Parenting 101, 102, and 103

My life is in a unique place right now. I have an adult child (who turns 25 this year, what?!?!) a child who thinks he’s an adult at 19, and a nine year old. It’s almost like I get a do-over. There’s a certain perspective that I have with my youngest that I didn’t have with the other two.

I had my oldest child when I was very young, 19 – gasp! My then boyfriend, now husband, and I had been dating for a while and I knew he was the “one” when he bought my dad a Christmas tree the first Christmas after my parent’s divorce. So when we learned that we were pregnant it rocked our world – not because I was unsure of who I was taking this journey with – but because we were about to be in charge of another life! Believe me when I tell you that being a first time parent is tough, but when you’re 19 and look about 14, it’s even tougher. I felt water gunsthe pressure of all adult eyes looking at me, just waiting for me to mess up. So I played it by the book – everything with my oldest was by the book. He ate his vegetables. I wouldn’t allow any questionable television, no guns (water guns, toy guns) or violent toys what-so-ever (even those little cork guns).  He always wore matching clothes, wore SPF, and was never dirty. He said please, thank you, shook hands with men, held doors for women, and could count to ten in 5 languages by the time he was 3. Yes, I had this parenting thing down pat.

So we added to our little family. My oldest was 5 when the middle child came along.  I still looked about 20 years old and I had two children. My husband was working all the time as his career began to take off requiring a lot of out of town travel, but money was pretty tight, so I began my teaching career as well. To say this was a stressful time in our lives is an understatement. I still felt the pressure to be the perfect parent, but the cracks were starting to show. I remember feeling like the worst mother on the planet when all I could muster for dinner after a long day of teaching was French toast. The kids loved it, but I felt like the ultimate failure. My best mommy moment during those days was while visiting with my mother-in-law my precious 2 year old child chimed, “Dinner’s ready!” after hearing the familiar door bell ring, or call to supper as I called it. I can still hear her laughter. She used to tell me all the time that I had my standards set way too high for myself, but I still felt so much pressure to be perfect.

Time passexxodused and things got easier, money was more plentiful and my husband’s job settled into an easier routine for a little while. The kids were 15 and 10 and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Turns out it was a train coming for us – another baby was on the way. In an instant I went from the youngest mom in the neighborhood, to the oldest. My husband started his own company requiring a whole lot more time at work, my oldest was a teenager, my middle was neck high into sports, and I had an infant –and I was teaching while finishing graduate school just to make things more interesting. Yes, this was a fun time. I’ll never forget the morning I called my dad to share my latest mommy fail – when I made my poor teenager walk to school in shorts on a brisk 20 degree morning. In my defense, he did call me lazy….he could have called me any number of things that morning and I would have owned it, but lazy? Nope, he got out of the car and made the one mile journey to school while I called  Child Protective Services to report myself (a joke, but deeply routed in reality…).

Patrycja BatkoMy perfect mommy halo was a little crooked. I tried to maintain that perfect mom status for a while, but if teenagers will teach you anything, they’ll teach you about free will. And boy did he have some free will! All my perfect mommy methods were for naught. I realized that whether he had played with a water gun or got muddy or eaten pancakes for dinner, it didn’t matter a bit. He needed boundaries for sure, but in the end he wanted my time and to know that he was loved unconditionally no matter what kind of shenanigans he found himself in – trust me there were plenty!

So, I get a do-over. Fortunately I was able to quit teaching so I could do the important mommy things for my youngest son. Sometimes we have pancakes for dinner and, don’t tell anyone, I’ve let him have cake for breakfast a few times especially around birthdays. We lay on the trampoline at night past his bedtime to see a shooting star, we play in the rain, and we laugh at inappropriate jokes the older boys tell (after a stern warning to NEVER repeat them at school) and I’ve let him out of the house in an outfit he picked out all by himself.  He likes to wear his hair Lax Bro style and I let him as long as he brushes his teeth and eats his vegetables at dinner which is sometimes eaten picnic style.

I’ve been given a second and third chance to stop and enjoy being a mommy instead of always worrying if I’m doing it right. The funny thing is, I get to reap the benefits of all the work I put into my oldest child and I’ll tell you, it’s pretty neat to get to sit on the back porch and just enjoy my child in the evenings while we talk politics or I learn what REALLY happened to his bumper that morning before school, don’t ask. My kids are okay, maybe a little lumpy from the trials and errors I’ve taken them through.

Alex Campos

But what I’ve learned along the way is that as long as there are boundaries that will be tested (and tested and tested and tested) set firmly by our family values (what is really important to us, like education, value of a dollar, and being kind) and unconditional love, the kids will be just fine more than just fine in fact, they’re pretty great. Even if they had a little cake for breakfast.

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