The first ten years of being a parent is about figuring it out as you go along. There is a lot of trial and error. You figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bedtime, school and what they’ll eat. School, friends and activities introduce some new situations where you might need to make adjustments but you still keep chugging along. You start to draw from your experiences, you get advice from those around you and maybe read books or articles to learn more about being a parent. At the same time you are also relearning what it is like to be a kid. Few of us remember what it was like to be a baby or a toddler. We may have scattered memories of pre-school or a first dance recital or favorite toy, but the details of our everyday lives are long forgotten. We start to remember more as the elementary school years begin, specific events and friends are remembered in detail but overall there are only a few memories from each year.
Then, with two words, it all changes – Junior High. All of a sudden our memories are much better. We remember vivid details from Junior High, not only the significant events but the emotions that go along with those events. We remember how we felt and why we felt that way and what we did or didn’t do about it. This is a game changer. For the first time in our parental lives we remember what it was like to be the age of our children and as a result it starts to influence how we parent.
Two conversations this week really brought this idea to light for me. The first was with my husband. My daughter, almost eleven, spent most of the week trying to convince us that she is old enough to stay home alone during school holidays. My husband was not having any of this discussion and shut it down immediately. After the kids were in bed we talked about it in more detail, including a couple stories that started with “when I was that age….”. At the end of our conversation he said “I’m not ready for all this.” The next day I talked to a friend who also has a daughter in sixth grade. Over the last couple weeks her daughter has been calling and texting a lot with a new friend, who happens to be a boy. Their conversations mostly about homework, but nonetheless she is finding it a little uncomfortable that her daughter is now at an age she remembers so well. She said “I’m not ready for this.” I said “We better get used to it because it’s going to start happening a lot more.” I didn’t realize how true that statement was until I really started thinking about it later the next day. Our children have caught up to our memories.
From here on out we will always have a parallel story to theirs. Subconsciously we use our childhood experiences as a basis for our decisions as parents. It’s easy to replace our trial and error methods of the early years with the idea that we now know what to do because we’ve lived it. We have to be very aware of our stories to make sure we don’t project them on our children. Just because it happened to us, doesn’t mean it will or won’t happen to them. Just because we handled a situation one way, doesn’t mean that they will handle it the same way. This is going to be a tough one. (But what part has ever really been easy?) Ready or not, here it comes.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.