“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” Jackie Kennedy
I knew I wanted to have children when my husband and I married. I just wasn’t sure how good a mother I would be. When I was 12 I had my first babysitting job and by 13 I retired from that career. I hated babysitting. I proved Einstein’s theory of relativity then. Time did truly slow down. I’d count the minutes until the parents returned. It amazes me that some women have their babies, raise their babies, watch their babies fly from the nest (if they ever do) and then count the moments until the first grandbaby is born.
This is not me. I didn’t do PTA. I didn’t do my boys’ school projects. I didn’t do their homework. I was there for my sons. I loved them immensely. They would attest to that. I just wasn’t ‘that’ kind of mom. There are those kinds of mamas and then there’s me.
I was the mom who never once went to speak to a teacher about her sons’ grades if they were given a grade they felt they didn’t deserve. I told my boys their grades, were exactly that, theirs. I might wonder why they chose to get a ‘C’, but I didn’t criticize them nor did I coddle them. I was the mom who taught my boys, as my mom taught me, “if is to be it’s up to me” because no one is responsible for their life except them. I was the mom who taught her sons that life would have some unfair lessons, or what seemed unfair at the time. What were they going to learn from that experience and how would they use it to make themselves better I would ask. I was the mom who cut her sons’ hair until they were old enough to say, “mom we’d like to go to a barber.” In fact, a true story, one day I was cutting my then 8 and 10 year old sons’ hair and my 11 year old nephew, CJ, was over. I cut his hair too. After the task was done, I realized I way stepped over the sister-n-law invisible boundary, as this was my brother’s son. I had to do the eat the humble pie phone call and gently tell my sister-n-law that I may, just may have, stepped over my bounds. The style du jour was a crew cut because after all I didn’t exactly know how to cut my sons’ hair any other way, save for a few bangs in the front. Three crew cuts were ordered up that day. This is a story still told, lovingly I might add, by my amazing sister-n-law Jill, how I cut my nephews hair…..off.
I was the mom that went to many sporting events, but not all. I did not have aspirations that one day my son would be a major league anything. Because of the one in 6 million youngsters that go on to the major leagues, I was pretty certain, my boys weren’t that one. I’m the mom who did not buy them the latest greatest clothes, shoes and gadgets. A Christmas morning story….. in my oldest son’s early teens, when every young teenager had a cellphone, and my sons still did not, I bought my older son an Ipod touch for Christmas. As he opened the gift, he thought it was a cell phone. His face and actions were jubilant, until they were not, because it was, in fact, not a cell phone. My son handled that situation with such grace (he was so disappointed but really tried to hold it in) that I did indeed go out and buy him his first cellphone shortly thereafter from sheer motherly guilt.
I’m the mom that had the ‘sleepover rule.’ The sleepover rule was that if my son had a friend sleep over, during years when boys had sleepovers, that friend had to go to church with us Sunday morning at 8:30am, or said friend had to be picked up by the parent. I was always happy when the boys came with us to church. We belong to an amazing, uplifting church so I knew it wouldn’t be boring or obligatory if I could just get the boys there. And of course, I was always a little disappointed when the parent would arrive at 8am to pick up their child. Wow, was church that bad? Well I didn’t think so. Several years later I had a good friend and quite active member of our church, Marla, tell me that’s how they were introduced to our church. Their oldest boy, Alex, had slept over our home. Sunday night he had told his mom how much he enjoyed church. Marla began bringing her family to our church the very next Sunday and has ever since. She thanked me and it sure made me feel good about my sleepover rule.
But as my sons became teenagers, I started to become a different kind of mom, one in hindsight I would have altered.
As my sons matured, I realized that the good looks fairy godmother had been very kind to them. Both were over 6 feet tall with all American good looks. I liked it. In fact, I was proud of that. I created that. That’s right. The idolization process probably started in their early teen years.
When the high school sports began, I bought into that hype hook, line and sinker. All American boys must be excel at sports. They must catch all the balls. They must hit the homeruns. They must make great tackles. They must be all American, because after all, they have to follow in the footsteps of their all American good looks.
I spent more time at my sons’ sporting events than I did reading with them, talking with them, just ‘being’ with them. The idolization process continued. High school was relatively easy for my sons and they brought home A’s and B’s with little effort. Looking back now, part of the problem was that school was easy, not for just them, but easy in general. The ‘no child left behind’ programs, while valiant, also, I believe caused the ‘no child in front academically.’ We were in the everyone gets a trophy, everyone gets on the honor roll, everyone is awesome and amazing, and and and stage. Since I wasn’t the mom who did her boys homework or school projects, little did I know they were in fact not being challenged at all.
My older boy began applying to a military academy, a process that takes from sophomore to senior year in high school. He got his congressional nomination to West Point, more proud mama chest thumps. Eventually he did not get in West Point but was awarded an Army ROTC scholarship, thump thump thump went my fist on my chest.
My younger boy excelled at football. 6’3” tall, gifted athlete, perhaps he’ll get a football scholarship I thought. And away I went, more proud mama chest thumps.
Polite, handsome, smart, good at sports, what more could my son-idolizing-eyes, puffed-up-thumping-chest want?
And then the crash came. With my sons’ permission I share this story. When my two sons were in their sophomore and senior years, one early morning around 1am, (my husband will say God drew him to it), my husband went to my older son’s phone, literally guessed his password, and found the text messages. Those text messages showed how smoking pot was our sons’ primary concern, followed by a close second, drinking alcohol. Their grades, their sports, was a much, much more distant third. Where, when, how, the text messages scrolled on and on. I have to say, I was completely naïve to this.
My reverential fear of my father kept me from doing any drugs. And I can say to this day is, I just never did drugs. Alcohol was a different story. See Chapter XXXXX. To have my sons smoking pot under my nose at their young ages (probably 15 and 17) just shocked my system. I realize many of you may read this and say ‘so what?’ So what! So what! Our country is inundated with drugs from alcohol, to pain killers, to heroin, to pot, so for me it is a very, very big what.
For the next few weeks I was in a daze. I remember one day in particular, I had driven the boys to school as we had taken away our older son’s car. I went home, walked into my den, and dropped to my knees. I wept and wept and wept and then I wept some more. I was overcome with despair. Where had I failed as a mother? How was it possible this had happened under my nose? What signs did I chose to ignore?
It wasn’t immediate but the realization crept in. Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the realization that that I had crossed over from being an objective parent to an idolizing parent. I had crossed over from the parent who wanted to be respected to the parent who wanted to be liked. I was the parent who ignored the fact that my sons never had hours of homework each night as I had. I was the parent who turned a blind eye. I was the parent who said, “no, not my boys.” I was the parent who had started to think that my sons’ good looks were actually something to be proud of.
While I realize that parents go thru much, much worse with their children, that did not matter to me. There was pain to be had. I’d love to say that my sons smoking pot and drinking, and God know what else, ended right then and there and that I became a non-idolizing mom. But that would be a lie. We endured four or so more years of non-returned text messages, to not-knowing-where-my sons-were-because-they-weren’t-where-they-said-they-would-be, to smoke filled dirty clothes, to early morning heavily tainted alcohol breath, and so on. Those years were tough. They were hard. And just because ‘everyone goes thru it’ doesn’t mean I had to like it or accept it as normal. It wasn’t normal for me and I didn’t like it.
But, and this is a very big but, my husband and I went from idolizing parents back to objective parents. Slowly at first, but more rapidly, we teamed up and created a united front so we could finish this very important job of raising boys to men. And while I realize that job is never really finished, learning to parent and not to idolize, was key for me.
I’ve created this sample list of questions below to help you clarify this distinction.
- Is it more important for your child to like you or to respect you? Be honest.
- How clearly are your household rules defined?
- How clearly are the consequences defined when the rules are broken and do you follow thru?
- Do you have a united front, even if you, the parents, are divorced?
- Do you make excuses for your children when they mess up? Do you quickly fix their mistakes?
- Do you do their homework or school projects?
- Do you blame their teachers when your child doesn’t do well?
- Do you have clear cell phone & frankly all electronics use policy and is it enforced?
- Do you spent more time at your child’s sporting practices and games then you do teaching them how to be a great human being thru reading, family time, volunteering together, etc.?
- Do your children have chores?
- Do your children get what they want when they want, especially with material needs or desires?
- Are you the lenient parent? You know that one, the one that lets the kids come to your house to drink, smoke pot, etc, because “well they’re going to do it somewhere, might as well be my home where they are safe.”
- Do you lead by example or do you lead by, do as I say, but not as I do?
- Once of age, do you children work?
- As your children get older, are you charting their career and college path or are they?
- What takes priority, children then marriage or marriage then children?
These are tough questions. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy with my answers to many of these questions. But as they say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back my biggest mistake is that I wanted my sons to like me and my rose colored glasses. Now, I want my sons’ to respect me in my dollar store readers. If you ask them, I’m quite certain the answer will be yes.