I just wanted to give a little encouragement to those of you in the trenches with preschool or school aged kids. When my son was young, he was usually a really good kid, but when he was bad, he was VERY bad. He was quite creative with it, actually. He actually got kicked out of three daycares by the time he was four; one of which was a home daycare that booted him when it was three. Turns out, they got too stressed out when he’d maneuver his way out of his car seat and open the car door when they were driving 60 miles an hour down a freeway. He’s always been really creative and has ADHD, which don’t work well in a traditional classroom environment, especially with teachers who don’t get it. I called my mom all the time, asking how the hell I was going to get through it, sometimes wondering if I was raising a sociopath.
I learned early on that I had to pick my battles with this one. Doing homework was a huge battle, so I’d help him with what I thought he truly needed help with, but he was responsible for the rest. He was responsible for keeping a C average, because school just wasn’t his thing unless he was really interested in a subject. My kid is super smart. So smart, in fact, that when his first grade teacher had him take and exam because she thought he’d qualify for the gifted and talented program, we were both shocked when he scored around 50%. I asked him why his scores were so low, and he looked me dead in the eye and said that the GATE kids have to do more work, so he flunked on purpose because he’d rather be having fun with his friends. I always envisioned him finding his “thing” in junior high or high school and going straight to college, but he decided that he’d rather put college off until he figures out what he really wants to do with his life. I’m totally OK with that. It is, in fact, his life.
One thing we did a lot of was spending one on one time together. We found TV shows and movies we liked to watch together, we danced, we played with the dogs, and did a little cooking. We loved to go to lunch or dinner, just the two of us, and we did some 5ks and mud runs together. During all of these activities, we talked. Sometimes we just laughed our asses off. When he was in junior high, I caught him and his friends using slurs as insults, and I told them that absolutely wasn’t OK, and I told them why. I told them I’d rather have them calling people assholes and shitheads than derogatory terms, and I told them they could swear all they wanted to in my basement.
I refused to overschedule him in activities and made sure he had a lot of time to just hang out with his buddies. I got lucky with a kid who loves to be active, so they spent hours in the pool, shooting hoops, or playing ball in the park. I loved that they didn’t want to plant themselves in front of the TV or video games very often. I think kids need unscheduled time to relax and choose their own activities. I think they need to choose their own friends, as well. In elementary school, my son had a couple of friends from what some parents considered a “bad family” and wouldn’t let their kids be friends with these kids. Once I found out what things were like at their house, I didn’t let my son hang out over there, but they were welcome in our home and he was allowed to go to the park to hang out with them too. It gets trickier in junior high and high school, as some kids get into drugs, alcohol, and other risky behavior. I’m lucky I never had to deal with that, as my kid was actually super judgemental when he found out kids in high school were substance abusers. If he didn’t know them well, he’d just ignore their existence. There’s one girl who was a daughter of a friend of mine, so she and my son had grown up spending a lot of time together. She was a few years younger, and got into a lot of trouble with her parents when they found out she’d been experimenting. I was proud that my judgemental kid put his issues aside and was there for her, trying to be a good influence. Again, I’m not sure what the right answer is, but I’m glad that I had open and honest talks with my son about drugs and alcohol and the effect they have on the developing brain. He saw enough people he knew making really bad choices because of substance abuse as well, which we’d talk about, and that was enough for him to make up his mind.
I took him to a few different churches to see if any of them clicked with him, and made it clear that his faith was his choice. I let him go to church camps and church activities with his friends from religions I really don’t understand, because, again, I believe faith should be a personal choice and not something we force on kids.
When I got frustrated and angry with my boy, which is inevitable, especially with a strong willed child, I absolutely let him know, and we often came up with a punishment that fit the crime together. Still, I did my best to make sure he always knew there was unconditional love behind everything I did. When I made mistakes, I let him know. I let him see me fail and pick myself back up again, because that’s a life skill your child needs to see in action. I never pretended to be a perfect parent, and I made a shitload of mistakes. We all do, right? I think you have to be really honest with your kids at every age, explaining things to them in ways they can understand. Moms fuck up. Moms do things they regret. Being a parent is hard, especially when you factor in working (if you have to or choose to) taking care of a house, running errands, doing laundry, paying the bills, talking your kids to school and different activities, all the while trying to stay mentally and physically healthy, exercise, practice self care, keep up a relationship with a partner, spouse, or dating, or realizing that being a single mom is totally ok, maintaining friendships that nurture your soul, staying close to your family, and everything else that is expected of a woman in this century. Give yourself a break, apologize to your kid if necessary, and hug it out.
Of course, the way I parented this child might not work for your child. If I’d had another child, my parenting methods would have probably been similar, but I firmly believe you have to change your parenting methods to meet the needs of the child you get, not the child you imagined before the child was born.
I’m super proud to say that now, he’s an amazing 20 year old man who is living on his own. He works and pays all of his own bills, almost never asking me for financial assistance. In fact, he decided to move halfway across the country to live with his buddies almost a year ago. He’d mentioned that he was thinking about it a few months before he left, but he bought his plane ticket before he told me his flight departed in less than a week. I adore his adventurous spirit. He’s not afraid to go out and explore the world and see what’s out there. He’s finding his way, and I’m in awe of the human he’s become. He even occasionally posts on facebook about having the best mom ever and openly tells his friends how much he loves me. He asks me for advice in his own life and his friends ask me about their lives sometimes too, especially when it comes to topics they’re afraid to discuss with their own parents. Sometimes the kid doesn’t take my advice, but I love that we fostered that incredibly close, open relationship so he knows he can talk to me about anything. He’s kind and respectful, and called me a few weeks ago to tell me that a friend had been “hanging out” with a girl for a couple of weeks, but they hadn’t slept together. They were at the apartment and the girl was drunk, and the buddy and the girl went into a bedroom. Jett went in and stopped them because, “My mom has always told me that drunk people can’t consent, so you need to wait until you both have clear heads.”
Then today, his fifth grade teacher found me on Linkedin. 5th grade was SUCH a good year because his teacher was invested in using multiple learning modalities, which helps kinesthetic learners so much. He said my kid was always a favorite of his, and he thinks about him from time to time. Turns out, they live fairly close to one another now, and his former teacher wants to take him out for dinner next time they’re in the same city.
So when you’re going through the hellish moments of parenting, keep on going. Take time to scream, yell, cry, call your mom, your friend, or call me. Practice self care, love those kids really hard, and have lots of talks about your values. I think that WHO your child becomes is the most important thing. Education, preparing for college and career is important, but raising a good human is really rewarding. Much love to you moms in the struggle. Also, get lots of hugs, because if you do your job right, they’ll move out and you’ll miss those hugs a lot.