when do parents get to pat themselves on the back?

>> Friday, April 10, 2009

Taking a break from the political observations...

A few days ago my husband and I were reading together before falling asleep. Expecting our first child has inspired a series of evening literary sessions on everything from nausea remedies to birthing options to character formation. And a whole lot of reminiscing together about our own childhoods and how we want to shape our home environment as an expanded family.

"When do you think parents get to congratulate themselves on a job well done?" I asked him suddenly. He stopped to think about it.

I know a lot of parents who walked around pretty smug when their 16-year-old was perfectly behaved while everyone else's teens were giving them horrors. But most of those perfect adolescent angels went wild and crazy by the time they were 22. Broke their parents' hearts.

Then there's the parents who thought for sure that their teen was going to be a lifetime rebel. And lots of them have settled down into successful, intelligent, God-fearing adults.

So I think that when parents go all self-congratulatory over their perfect teen, sometimes they're jumping the gun. Wait until that quiet, composed kid gets a chance to make all their own decisions and see if they still seem so perfect.

On the other hand, to parents of kids who test the rules, kick the boundaries, and generally try to figure out everything for themselves - I'd say "Don't despair until they're out of college - they have a lot of growing up to do between now and then!"

Of course I'm not advocating teen rebellion. But I think that youth who are guided through the treacherous process of sorting out their choices and taking personal ownership of their spirituality and beliefs have a lot better chance at being healthy adults. Even if it means they have to test their childhood theories a bit in order to find that ownership and surrender.

But the real test? I think it's when your kids start to have their own kids. Do their little rebellions continue? Or do they buckle down to the business of shaping characters for the next generation? We all tend to be a little more comfortable excusing our faults and habits when we're only responsible for ourselves. But when we become responsible for another's life - that's when we show our true selves.

So parents, if you question your kid's sanity at times - just give it a few more years. Odds are, when they start on the road to parenthood, they'll be re-thinking every little indulgence they ever allowed themselves.

And if you're one of those blessed parents whose adult children choose to imitate the best of your parenting and give their babies as caring a childhood as you gave them - then you can breathe deep and sit back knowing that you truly did your job well.

(Mom & Dad, are you reading this? I hope you're reading this. You'd better be reading this!)

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