in the concept of any human being valued above any other. And that’s interesting to me because I’ve always felt the same way. I think that’s largely why I’ve found it so much easier to be a parent of teenagers than little kids.

When you have little kids, you have to be in that role of authority figure to guide them, which is not a role that comes easily to me. It’s necessary to make sure they turn out okay but it always made me uncomfortable. The idea of telling kids what to do with the explanation of “because I’m the parent, that’s why” is the complete opposite of my philosophy. I didn’t think that was a justified answer to anything and I tried hard not to use it.

Now that they’re teenagers, I can relate to them more or less as equals. They understand that our respective roles require them to treat us with some deference, but we also wield that power with great caution. I’ve always felt that as humans, even when they were little children, they were still sovereign individuals. It was my job to guide them, keep them safe, and share my values with them, but I always felt they would ultimately make up their own minds and become who they were supposed to be. I just didn’t want to fuck up too badly.

I never felt that I was above them—nor that they were above me, either. I’ve known several people who were so child-centric that all of the parents’ needs had to take a backseat, even in circumstances where it wasn’t necessary. I was never the kind of parent who, even when they were babies, said I couldn’t take a shower (for example) because my children’s needs were so all-consuming. I see that as unnecessary martyrdom that leads to children thinking they deserve more than their parents allow for themselves. If you teach kids that the world revolves around them, how do you expect them to ever become concerned with the needs of others?

So it’s interesting that he sees things the same way and doesn’t think he would do anything differently if he has kids. He appreciates the fact that we strive for mutual respect between adults and kids. Now that they are becoming adults themselves, we can help guide them along the way but we won’t often do anything for them that they can do themselves. Nor can we really force them to do anything they don’t want to do. Yes, we help when they’re struggling, but they try hard to take care of themselves, too.

It makes me feel happy and gratified that what I was trying to do seems to have paid off. He feels respected but he also respects me enough not to take advantage of me. He wants to be truly self-sufficient. He said he sees us like older and wiser roommates, people who are his equal and deserve to be treated kindly. And I’m thrilled with the fact that he doesn’t feel a lot of pressure or disrespect coming from us.

He also said that he really admires that I’m open about my shortcomings and try to work on them. He believes everyone should put in a similar effect but that few people actually do.

We don’t get a lot of time for those one-on-one talks, but every time we do, it makes me feel like I didn’t screw up too badly. He may never be the most ambitious or motivated person for traditional paths, but I don’t think that all the pushing in the world would have changed that. Instead, I feel like I’m respecting his right to choose his own path, just like I have accepted my trans daughter’s path as her own.

I truly believe that you can’t control your kids’ paths in life. The harder you try, the more likely they are to be unhappy with both their lives and with you in particular. They’re not lesser beings just because they’re younger or because I gave birth to them.

And every time we have one of these talks, or I exchange funny memes with my youngest, maybe I’m building the kind of relationship that will make them want to stay in contact with me once they’re out of the house. Not because they want what material things I can give them, but because they know the respect is a two-way street and I’m not going to try to change them. I truly like who they are as individuals.

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