I was sitting in the passenger seat of a friends car, reading the plethora of messages that had come through the day before (not at all complaining, keep them coming, we love to read your questions and stories!!) and I vowed to respond to them as quickly as I could. I came upon one that pulled at my heartstrings. A mom, who was struggling raising 4 kids while her husband was deployed. A 19 year old who was angry, a middle schooler who was struggling in school both academically and socially, a 4th grader who was thriving and a not yet in school little boy who was the “apple of the family’s eye”. She was crying out for help with parenting. She felt so lost …
She asked very serious questions and it got me to thinking, that maybe if I wrote a blog touching on these issues, maybe I could reach another parent or two.
Table of Contents
Parenting is not for the weak at heart, as every single stage brings such intense joy, and heartache too. If you take your job as a parent at all seriously, you can, at times, feel like a ship lost at sea. There are storms and then there is a short calm period and then there are more storms and an even shorter period of calm.
My motto with my older kids has become, “this is not my problem to solve” because I have a tendency to want to make everything easy. I know how difficult life can be and when you see your kids making crazy stupid choices it can hit you in the gut as you know the mounds of hurt coming their way.
At the same time, I like to think that God allowed Dan’s and my life to be such a struggle (fun but difficult, filled with love and blessings, but difficult) because now we have insight as to what really matters in life and if/when our kids hit these struggles we literally will have all the answers.
We can sit them down and tell them what they need to do to pull themselves out of this bind or that. We can shed some brevity on the situation, tell them how we’ve been there done that and this is absolutely what they need to do.
But, you know, they most likely will not listen. Maybe if they hit some of the big road blocks, they’ll come to us and actually take our advice, but that’s simply not human nature. It’s not just teens that seem to have to learn everything the hard way … it’s like all of us do.
But, for some of us, who had no real solid guidance in the adult world, unfortunately it is the only path … however, like I said, it’s comforting to think it all has a purpose.
From the Beginning
In raising our kids, we took a lot in stride, turned the other cheek to some of the “rules” that a lot of families impose and really focused on the things that were most important to our goals as parents.
We did this so that the rules and lessons we had and taught were acknowledged as non-negotiable. These non-negotiables can be found in the 10 Commandments. Our goal as parents is singular in notion … giving our kids the foundation that will get them into heaven
In the end knowing, loving and serving God is all that matters. Nothing here on earth is permanent, or new. And nothing here matters, except that what you do must be done out of love for God.
That’s pretty heavy stuff, and I’m not saying our kids are perfect, because they aren’t. Neither are we and neither are you. We have screwed up more times than I care to admit. Our kids have too … that’s the nature of the beast.
As parents you have to be vigilant, regardless of their age, to ensure their screw ups aren’t life altering. And some kids, obviously, require more vigilance than others!
Parenting is HARD
Parenting is the most amazing, and joyous thing I’ve ever done. It is also the most meaningful. But parenting is also hard because you love your kids so much, you want so much for them, you want them to succeed and be happy. Since we literally “Quit Society” our hopes and dreams for our kids have streamlined. We no longer want for them what others want for their kids. Our dreams for them are three-fold. 1) Know, Love & Serve God 2) To Stay Close to Each Other 3) Seek Joy. That is it. We don’t care what they choose for a career, we don’t care what type of home they live in, what they drive … status and money are of no consequence. If they are lifeguards their whole lives, yet accomplish these 3 things, they are successful!
Our idea of success has completely changed. ..heck, our entire view of life and the age old question “What is the Meaning of Life” has dramatically changed…as we’ve become more in tune to ourselves and our family. Faith & Family is the basis for all life, it’s the meaning to life, ya’ll … no lie! This concept is so liberating and the freedom that comes with this knowledge is quite breathtaking.
Slow down, enjoy your life, enjoy your kids, your family. Don’t let the outside world infiltrate … the outside world is a joy killer.
But, don’t expect life or parenting to be easy, despite the fact that you’ve pared down your perspective and are focused on what really matters. Because despite all this, parenting well means lots of worrying…about everything. Are they paying attention at mass, do they take it seriously enough? Who are their friends? Are they ever going to stop fighting? Are they with the “right”
person? It just goes on and on, what we parents worry about.
**Sidebar as I take a quick minute to write specifically about parenting teens.**
Many parents these days are squeamish when it comes to checking up on their teens. They worry they will be accused of not trusting their kid. Our parenting slogan can be summed up in 3 words … “trust and verify”. Trust that your kid is going where he says he’s going and doing what he says he’s doing … but verify everything. The name of the game is keeping them safe, all the while building their reserve to be leaders by remaining faithful to their core values. This is hard to do when you allow them to be submersed in counter culture before they are fully capable.
People are fond of saying, “If your kids hate you, you are doing something right.” I call BS. Parenting doesn’t mean your kids hate you or don’t think of you as an ally when things get rough — that’s just plain bull. If your kids hate you, you aren’t spending enough quality time with them. You aren’t giving them enough positive attention to combat the rules, curfews and restrictions you place on them. Take them out, go camping, fishing, kayaking, snowboarding, be their confident and friend when you can be, but know that your kids’ survival actually depends in large part on YOU.
Parenting is a 24 hour and 365 day per year job. No vacation, no weekends…you are on call every day and every moment. Your kids’ future, their success, their lives … shoot, their eternal life…depends on you. This fact should not be lost on anyone. Parenting is your priority. While your job may put food on the table and a roof over your heads, your job as a parent is priority numero uno.
You would think more parents would take this “job” more seriously.
When Kids Screw Up
All kids screw up. Let’s not pretend that there is even the hope of raising perfect children or that when we send them off on their own, they are perfectly behaved, overwhelming polite and great representatives of their faith. They aren’t. They can’t be. That’s part of growing up … they screw up, hopefully learn from it and move on. All the disciples, even the Saints, have stories. Even Ben Carson has stories!! Shoot, we all have stories. If you don’t have multiple stories about “that time”, you either lived in a bubble or you are a liar. 🙂 The key is to learn from your mistakes.
No one expects you to be Jesus from the day you are born. No, scratch that, much of society does actually expect kids to be perfect little robots. It’s why you have schools and parents drugging students, and labeling them ADD and ADHD.
It’s a misconception out there in society-land that kids are horrible and that they suck and do bad things. Automatically teens are stereotyped as bad. I get it, there are a lot of absent parents who set their kids off into the big ugly world without nary a skill. But, there are also a boatload of awesome kids who are simply out there in the world looking for some good clean fun.
Society would have you think that kids are to follow rules simply because they exist and the threat of punishment should be enough to keep them in line. Or that because there are witnesses to their behavior they would be smart enough to act accordingly. But, no. That’s not how it works.
Kids have to screw up because you need to have teachable moments for them to understand. You need these moments to teach your faith, how to live, how to be a good steward, and a good disciple.
Kids have to be given a little leeway, especially when the “offense” is not of biblical proportions. The holier than thou judgements handed down upon them by the altruistic is not helpful. It is hypocritical and unproductive.
But that’s not all. Blindly following “rules” because you have been taught rules are rules is soul crushing and potentially soul stealing. In today’s world, more and more often, learning actually means teaching your kids to question authority and rules and to abandon those that don’t fall in line with your faith.
It’s imperative that parents make the distinction that rules are followed only because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it’s the rule.
18 & Out
I know this is society’s idea of great parenting, but I’m going to be honest here … it’s the biggest fraud perpetrated on young adults these days. It’s a total copout on the side of the parents … 18 & done? Really? Really?
Parenting is a lifelong endeavor. You are still going to be parenting when your kids are 40 … ask my mom, ask your mom. It used to be that kids lived in their parents home until they got married, helping out the family, while the family helped them out. These days, we keep perpetuating the same struggles.
The phrase, “pay your dues” used to be hurled at Dan and I in the early days of our marriage. The message was clear you must struggle, endure fear and pain, live in poverty, rack up debt – basically you need to nearly self-destruct in order to build yourself back up. Then and only then, can you expect to come out on the other end. The part they never tell you is that life may very well be a financial struggle your entire life.
Why do we have to keep perpetuating the struggles of the prior generation? This is the definition of stupidity.
Why not stop this ugly cycle and support each other? This, to me, is a much better plan. I’d like to think I can help my kids get the best leg up on their future, whatever that may be … wouldn’t you? And not only that, but the mere notion of giving your kids the boot at such a tumultuous stage in their life is ridiculous. Once they are out, you can’t guide them any longer, you can’t teach them any longer, you can’t influence them at all.
I’m not of the mindset to release my 18 year old’s to the wolves … shoot, I find the wolves vicious enough and I (may or may not) be 40.
Kids don’t come with instructions, we are kind of left to our own devices and our own instincts. We perfect our trade through trial and error and our kids are kind of like our guinea pigs. I always wonder how Kerry became such an amazing person because as the oldest she was our most oft practiced upon child.
I guess the incessant talking about values and morals and teaching her our Catholic Faith made up for the equally incessant screw-ups we made as her parents. And, given the fact that our kids are genuinely good kids, I don’t have many regrets, but there are some things I wish I knew and could, therefore, do differently.
First, our kids went to school. Poor Kerry went all the way from K-12. If I was a new mom now, knowing what I know now, not one of my children would step foot in any educational institution…for obvious reasons.
I’m a HUGE homeschooling proponent, for all the grades, but especially middle school and high school. I’ve seen too many kids get sucked into bad stuff, too many kids get lost in the system and too many families operating under the idea that school sports come before family … they don’t. School sports are divisive; they are not conducive to family. Period.
Second, I regret not bailing out of society earlier, traveling and not caring about everyone else’s expectations for us. We followed the script, trying to meet the expectations and yet we knew there was more to life, a better way to live. We knew this in the core of our being, yet we kept at it for nearly 10 years!
Dan did the 9 to 5 gig. He had a killer 1.5 hr commute each way. We loved Fridays and lived for our 1 week of vacation in the summer. It was not living, we were happy, but we were not thriving and life was not exciting. We did the same thing every day and were becoming a little bitter, like the rest of the world. Until one day we packed up and moved to Colorado, sight unseen. It was amazing. And that really set the wheels in motion … we started rejecting the status quo and not accepting our lot in life. We pushed and pushed, knocked down doors and clawed our way to a life that was worthy to call a life.
You and I, none of us, were meant to just pay bills. We are meant for so much more and parenting truly embodies the best of all we were designed to do. Love, compassion, kindness, support, lead, passion … oh when you look in the eyes of your children, you melt. Is there anything else in this world as worthy of all your attention and devotion as your family?
You want the world for them. But somehow, somewhere we think wanting the world for them includes Big houses, luxury cars, iphones, tablets, and all the other symbols of success. If you actually stop and take a moment to reflect, it doesn’t take long to reject all this. These things simply suck up your time, your energy and chew up your soul. It’s cyclical.
We miss so much awesomeness thinking we have to provide all these material things for our families when all they really need is us, our love and our time.
Remember, we make time for that which we love. If you are giving your job more time than your family, if you are making kids sports and extracurricular activities a priority over family dinners and time together … what do you think that tells them?
Reject the status quo and search for true meaning in life and share that with your kids!