Friday, July 8, 2011


Raising an Adult Takes Courage

"Remember, Tracy," my mother said, "you're not raising a little boy. You're raising a man."

I listened, and I'm thankful I did. I've had a great kid with which to work, granted, but I'd like to think that his current groundedness has something to do with the right combination of self-esteem building and value building. (This is where I send out a silent prayer that his groundedness continues, knowing that life is unpredictable and that sometimes the best parenting in the world won't be enough to surmount its problems.)

Enough has been written about praise and positive reinforcement to overwhelm anyone looking for that information, so I won't discuss any of it here, helpful though much of it is. Instead, I'll say something these resources don't often address: Self-esteem building is inextricably connected to value building. Think about it: When neighbors steal from us, we keep our distance. When someone hits us or calls us names, we think he or she is a jerk. When we do those same things, we know that we have done things that are hurtful to others.

If we have hurt others, all the praise and positive reinforcement in the world will not erase what we know. In order to like ourselves, we have to live as likeable people. Likeable people make mistakes, and likeable people sometimes do heinous things. But likeable people try to do their best, and they make it a point to do better when they have fallen short of their responsibilities. (Dealing with guilt is a heavy, heavy issue, and though there may be a natural progression to this concept from the one preceding, the discussion is best left for another day.)

It takes courage to raise an adult.

It takes the ability to be clear eyed and clear headed; it takes the ability to break your own heart.

In a figurative sense, our children are perfect. But it is exceedingly harmful to them to teach them by words or deeds that they do no wrong.

When we refuse to see the misdeeds of our children, we are refusing to help them learn. If they need help, we are refusing to get it for them; after all, how can we remedy a problem we refuse to acknowledge? We are allowing them to fall into habits that will lead them to dislike themselves.

So we have to accept that our perfect children will sometimes do imperfect things - will seek instant gratification by stealing cookies from the jar, will pinch or pull hair or spread rumors to get attention if feeling insecure.

We have to be willing to show our children that negative behaviors bring negative consequences - willing to tell them they have to skip going to the movies, or that they must do extra chores. We have to be willing to sometimes see them superficially unhappy if we want them to have any chance at becoming genuinely happy.

Further complicating matters is what happens when other children observe a child's negative behaviors. Remember the examples above about stealing and hitting and name calling? Those end results happen. Kids don't make friends with people they cannot trust to treat them with kindness and respect. Simply put, they don't make friends with people they find difficult to like. The child who misbehaves is left isolated, and that isolation does nothing but reinforce the terrible belief that one deserves to be alone.

Raising an Adult Takes Love

Raising an adult takes an incomprehensible and unlimited amount of love. You may think this is self evident, and it would seem so. But in so many cases, to so many people, it is not.

It's important to love children enough to see them clearly and therefore teach them and guide them, but unconditional love is vital in other ways, as well.

I have a tendency to be overprotective, one I must constantly fight, and I hate the traffic here. Scares the heck out of me. I've seen drivers do some bizarre things, things that never would have entered my mind (such as using a left turn lane to turn right, cutting across other lines of traffic). I would like to cross the street with the kids. Heck, I would like to hold their hands when they cross. But I don't. I simply remind them to have their phones on and to be careful. Children need to grow into adults able to spot dangers, and they won't if never given the opportunities to do so. I have to love them enough to refuse my own instincts.

When I divorced my son's father, things were uncomfortable. Contentious, even. There were times in the early years when the temptation to let my thoughts fly out of my mouth was strong, times it would have been easy to insert a snide remark into a conversation, a remark that would not have even been consciously noticed by my son but which would have done the work of coloring his perceptions of his father just the same. I am sure my ex-husband faced the same temptations.

But I loved my son more than I hated his father.

Allowing my son to believe negative things about his father might break my ex-husband's heart, but it would just as surely cause conflict and pain deep within my son. And should I succeed in pushing the man out of our lives entirely, my son was sure to grow up with a chasm of need.

My ex-husband had more reason to be insecure. He lived far away. He couldn't visit often. How easy it would have been for him to be afraid that our son's attachment to him would be broken, and to begin to believe that the way to strengthen it was to weaken our son's attachment to me. But my ex-husband loved our son more than he hated me and more than he feared the unknown.

I'm so glad we made the choices we did. Our anger died away, we both became able to see our mistakes and better understand the other's, and we became friendly over the years.

And all of that could have become upset had one or both of us become insecure upon the remarriage of the other. But the last thing we wanted was for our son to feel even slightly uncomfortable in the home or new environments of either. We each loved him more than we feared losing him.

Instead, we taught him that love is never divided, only multiplied. That the more love one gives, the more love one has for giving.

We have all seen it to be so.

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